Like the Greek and Roman mythological figures in Christ’s day, we too have our idols that have been attributed with many god-like qualities. In fact, we have in our day that grand character – Santa Claus, who makes Zeus, Baccus and Hermes look like the three stooges. After all, old Saint Nic is attributed with the qualities of omniscience (he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake); omnipotence & omnipresence (he delivers his goods to billions of children throughout the world in one night); he is the moral basis for righteous living (he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake) and he doesn’t seem to die… well, not until he was violently squashed by a 727 jet airliner…oh well, so much for his immutability.
Santa Claus has become the chief mascot for the retail industry and is, therefore, the most popular figure during the Christmas season for those whose heart is set upon playing stool-ball, rather than worshipping Christ. Contemporary idols such as Saint Nic should remind parents that we must be very careful about what we set before our children during the Christmas holidays – or any time:
Matthew 18:6-11: 6 “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into the fiery hell. 10 See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.” 11 [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]
The Lord’s call to cut off whatever causes one to stumble is sometimes referred to as the doctrine of radical amputation, and for obvious reasons. We are not to take lightly those things which get in the way of our pure devotion to the Lord – they must be “cut away” for the sake of Christ. Nor are we to tolerate the abominable practice of causing little ones to stumble in the same way. The Savior’s “woe to the world” is a severe warning.
Such a reflection ought to remind us of the godliness of Paul and Barnabas when the natives of Lystra believed that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. Rather than offering to adorn themselves with costumes and thus play their resptective roles (if even for the sake of the little children), their response was a violent one – like the doctrine of radical amputation:
Acts 14:11,12,14-15: …they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes…14 But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God…”
These men would have rather died than to place an idol before those to whom they ministered. For them, it was Christ alone or nothing. Rather than seeing the idols of Zeus and Hermes as being tools to communicate Christ to them, they understood that these idols were an abomination – a stumbling block, and they needed to be cut off immediately.
Let me encourage all to take our celebrations of Christ very seriously, for the glory of the Savior and for the sake of our testimony in this world. The world watches us in ways that we often cannot know or assess, therefore let us show them that we celebrate the 1st Advent of Christ – that is, when the eternal Son of God came to this earth, rather than when Santa Claus is coming to town.