Day Three Hundred And Forty-Two - Romans 4-7
During the Advent season there are two narratives that vie for the public’s attention: the Santa Clause narrative and the Nativity narrative. Both have their origins within the Christian context, however the Santa Claus narrative has all but lost its Christian framework and is now, for all intents and purposes, a secular narrative of the season. The Nativity narrative still remains largely intact with its focus upon the condescension of God into a fleshy, pink, human baby. This child came into the world as Savior, King, and Lord. These two narratives diverge on their impetus and focus during the season. One focuses on the goodness of man and the other focuses on the goodness of God. Two paths in the snowy wood.
However, the interesting thing about the Santa narrative is that it becomes the metaphor for the Law in modern parlance. Santa keeps tally marks of who has been naughty and good. If one is good enough, then they get rewarded, if someone has been too naughty, they get nothing or a piece of coal. If someone lives up to the standards of the jolly, bearded gentleman from the North Pole, then they will achieve their present, their gift. Much like the Law was in the Old Testament, if the Israelites lived up to the standards of the Law then they would be saved.
There is a catch: no one could live up to the Law like it states in these four chapters of Romans. The Law made known the sin inherent in our nature. Without the Law, there would be nothing to distinguish sin from. In modern parlance, the conditional self-righteousness that the Santa Claus narrative gives us actually highlights those areas where we have not been good and the anxieties produced from trying to be good to make up for the rest of the year where we might have failed. If anything the Santa mythology does not produce good behavior, but a good facade. The present, gift, reward is in sight and so our motivations are not selfless, but entirely selfish.
As the song above proclaims, Santa Claus becomes more of a big brother-style stalker who watches you while you sleep and knows when you are awake. There is no love in this figure, but instead the fear of what might happen if he catches us with our pants down. The image I get—and I think is appropriate to tie in with the description of the Law in Romans here—is Santa Clause coming to town with a shotgun to murder us in some Karmic payback scenario. The more I think about Santa Claus and the narrative that surrounds it, the scarier it comes off sounding to me.
The Nativity narrative could not be further from the other, however. The Nativity’s full dependence is on the work of God in the world. Providing the fleshed-out promise given to Abraham in the real, broken world: a Savior brought into the world with a crackling, earth-shattering whine. The Law showed us that we could not live up to the holiness of God, it made known to us the full spread of our sin. It acted as the functional drug overdose that convinces the druggie to seek help from Narcotics Anonymous. We had to hit rock bottom before we could realize that help must come from outside us rather than our own work. The Law was the drug that took us there.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
The Nativity narrative implies the fulfillment of the Law and the grace that abounds during our overdose. God does not tally our good and our bad, because were were all unrighteous, bad, sinful, breakers of the Law and none deserved salvation. But God.
But God saved us anyways, because he loved his creation and his creatures and was good to the covenant of promise he made with Abraham-and by representation, all of us. He is faithful and made a way to full recovery from our overdose to the Law and saved us from the vicious slasher Santa Clause who came to kill the ungodly, to kill us all.
Two paths in the snowy wood. One is lightens our burdens and the other contains blood-filled tracks leading into the dark abyss. Which one are you on?