Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Elf on a Shelf, Naughty and Nice, and the Gospel of Grace

A writer is always hesitant to swim upstream against the swift river of cultural phenomenon, but if souls are actually drowning in their own self-absorption, its worth the effort. The Elf on the Shelf is a morality game played by schools, families and communities that is surging in popularity. The game encourages families or classrooms to adopt little "elves" that sit on kids "shelves" and watch over them to determine if they are being "naughty or nice." After a period of intense scrutiny--usually from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve--the little elf flies off the shelf to the North Pole to report to Santa on whether or not the kid is worthy of the "wish list" of gifts the child has drawn up for Christmas. It would seem that those involved in this morality game should be commended for teaching kids about the benefits of doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, but let's take a closer look.

Pagan cultures have always resorted to teaching their children morality through fairy tales. The Greeks had Aesop and his fables. The Romans had their Nova Roma (the Roman Way) and the fables of their gods that illustrated morality. 20th century America has her Elf on the Shelf. The morality fables we share and the goodness games we prepare are not intrinsically evil; they are simply devoid of substance. It's like a carpenter spending his holiday workdays preparing tables using particle board. The end product will collapse. One might be able to create an appearance of morality through teaching kids the legend of the Elf on the Shelf, but in the end, the soul of that child will have no real cure. It would seem to me that parents and educators would be far wiser investing their time in healing the core rather than covering the sore.

How does a child find healing at Christmas from all those things that lead him to do wrong in this life? Answer: The love of God. Only the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ brings healing to the soul at Christmas.  Only when kids understand that their Creator loves them enough to send His Son to Bethlehem to not only forgive their wrongs, but to become King of their lives today will kids ever have an answer for the shame within them and the future in front of them. When Pilate looked at the shackled Jesus standing in front of him he said, "So then you are a king!" Jesus responded, "You have said this correctly! For this reason I have been born... (John 18:37).

So how do you teach kids the real reason for morality? How do you teach them that their Creator is their eternal King and worthy of their allegiance in response to His love, His grace, and His mercy demonstrated at Christmas? One answer of many: Play a few old fashioned Christmas carols and teach kids their meaning. For example Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Christ, by highest heav’n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord, … (God)
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a Virgin’s womb. … (Man)
Veiled in flesh … (Man)
The Godhead see … (God),
Hail, the incarnate … (Man)
Deity! … (God)
Pleased as Man with man to dwell; … (Man)
Jesus, (Man) our Immanuel! … (God)
This carol teaches in the second verse what gifts Jesus brings to earth through His birth:

Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild, He leaves His throne on high,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth

Some might say, "But why would we teach children that God became Man at Bethlehem? This concept is too difficult to comprehend?"

It's no more difficult for kids to learn and grasp the Incarnation of God, the Deity of Christ, the light and life He brings, and that the real reason for morality is "He is our King" than it is for children to learn about the North Pole, the elf on the shelf, wish lists, Santa, and their names being on the Naughty and Nice List. In fact, the effort needed to teach both seems to be the same. The difference is the substance of what is being taught; one is hollow like particle board and the other is of substance like oak.

There are many good things that can be said about any teacher, any parent, and any adult that takes the time and effort to encourage children to live moral, good lives during the Christmas season. The point of this post is to arrest the attention of that young parent who is interested in the moral condition of their child's soul and willing to invest time in teaching them about doing good and living right. Invest your time in teaching your kids about Christ at Christmas and their morality will stand the test of time,  for their allegiance will be to their eternal, living King and not some little elf on their shelf.


Anonymous said...

I think there is another reason to leave the "Elf on the Shelf" in the box. More and more parents are "making" the Elf do "naghty" things. The Elf that is supposed to be "watching" the kids are now, boozing it up, tearing up the place, destroying things such as pictures with magic markers.
We dont' do the "elf on the shelf" in our family.


Rev's Worldview said...

This is why we chose to purchase an Advent wreath and not the elf.

Wade Burleson said...

Rev's Worldview,

Great practice.

Rev's Worldview said...

The challenge we face right now is how to keep an toddler from grabbing a lit candle.

Garen Martens said...

I'll bet there are folks who will not be happy with this blog, but you are dead on.
Naughty and nice is the understanding most people carry with them throughout life. They hope they were "good enough" to make it to heaven.
Along the same thought process is the old time children Sunday School song "Be careful little hands/eyes/feet/ears what you do". The verse says "There's a Father up above who's looking down in love". If you listen carefully to the song, you'll find that instead of a loving Father looking down, it really should be sung as I playfully sing to my family, "There's a Father up above and He will squash you like a bug".
Our kids are taught this naughty/nice principal from cradle to grave and as parents who understand grace, it's our job to teach them truth.

Wade Burleson said...


Well stated!

Anonymous said...

While I agree, I would take it to the core. Why teach your children about a pagan holiday that Christians tried to adopt as the birth of our Savior? Instead, use that same energy to teach them about the holy days Adonai set forth. Sukkot, this believer's alternative to Christmas.

Wade Burleson said...

I do not disagree. The Festival of Tabernacles is fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

However, in my experience, anonymous, most Christians who wish to celebrate the Old Covenant holy days as if they were still to be celebrated as events, also struggle with legalism over dietary rites, religious rites prescribed to the Hebrews and other forms of legalism. I have no problem if one takes an ABSOLVED and DONE AWAY WITH FESTIVAL (Tabernacles) and teach Christ - but its no different than taking a current and pagan holiday (Christmas) and teaching Christ.

Take your pick.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!

No elf on the shelf here, advent candles in use.

Works creeps in by so many means!


Kristen said...

Personally, I believe the church did well, so long ago, when it set this great festival of Christ's birth at this most significant time of year, when the time of darkness has at last ceased lengthening and begun shortening again with each passing day, and the light has begun to grow. For He is the light of the world, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it.

As far as Santa is concerned, the Clement Moore story is beautiful. There is no need to focus on the naughty-or-nice works mentality, and I would not use "elf on the shelf" for that reason. I wrote this last year:

In Defense of Santa Claus

As with most things that are not actually wrong or harmful, I think the key is not what you do this time of year, but why you do it. "God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good." That includes evergreen trees and holly! And generous giving can be a way of honoring the greatest Gift God ever gave.

That's my take on it, anyway.

Anonymous said...

"However, in my experience, anonymous, most Christians who wish to celebrate the Old Covenant holy days as if they were still to be celebrated as events, also struggle with legalism over dietary rites, religious rites prescribed to the Hebrews and other forms of legalism. I have no problem if one takes an ABSOLVED and DONE AWAY WITH FESTIVAL (Tabernacles) and teach Christ - but its no different than taking a current and pagan holiday (Christmas) and teaching Christ."

Really? You see no difference? One was given by our Father and was fulfilled at the birth of Messiah. The other has no biblical merit. I understand your point; however, to say there is no difference seems naive.

Anonymous said...

Jesus taught in parables, going from the known to the unknown. Roman and Gentile customs were used to convey an understanding of the Kingdom of God. For example, Jesus used Caesar's hated tax system to teach us our obligation to be submissive to God. Paul used the Athenian gods to point the people to the one and only true God. Boxing, athletics, business, poetry....all these known secular matters were used as points of contact to illustrate the Gospel message. And it was effective.


Kristen said...

Gordon - yes! God created the cycles of the sun and moon. God created the solstices and the equinoxes. It is understandable why ancient peoples would order their holy days around those events, and it is not unfitting, in God's good world, for Christians to do the same.

Wade Burleson said...


No "preference" may be a better word than "difference." My point is nobody should condemn those who celebrate Christmas and nobody should condemn those who celebrated Tabernacles.

James Sundquist said...

Dear Wade,

But RC are not the only apostates and heretics…most Protestants teach their children and practice Santa. Even the Conservative Baptist Church (First Baptist Church, Eugene,Oregon) that I grew up in and attended when John MacArther’s father Jack was pastor, lead this megachurch in “We know that Santa’s on his way” (by pastor at that time)…and that was the 90s, for their Christmas program.

No one but my wife and me batted and eye…joined with delight in their delusion with the pastor thousands singing their hearts out.

Here is my response to all of these deceived so-called Christians who promote Santa and Elf on a Shelf. God alone is omnipresent. Proof in Scripture:

"I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” Isaiah 42:8