Somehow, Santa Claus knows who has been naughty or nice; and he will come on Christmas Eve with the just rewards for all the little girls and boys. The assumption, of course, is that the very fact of his coming with good things for the nice kids will provide enough incentive to keep naughtiness at bay. If only life were so simple.
Today’s Advent readings talk about another coming. Isaiah 42:1-11; Hebrews 10:32-39; Psalm 80:1-7. The word is not primarily about one who brings presents for good people and withholds them from the bad ones. Quite simply, there are no good people. We’ve all been found out in our naughtiness, as our hearts have confirmed when we looked at what God requires of us—do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. We’ve neglected all of them at some point. Perhaps the biggest difference among people is not in the shortcomings, but in the public visibility of those shortcomings. We lack Santa Claus knowledge, let alone truly divine knowledge of naughty and nice.
The ultimate blessings of God are to be found not under trees or in malls, or in our businesses and professions, those some of these will indeed prove to be His gifts from time to time. His blessing is nothing less than citizenship in His eternal kingdom. And it belongs not to those who perform, but to those who persevere. It is for those who believe His Word, not those who benefit from prosperity.
There is some parallel with the children’s song, however. Preparation is required for this Coming. It’s much harder, however. For some, it will be very painful and costly in ways that are not true for others; yet it is often those who persevere under affliction that have the greatest grasp and appreciation for what lies ahead, for the sake of which they continue to fix their sight on ultimate, not penultimate things. It’s those penultimate—the “almost” but not quite ultimate—things that trip us up. Good church families, nice music, strong family bonds, freedom of worship and expression, sufficiency of material goods, etc., are all good, yet penultimate things. They can all be provided here and now.
The true and lasting rewards can only be given by the One whose reward comes with Him, whose coming cannot be mimicked by another. We’ll all know. Some of us will be found faithful, persuaded by the Spirit groaning within that faithfulness transcends niceness. Niceness gives way under pressure; faithfulness is refined by it. And it is thereby prepared for things unimagined, to which the best in Santa’s bag can only faintly point.