First thing, and it’s a quick run to the grocery story to pick up some milk for breakfast. It’s Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Day as it’s celebrated in the United States, and somehow the names that have been given to these two days—“Thanksgiving Day” and “Black Friday”—seem inharmonious, a kind of four-word oxymoron.
Passing through the automated doors at the grocery store, armed with a small handbasket, the first thing I hear is strains of “Santa Claus is coming to town . . .” Though carols have been drifting in for the past couple weeks, on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving Day, it’s almost as if the Christmas season has officially arrived—a kind of declaration of “indefenseness.”
Is it too difficult to imagine the way in which the intent of the lyrics of this simple song that reaches far back into childhood memory, may, in fact, elicit a wider vision of a more universal—cosmic—coming?
“You better watch out / You better not cry / Better not pout / I’m telling you why / Santa Claus is coming to town.”
How much could this possibly reflect a natural human reaction that may result from reading Jesus’ own words: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matt. 25:13, NKJV).1 It may be all too easy—all too common—to be “watching” for Jesus to come with fear.
And the simple Christmas song continues: “He’s making a list / And checking it twice / Gonna find out / Who’s naughty and nice / Santa Claus is coming to town.” Sounds an awful lot like biblical warnings of the judgment. Jesus, again, says, “On the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (Matt. 12:36, NRSV).2 And the accountability will pertain to more than word; it will also relate to behavior. The apostle Paul writes, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10, ESV).3
“Better watch out,” indeed!
Well, sure, it may be recognized that the ditty “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” was meant to be for children, a kind of teasing, tongue-in-cheek way of waving a finger before a slightly misbehaving kid to bring some change in conduct. Even the way in which it’s usually performed, it has a light and playful tone. No one actually means that one could do something so wrong that there would be no Christmas. Really!
But still there’s that connection between a coming and an accountability—a judgment, if you will. “He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake / He knows if you’ve been bad or good / So be good for goodness’ sake!”
Coloring Our Relationship With God
Can it be possible that such a thing as a Christmas song for children could color one’s relationship with God Himself? Could it not somehow influence one’s thoughts on the concept of the judgment? “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:12, ESV).
Maybe all of this is simply too much of a stretch—too much an expression of an overactive imagination. Lyrics of music in popular culture, after all, don’t have to be anything more than just that—lyrics.
In the swirl of the holidays with its twinkling lights; its trimmed, glistening Christmas trees; its festively wrapped gifts; its overweight, red-suited hero and eight reindeer; its heartwarming jingles and melodies; may we never drift out of tune with the saving music of the spheres and the astonishing gift of grace that was born in Bethlehem two millennia ago.
Gary Swanson is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Maryland, United States, and edits Perspective Digest.
1 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.
2 Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
3 Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.