On The Naughty List - Romans 5:6-11 (Wednesday Night Reflection)
Disclaimer: This is not an anti-Santa sermon…I am not anti-Santa. However, as the sermon progresses, it notes differences between some of the traditions that have grown up around Santa (which, though I don’t note it in the sermon, are different from the original Saint Nicholas) and the nature of God.
It’s that time of year. It is the time of year where every child, and maybe a few adults, are trying to be good for goodness sake. They know that Santa’s got a list and he’s checking it twice to see who all is naughty and who all is nice. Most, if they remember, are on their best behavior because they want to be good enough to get on the good list. How many of you here think you’ve been good enough to get on Santa’s “Nice” list? How many of you are still working hard at it? How many are just content to go ahead and stay on the naughty list?
Well, the truth of the matter is, if we want to try to get on the nice list, that’s fine and good for Santa Clause…but when it comes to God’s Naughty and Nice List…that’s a problem. We often forget, but we are all on the Naughty List. Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We all sin…we all end up on the naughty list. And to make matters worse, there is nothing we can do, there is no way we can be good enough, to get off of it. Every effort we make to get off God’s naughty list just leaves us there. How is that? It is because ever good act we commit to try and atone for our sin, every act of generosity, every act of sacrifice, every act of love is tainted with the sin of self-interest. If we are doing it to try and earn God’s favor that we aren’t truly doing it for God and we aren’t truly doing it for the other person, we are doing it for ourselves…and in doing so, it leaves us right back where we started. We can’t get ourselves off God’s naughty list.
And it is because we can’t get off the naughty list, that unlike Santa, God gives us a gift. You know, I got to thinking about it as I was working on this message, that if we believe that Santa (or Santa’s helpers) are gifting out wrapped or unwrapped packages on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day based on whether a person has been naughty or nice, then we are asserting that Santa doesn’t give gifts…he offers rewards or consequences. A gift is something that is given out of love, no strings attached. Santa’s giving, according to the song and tradition, is not based on love, but on behavior—supposedly he gives us what we have earned, what we are owed…He gives us our behavioral payoff.
Paul, on the other hand, reminds us that our behavior payoff with God is not good…what we have earned, what our sin has earned us, is death…for the wages of sin is death. However, unlike Santa, God doesn’t operate on the reward/consequence scale when it comes to our behavior. God doesn’t give us what we deserve…God gives us a gift:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
What we have is that while we were still on the naughty list, Christ died for us. In fact that is the whole reason that we celebrate this season. So often we tell kids that they need to be good if they want Santa to come and see them. With God, though, it was because we weren’t good that God came to see us.
God gave the first and true Christmas gift. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t do anything to earn it. Yet, because of His love for us, He gave us the gift of coming to see us…of coming as a tiny infant, born and laid in a manger. We didn’t earn a visit from God…we had earned God turning His back on us, but instead, we celebrate the gift of the birth of our Savior. The Savior who would later offer up His life on the cross to pay the debt of our sin…it was only through that death, the death of the Son of God, the death of the man who began as a tiny babe lying in a manger, that our names are removed from God’s naughty list....
Aren’t we glad that God doesn’t operate like Santa? Aren’t we glad that God only does grace…only does gifts…that God doesn’t operate under the reward/punishment system of the North Pole…but rather operates under the grace found on that pole on Golgotha?
Some would argue that God does operate out of a reward and consequence system…that the whole Heaven and Hell thing is proof of that. That He takes the good into His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the evil, well God sends those folks to Hell. What I want to suggest tonight is that God only gives gifts…God only operates out of grace…that God doesn’t desire to send anyone to Hell (remember the words found in 2nd Peter: “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
See, God gives the gift of salvation to everyone who doesn’t deserve it…because none of us deserve it. Everyone receives the gift of the tiny baby lying in a manger. Everyone. Everyone is given the gift of God’s grace. Yet this Gift is just like any presents that we might find under the tree in a few weeks. When those presents are set in front of us, we have a choice. We can simply look at them. We can acknowledge that they are there. We can pick them up and stick them in the closet after looking at them…and there in the closet, they do us no good. The gift of Jesus to us is just like that. If we CHOOSE to leave it unopened, it does us no good…it leaves us on the naughty list…it leaves us destined for death…it leaves us with the promise of Hell, eternally separated from God…not because God sent us there, but because we CHOOSE to leave the gift of God unopened.
How do we unwrap the gift that is Jesus? It is through surrender. We open this gift by acknowledging that we can do nothing . We open it by surrendering to the fact that we cannot earn God’s love or God’s grace or God’s forgiveness—that it only comes to us through the selfless self-sacrifice of God Himself through Jesus. And through this act of surrender…surrender to the grace of God…that we encounter the most amazing thing about Christmas, that all of us on the naughty list get the gift of Jesus. And having opened that gift, as we learn to use the gift…giving ourselves over to the Lordship of Christ in our lives and allowing Him to transform us through the power and presence of His Spirit in our lives, we find that our lives are no longer on any list…naughty or nice…but are now written in a book…God’s grace-filled Book of Life.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the true gift givers of Christmas…Amen.