They called it “Operation ELF” because Santa Claus was coming to town. In 2006 in Orange County, Florida, Santa’s helpers were delivering Christmas presents early. No, they were not dashing through the Florida snow! And they were not whooshing over Orange County hills in a one-horse open sleigh. They may or may not have been laughing a lot on the inside as they stood perfectly still taking thousands of pictures and giving early Christmas presents to drivers. How thoughtful: Santa’s elves handing out Christmas stocking stuffers on behalf of Florida’s highway patrol. Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas, Orange County!
Except here’s how it actually worked. A sheriff’s deputy, dressed as an elf, stood behind a radar gun that looked like a camera, taking Christmas pictures. The dashers and dancers, prancers and vixen he photographed were speeding Florida traffic. And the Santa who came down the chimney, after all the elves’ work, rode a Harley-Davidson and delivered presents in a uniform on a small piece of paper.
More than 150 tickets were written in an hour. Santa’s elves were busy that Christmas, but not without protest from some angry citizens. Some Floridians were troubled that the police were using Christmas symbols to trick drivers into being fined.
For the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Ken Wyne’s defense was “That’s specifically why we did not use Santa Claus. . . . We didn’t choose a Nativity scene. We chose an elf. An elf is known for their impish behavior. If you’re going to speed in Orange County, you never know who’s going to be on the street corner.”1
Christmas Elves of Long Ago
Two thousand years ago the elves were busy that first Christmas when Jesus came to earth in David’s city of Bethlehem. As Dictionary.com defines, elves, in folklore, are “one of a class of preternatural beings, . . . given to capricious and often mischievous interference in human affairs.” The Grinch who first tried to steal Christmas was the devil himself, and he and his elves worked with all their might to gum it up and destroy Jesus. It was a much more sinister Operation ELF, and the devil who implemented it has not changed his ways.
John’s vision showed him sweeping down a third of heaven’s stars and standing “before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born” (Rev. 12:4, NKJV).2 There may have been no Santa that Christmas, but Satan was there, the mean one and the heel, well prepared to destroy the Son of God. ELF stands for three demonic attempts of his to steal Christmas from the world. “E” stands for Excise. “L” stands for Liquidate. And “F” stands for Frustrate.
Excising the World
To excise means to level a tax on a commodity or some form of activity. That first Christmas the devil leveled an excise tax on life itself for the whole world. His taxation symbolized his authority and oppression. It signified that Satan owned the human heart and with it the right to rule life. Satan placed a tax on life itself that first Christmas! Taxation without representation started the American Revolution. It may come as a shock to discover that the devil was our representative in heaven for more than 4,000 years, and he taxed the human race to death. When he deceived Adam in Eden, he became the prince of this world. As a result we enjoyed taxation with lousy representation for more than 4,000 years.
Revelation 12:10 exposes him as the accuser of God’s children, “who accused them before our God day and night.” The devil accused humanity and excised the human race of its right for life. Revelation 12 alludes to the fourth beast of Daniel 7 by its use of the figure of a dragon with 10 horns to describe the devil. But even as the devil was taxing the life out of the world, Jesus came to give us heaven’s deposit at Christmas. Jesus was God’s deposit and gift of life. Now the word is out: God has given us eternal life, “and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11, NKJV). The promise of His first coming, given in Eden to Eve, was fulfilled in the One who testified, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, KJV). “E” stands for “excise,” but Jesus restored the life the devil had excised.
Liquidating the Messiah
To liquidate means “to get rid of” by killing or “to break” or “to do away with something.” Satan’s plan of liquidating the children (Matt. 2:16-18) continues to this day. Every Christmas he attacks the children again and again. Around the whole world he attacks them with hunger and oppression. In prosperous lands he attacks them with materialism, filling their Christmas stockings with violence and abuse—even in the form of games and other gifts. He first sought to liquidate the Messiah as a babe, and today he still seeks to liquidate the children.
Frustrating the Truth
The “F” in Operation ELF stands for “Frustrate.” What the devil cannot destroy he will try to frustrate and discourage. That first Christmas the Grinch was bent on frustrating anyone who was seeking the truth. The Wise Men came to Jerusalem to seek the truth, and the Jewish leaders couldn’t point them to it. Then King Herod tried to manipulate the Wise Men into helping destroy the truth. The Wise Men found Jesus in spite of Herod’s hatred of truth. We may rejoice that when the devil tries to frustrate our life with darkness, heaven sends us light. He shows the honest heart the right way even when those appointed to lead will not. So it was with the Wise Men, and so it will be with every heart that is willing to do God’s will.
The Wise Men were not the only objects of the devil’s attempted frustration. He also tried to frustrate the shepherds who were watching their sheep by night. Stuck in the fields that first Christmas, Bethlehem’s shepherds were watching the very sheep that would be used at Passover the next spring. And yet rabbinical law declared them unclean and unfit to come to the Temple to worship or sacrifice any of those sheep. Bethlehem’s shepherds were locked out of life. They were frustrated, and were denied God’s grace. But the devil’s claim that we cannot be forgiven is never ever true. Heaven intervenes at Christmas to speak loudly to our soul and dispel the darkness of the Grinch. The God who sent angel light and song to the locked-out shepherds on Bethlehem’s hills at Christmas long ago still seeks to bathe His children this Christmastime in the light and glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6, KJV).
When the Devil’s Frustration Failed
Some years ago at Christmas the devil tried to frustrate my family to lose heart. It was the perfect storm. My computer, my laser printer, and my PDA all broke at the same time. I had been expecting a tax refund, but an IRS error postponed the check till the next year. On a more painful personal note, I learned that my little sister had been diagnosed with cancer, and her surgery was scheduled for the next week.
Then to make matters worse, as we were preparing for the holidays my wife was called suddenly out of the house to visit our church property to deal with a problem in the community where arsonists had attacked our church. Rushed out of the house by her husband, she left a pot on the stove with the setting on high. Her husband deserves all the credit for what followed.
I returned to the house six hours later, to find it filled with black soot and smoke pouring out from somewhere like a chimney. The air was toxic with the smell of aluminum. Though the smoke detector functioned fine, it chose, for some reason, to ignore the smoke in the house that day. As I walked up to the stove I saw the effects of the fire. Black soot covered the stove and the floor—and the ceiling as well. The burned handle of the pot on the stove now strewed the house with carbon strands that looked like spiderwebs dangling everywhere. Touching one would smear it like grease over everything: The dishes were covered; the sofa was covered; the carpet was infested; our clothes were tainted; the butter was messed up; the cereal was infected with carbon.
“Dad,” my little son said, “we smell like chain smokers.”
The pot on the stove glowed red, and seemed almost transparent. I picked it up and moved it to one side when suddenly I saw a glowing orange soup pour all over the stove. Molten aluminum. It came within a few inches of rolling all over me. I have been told that molten aluminum goes right through you in an instant.
We worked for two days trying to clean up. The more I cleaned, the worse it got. Never before had I encountered a mess I could not clean. But this mess was too much. At last we called our insurance company, expecting a difficult time from the adjuster. After all, I had waited one week to report the claim. She came to my house and inspected everything. She hired professionals to clean the carpets, the vents, the walls, and the ceiling. She gave compensation to replace the food in the pantry. The smelly clothes that made us smell like chain smokers? She called a dry cleaning company to clean every one of them. They arrived at our house carrying green bags. They looked like Santa’s elves stuffing our clothes into the bags. “Every piece of clothing in your house is coming back clean,” she said.
When we did the math, we discovered that the fire was a blessing. We were alive, our house was still standing, and now our house was clean. The devil’s evil “Operation ELF” had failed. Thank God. Just before our angel left, I stood at the door of her van outside, and noticed the sign that read “Nationwide.” I thought, Nationwide is on your side. She handed me a check. It matched the amount the IRS had botched that year. I couldn’t believe it. It was the detailed, divine perfection of Christmas grace.
More Than Nationwide
This year, as in so many before, the devil Grinch and his army of elves will do their worst to ruin Christmas for you. It does not have to work. God, in Jesus, has perfect grace for you this Christmas. In Jesus Christ, house fires and hell’s fire notwithstanding, there is fireproof grace for you and your loved ones. No mess is so repugnant that Jesus cannot thoroughly clean it up. And besides, He has a check of grace that will cover all your needs. When He came to Bethlehem’s manger that first Christmas, the devil was ready with his Operation ELF to ruin everything. But God frustrated his operation and blessed the world instead with the unspeakable gift of Jesus.
To make the most of that gift, you must quickly grasp what it took me many miserable days to learn. There is no sense trying to clean up your mess on your own. There is no sense. And there is no need. More than Nationwide is on your side. You have Jesus: Merry Christmas to you!
1 “Deputy Dresses as Elf to Catch Speeders,” www.local6.com/news/10485255/detail.html.
2 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Michael Oxentenko is pastor of Reaching Hearts International, a Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Silver Spring, Maryland. This article was published December 13, 2012.