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Saturday, 17 December 2016

Santa's Biggest Mistake!

I could I ever forget one particular incident some twenty-four years ago, give or take. When my two nieces, who were my younger brother's daughters, along with myself, were all at my parent's house together with my father's older brother and his German wife, all sitting at table celebrating Dad's birthday, which happened to be exactly two weeks before Christmas Day. The older pre-teen niece was acting rather boisterously, which brought attention from my uncle, who looked directly at her and delivered this warning:

Unless you behave yourself, young lady, Father Christmas will not deliver any presents! He likes only good children, so you better behave! 

I watched her face cringe, but not from as if about to cry, but more of a sense of disgust, as if she was thinking:

In that case then, he can stuff his presents up where the sun doesn't shine!

And I would have fully agreed with her. For I was thinking on how could he have spoken this way. For it conveys the message that giving of gifts is conditioned on behavioural reform and day-to-day performance, and not on unconditional love. Or going further back in time by another 28 years, when I was twelve years old. I recall walking home from school and I caught my left arm on a sharp twig protruding from a front garden hedge, tearing a hole on the sleeve of the heavy grey overcoat I was wearing in this chilly late-Autumn afternoon. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived home, I had already forgotten the incident and therefore did not approach Mum to apologise. Instead, the next morning, whilst dressing to go to school, suddenly out of the blue, Mum shrieked:

What have you done to your best coat? You can forget having any presents for Christmas!

That was when I remembered the tear on the left sleeve. But fortunately, my lack of sleep during the small hours of Christmas morning was well justified. For like all other children across the land, a pile of gaily-wrapped presents were awaiting both my brother and myself. But the attitude of both my mother and uncle could well have been a very-distant reflection of what St. Jerome wrote as he translated the Bible some 1,600 years earlier, as detailed in last week's blog, One Word, Just One Word. That is, anything which is good is given on the condition of behaviour modification, staying free from sin. And having started to play our Christmas album on the run-up to the festival, one song sung by the Jackson Five has proven a popular 1970's chart-bounder:

You'd better watch out! You'd better not cry.
Better not pout, I'm telling you why,
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He's making a list, and checking it twice;
Gonna find out whose naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when your're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake! Oh,
You better watch out! You better not cry...

Not only is Santa Claus is narrated here as omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient, but it looks as if keeping a British stiff upper lip is also a condition of behavioural reform. And he will give presents only to good Christian kids. Never mind that his generosity is limited to rich, First World countries, but also it is a crying shame that he is almost totally oblivious of whole continents such as the Far East and Africa, where the population of the former is predominantly non-Christian, whilst many families in the Earth's second largest continent remains gripped in poverty, disease, and malnutrition, even if some of them may claim a Christian background. Children suffering and dying by the thousands, yet Santa's team of flying reindeer completely boycotts the poorer areas of the continent - except for some better off, healthy Christian families living in certain cities. And even within the same city, good old Santa is far more generous to those living in an exclusive middle class area than he is to those living in shanty settlements. Somehow, I can't help seeing a strong parallelism between Santa's picky generosity and that of our churches being predominantly middle class.

And the comparison of the middle classes' less-hostile attitude to God was brought home only yesterday evening at the sauna. After a vigorous two-hour workout at the gym, on Friday evenings a relaxing couple of hours in the sauna follows. One of the regulars there is a blue-collar manual worker, older than me, who I will call Fred. Fred is what you can refer to as extroverted, very talkative, and filling his gaps with repeated 'F' words, even if he says that he never swears at home. Last night, there was just the two of us relaxing in the sauna cabin, and I had the opportunity to ask him how he feels about Jesus Christ, whilst stating that the Lord was everything to me, and I couldn't live without him.

He had something like a wild look on his face as he admitted that he had no time for such things, and this Jesus can get lost as far as he's concerned, as he needs to keep on overseeing his family, particularly his grown-up son who, after University, had "boomeranged" to his parent's home, according to what I thought he was telling me. I felt sad. He gave no consideration over his present spiritual state and its consequence in the afterlife. He then left the cabin, leaving me alone inside to contemplate over the conversation. I felt sorry for him. Assuming that he is Church of England, as most of us living in England must have had contact with, especially during childhood. At least in my opinion, there is a parallelism between Fred and what he thought about God's gift of salvation, to that of my niece over Santa's picky generosity. Both preceded by the need for some sort of behaviour modification.

As stated in my last blog, this need to "repent" is the most misunderstood word in the English language. Right from pre-conversion, the false meaning for repentance was instilled in my sub-conscience to mean a turning away from sin, or to be willing to turn from sin before believing and receiving salvation. In other words, behaviour reform is required as a condition for receiving salvation. No wonder, over many generations this had created fear or hatred, or one leading to the other. Fred was one typical example, and I am convinced that just about everyone who was born in England with Anglican parents had at one time of their life at least, came face-to-face with the prospect of behaviour reform in order to go to Heaven after death. Roman Catholics in particular, like myself, faced the prospect of living a sinless life, or face at best the promise of time served in Purgatory. Salvation as a free gift was as far from a possibility as East is from the West. No wonder, like my niece was thinking about Santa all those years ago, Fred reckons that God can stick his salvation up where the sun doesn't shine.

Christmas is a time and season of goodwill, even though it's incredibly short compared to the rest of the year. It is a time for giving. As already mentioned, as a child I have always received toys and games for Christmas despite my undeserving behaviour. It was a visible demonstration of undeserved grace, an expression of my parent's love. For example, I was never required to sew up and repair the hole in my coat sleeve before receiving the presents. Instead, Mum had already done that some time earlier. Neither were any of my presents taken away as a result for misbehaviour. Once received always mine. Continual access to them wasn't dependent on my behaviour.

And that is how Jesus Christ is so willing, so keen to give the free gift of eternal life to anyone who asks. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Luke 11:13, where the narrator records Jesus saying that if we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Those who are evil receiving the Holy Spirit! Who would ever thought of coming up with that? Without behaviour modification to precede the receiving. It is another way of saying, Whoever wills, let him come and take the water of life freely - Revelation 22:17. And the whole of the Gospel of John is centred on the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God who promises the free gift of eternal life to all who believe. So all it takes is a change of mind from seeing Jesus as an imposter or even merely as a good teacher, to that of the risen Messiah, and asking him to give life as promised, and he will be eternally saved. Or to put it another way, from unbelief to believing. That is repentance, a change of mind. No reformation of behaviour is required beforehand. In fact, the word repent or repentance does not even appear at all in John's entire Gospel.

If only my friend Fred at the sauna realised this when he was a boy, or even older. That in AD 380 St Jerome, in translating the New Testament from Greek to Latin, used the Latin word Paenitentiam Agite - Do Penance, instead of the Latin words Mutare animum tuum - Change your mind, whenever the Greek word Metanaeo appears in the Greek, meaning change of mind, and translated into the English word Repent. Would my friend be as equally hostile against Jesus Christ of Nazareth as he is now? Could such a mistranslation be the bottom cause of Fred's eternal state, growing up thinking he had to reform his life before any hope of receiving eternal life? Really, doesn't he believe at all that salvation is a free gift?

Really, I give presents to those I love without any preconditions. My nieces receive a free gift at Christmas because I love them unconditionally. I have never asked them to reform or modify their behaviour before receiving presents. I give them with the hope that they will appreciate what I'll give them. But even if they don't think much of my gifts, and that has happened at least once in the past, my love for them will never diminish. And there is something else. Once the presents are given, I don't expect them to feel that they "must be obliged to commit themselves to me." Furthermore, I would never say to them that if they misbehave, or show no appreciation, that I would take their presents away from them. No. Once theirs always theirs.

But there is one difference with God. Like my presents, God's free gift of eternal life is given to all who wants it, a free gift of love given with no strings attached. With this new life the Holy Spirit comes in and gradually changes the recipient's heart with new desires, to love and serve God, motivated from within, from his heart. This willingness to submit to the Holy Spirit becomes a source of joy, not a spirit of slavery or fear. This process is known as Sanctification, and has no part in keeping or losing salvation. Rather, the recipient only wants to know what the will of God is, and his desire to fulfil it in his life.

I hope that every reader who reads this blog has received the free gift of salvation. If not, then why not believe in your heart that this Jesus of Nazareth is the risen Christ, the Son of God (e.g. Acts 8:26-40, Romans 10:9-13, John 3:14-18), and ask him to forgive all your sins, and to receive his free gift. I can guarantee that you won't regret your decision.

Having said this, I wish all my readers a very merry Christmas, and a prosperous year ahead. May God bless you richly. Also look out for my next blog for Christmas Day, which will, God willing, be a pictorial blog with little wording.


  1. Dear Frank,
    Thank you for this beautiful blog post. Praise God for His unspeakable, freely given, unmerited gift of salvation! Merry Christmas and all blessings in 2017 to you and Alex! Looking forward to your Christmas Day post. God bless,

  2. Great post, Frank. Unfortunately, how often has the church left people feeling that salvation is dependent on their being good, instead of on God's unconditional love.

  3. Hi Frank,
    the word repent does mean to re think, and that is why once we are born again we are given the mind of Christ, having become part of His body on earth, and are able to learn God's ways. He understands we are flesh, and is long suffering with us. It is only when we are 'wilfully' sinning (knowing that we are being disobedient to God)that the scriptures say we are crucifying Christ afresh and there remains no more sacrifice. Who would want to do that, and yet it says that many shall fall away.