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Monday, December 6, 2010

Big Red Jolly Graven Image

If I were to give a shape to the god of today's Western world, I think it would probably be fat, wear a red hat and have a snowy white beard.

All throughout the Old Testament, God condemns the making and the worship of graven images (or idols). It was a common practice to create and worship these images, which represented some god or deity and were made from wood, stone or some precious metal. 

Today it is still common practice. If you go to Thailand, for instance, and visit Buddhist temples you will see men and women bowing down and worshiping golden images of Buddha. All over the world, and all throughout time men and women have had a need to create images to represent their "gods."

The Hebrew religion of the Old Testament was actually considered scandalous by other people groups because they alone never created any image or physical representation of their God. Why didn't they? Because their God was too big... He was invisible, and omnipresent. After all, how could the uncreated God be represented by anything created?

That's why it is so jolting when we read what Paul wrote, in his letter to the Colossians, that Jesus is the image of the invisible God! No graven image could ever represent God accurately, but Jesus could! Jesus came to show us what the Father is like; he modeled it for us; his character was the exact imprint of the almighty God.

Today is the second day of Advent. As Christmas is approaching, and we prepare to celebrate the traditional rememberance day of Christ's birth, I can't help but ponder sadly how Christmas in the West is becomming less and less centered on Christ, the image of God, the only one worhty of worship.

If we go out during Christmas, we don't see many images of Jesus anymore (the offended neo-atheists have made us take them all down). However, we do see many images of someone else... Everywhere we look during Christmas time, we see images of Santa! 

A stranger to our culture would surely think this season of celebration is all about this big, jolly man in a red suit. A (...deity..?) who judges the naughty and the nice, who flies on a magic sleigh, has elves to serve him, and who gives gifts in accordance with each person's secret deeds.

It's Santa who all the children revere, get excited about, wait for, celebrate and even fear (You better watch out, You better not cry, Better not pout, I'm telling you why...) Images of Santa outnumber images of Jesus. Does this perhaps say something about a drastic change in what our society values and... worships?

iPods, camera's, computers, cellphones, instruments, cars, DVD's, makeup, toys, clothes, movies, and every other physical posession. It's what grabs our attention, isn't it? It's what we all want: stuff.

If Jesus represents God, and if Santa has replaced Jesus, what does Santa represent? It's true, St. Nicholas was a real person at some point (probably originally from Turkey), but today's Santa Claus is quite a different character. 

I think Santa has become our "graven image" of today's main object of worship in the West: materialism.

A friend of mine drew a picture of Santa Claus sitting on the throne in heaven—a satirical image of how much attention Santa gets during Christmas. It's kind of funny, but kind of scary at the same time.

Now of course I'm not saying having Santa around during Christmas is evil, or that letting small children believe in fairy tails is wrong... but idolatry certainly is evil. And so I feel challenged to ask myself this: Am I worshiping and celebrating the birth of Christ this Christmas, or am I celebrating stuff? 

If I were to give a shape to the god of today's Western world, materialism, I think it would probably be fat, wear a red hat and have a snowy white beard.