Monday, November 26, 2018

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

            Have you ever had that feeling like someone was watching you?  Like, maybe you’re out hunting, and you’re in your deer stand, and you get the tingling feeling on the back of your neck that YOU are the one being hunted.  Or maybe you’re at the park, watching your grandchild play on the monkey bars, and you get the distinct impression that somebody’s watching you.  It can be a creepy feeling, can’t it?  In 1983, The Police sang, “Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take / I'll be watching you.”[i]  Sometimes those words seem all too true.

            Blaine was a deacon at a church I served years ago.  He’s also one of the police.  Not the band, but a detective for the city of Charlottesville.  He told me that he was reviewing the security recordings of Michael’s Craft Store, looking for someone who had stolen from the company.  The manager pointed to someone on the video, riding the escalator.  “That’s the guy,” said the manager.  “No, that’s not the guy,” Blaine told him.  “No, that’s the guy,” the manager insisted.  “I’m telling you, that’s not the guy,” Blain said again.  “How do you know that’s not the guy?” the manager asked.  Blain said, “Because that’s my pastor!” 

            Yep—sometimes you get the feeling you’re being watched, and other times you’re being watched without even knowing it.  About this time of year, as we look forward to Christmas, you might hear the old song “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,”[ii]  which has been performed by artists such as Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, and Justin Beiber.  You know the words: 

You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is comin' to town
He's making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin' to town
He sees you when you're sleepin'
He knows when you're a wake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

            This song has been a favorite of parents who want to convince their children that they’d better be good all year long.  We get the idea of an omniscient Santa at the top of the world, who can see everything, and who doles out rewards (toys) and even punishments (coal and switches) based on good or bad behavior.  My question is—is that the idea that most of us have of God?  And if it is, how does that make you feel?

            The Bible says a lot about God’s omniscience—God’s quality of knowing everything.  That’s tied closely to God’s omnipresence—God’s quality of being everywhere at once.  Psalm 139 gives a good example of this. 

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand! (vv. 1-6)[iii]

            The fact is that, even more than Santa Claus, the very real God knows everything about you.  Hemming you in means that God completely surrounds you, is inside you and outside you..  In poetic language, the psalmist says God’s presence is inescapable even in the darkest depths of death.

 I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
    but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you. (vv. 7-12)

            God is inescapable!  What stands out to me is that no matter where you are in the place of the dead, God is there.  I was always taught that if heaven is where God is, then hell is where God isn’t.  But Psalm 139 says that there’s no place where God isn’t—and that even in hell, God is still loving people.  This echoes the words of Psalm 23:4, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.”  Just as God will continue to hold you and know you after death, God also knew you before you were born.  The psalmist continues:

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me,[b] O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!
…Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (vv. 13-18, 23-24)

            So, from inside to out, from beginning to end, God is with you and God knows you.  The question is—is this good news or bad news to you?  It depends on your disposition toward God.  For those who view God as an Orwellian Big Brother, or for those who compare God’s omniscience and omnipresence to the TV director from The Hunger Games, this could be a bad thing.  If God sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake, and knows when you’ve been bad or good, then this could challenge your independence.  But if you’re favorably disposed toward God, then the idea of this all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful God might remind you of insurance companies that say things like, “You’re in good hands with Allstate,” or “Nationwide is on your side,” or “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”  With this kind of God, you know you’re more protected than if you were under the Traveler’s Insurance umbrella.  Today, I’d like to invite you to welcome the all-seeing gaze of God, to invite the permanent presence of the Father.  He’s here anyway, and he sees anyway—but it’s so much better when you want him.

[i] “I’ll Be Watching You.”  The Police.  Album: “Synchronicity.”  A&M.  1983.
[ii] “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”  Words: Haven Gillespie.  Music: J. Fred Coots.  1932.  Published by
TOY TOWN TUNES INC; GILLESPIE HAVEN MUSIC PUBLISHING CO.  First sung by Eddie Cantor on his radio show at Thanksgiving 1934.
[iii] Scripture quotations taken from the NLT.

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