Psalm 66:14-15, 17-18 Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what God has done for me. I called out to God with my mouth, and God’s praise was on my tongue. But in truth God has heard me; God has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld God’s love from me.
I think there are times when people get Santa and God confused. When we lived in Pittsburgh, my neighbor said something to my boys about Santa one December. They either didn’t hear her or didn’t know what she was talking about; either way they looked at her with rather vapid expressions. Being one who dislikes very awkward silences, I chimed in, “Oh, we don’t do the Santa thing.” As soon as I spoke that line rather casually, I regretted it. She confronted me. I did my best to cogently explain that it made sense to me to minimize my kids’ exposure to the cornucopia of mythology shared and celebrated around that time of year—I mean, virgin births aren’t necessarily not myth; she was still rather unimpressed with my decision. She closed the conversation with one final statement, one I’ve never forgotten, “Lauren, don’t you know that Santa lives in all our hearts?” I was now the one without words and the vapid expression. Literally, speechless. I thanked her for the reminder once I got my wits about me and then shuffled the boys into the house like wrangling cats or balloons.
The comment stuck with me because I was rather terrified of the idea of someone like Santa living in my heart. I mean, the man literally keeps a record of my good and bad, right and wrong, and then that north-pole based, magical voyeur checks that darned list twice! For no other reason than to make sure I’ve rightly earned my gifts. But then thinking upon it some more, it dawned on me that there’s a tendency in our culture to ascribe to Santa the grace that is God’s and ascribe to God the judgment that is Santa’s. Truth be told… that tendency is well justified when the church and its leaders have rendered the simplicity of loving God and obeying God’s commandments the spiritual equivalent of competing in American Ninja Warrior. If God has set some sort of sadistic, masochistic, gauntlet of an obstacle course, then yes, please give me Santa; God’s terrifying.
But what if God hasn’t set such a course and it’s rather easy to love God and obey God’s commandments? What if God’s law has very little to do with you achieving your own perfection and, rather, recognizing your deep and desperate need for divine love, life, and liberation? What if it’s as uncomplicated as faith and as simple as being loved?
‘If you love me, you will observe my commandments. I, I too will ask the father/the ancestor/the elder to give you another Paraclete, so that [the Paraclete] might be with you into the ages, the spirit of truth. … The one who has my commandments and observes them that one is my beloved. And the one who loves me will be loved by my father/ancestor/elder, and I, I too will love [them] and I will appear to [them] myself.’ Jn 14:15-16, 21
What does it take to love God? Observe God’s commandments—this is discipleship; what are the commandments? To love God—this is discipleship. No joke. This is exactly what Jesus is saying in this passage according to John. Even if we take a step back and look at the Big Ten from the First Testament, they can be easily broken into two commandments that are alike to each other: Love God (first tablet) and love your neighbor (second tablet). The neat thing about the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus is God’s love incarnate, thus to love Jesus is to love your neighbor because in Christ’s incarnate form he is your neighbor and he identifies with the neighbor. Thus when you love Jesus you love God and your neighbor; and, according to the gospels, you can check your arithmetic: if you love God then you love Jesus and the neighbor; if you love the neighbor then you love God and Jesus. It’s all embedded in this trifold reality that God is in Jesus and Jesus identifies with the neighbor. In that the gospels proclaim Jesus as divine love incarnate and this love incarnate proclaims love, life, and liberation to the captives—like all the great prophets before him caught up in the same “Spirit of Truth”—then to identify with those with whom God in Christ identified, to love those whom God in Christ loves is to love Christ thus God since God is in Christ.
What John is doing in this passage is highlighting that what the world does not understand is that it’s not about me and private pursuit of righteousness and justification; to be self-righteous and to try to self-justify is to go against God because it causes the believer to be wrapped up in themselves at the expense of the neighbor and to sidestep that hunger for God. Pursuing your self-righteousness and self-justification tells God and your neighbor you do not need them; it’s the opposite of how the gospels define what it means to be holy. The encounter with God by faith, on the other hand, liberates the one so encountered and releases them into the world to love like God which is like Jesus and the Spirit of truth. The one so encountered is actually liberated: from the prison of themselves; from the threat that if they don’t get it just right, they will burn; from the violence of self-chastisement over privatized sins; and, from the suffocating sensation that God is against you unless…. Here meritocracy is dashed to the ground; it’s not about you and your personal and privatized so-called-holiness, it’s about loving God and loving others and being loved by God and by others. This is what the world doesn’t get, according to John’s Jesus. The world runs on merit; but God doesn’t. When the church forgot this message and made God and the spiritual realm all about merit, it abandoned the Spirit of Truth for a few pieces of silver.
The conclusion here is this—and this is a tough one so listen close:
Santa is not Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit.
And the second is like unto it:
Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are way better than Santa.
When all is said and done, the very thing that liberates human beings from the threat of the pursuit and demand of self-righteousness and self-justification, that liberates human beings into life and love is never achieved by merit. A prisoner can be absolutely perfect and still denied parole because grace and mercy are absent. You can strive to perform every day and still be denied that raise or promotion because someone else was younger or had the right pedigree. You can do it all correctly according to the world and still end up at the end of days destitute and desolate. Merit cannot ever be the means of liberation because you must wake up and do it all again tomorrow and all the while pray you are always able to do so.
But with God, God’s love liberates because it just loves and allows to live, God’s love creates a place in space and time for the beloved to exist as they are for who they are in whatever form they are. God’s love releases the captives from their captivity because they are liberated from the demand of merit for self-worth and self-approval, they are released from the rat-race of meritocracy, they are free to stop thinking of only themselves (because they can’t afford not to) and can start thinking of someone else. Freedom and liberation are most emphasized in the presence of others and God and not in absentia of both. The freest person I’ve ever heard of was the one who was so free he literally concerned himself with others to the point that he would even endure death to identify with God’s beloved, you.
You are loved; be loved. You are the beloved, rest. And then spread that love everywhere, bringing God’s love to God’s beloved who doubt they are or ever could be God’s beloved.
 Translation mine unless otherwise noted
 Rudolf Bultmann The Gospel of John: A Commentary Trans. GR Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed; RWN Hoare and JK Riches. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971. German: Das Evangelium des Johannes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964, 1966). 614. “V. 15: the answer to the question how a relationship of love can be established with the departed Revealer is this: it consists in the disciple fulfilling his commands.”
 Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 557. “I: ’Yes, he is love incarnate, he himself is the new commandment; to love his message of love is to love one another.’ ‘You can also say the reverse to love people is to love him.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 557. “I: ‘He and the Father are the same thing, the Father, who is love, sent us Jesus, love incarnate, and now he’s going to send us the spirit of love, that is, the spirit of the teachings of Jesus, which is also himself.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 558. “I: ‘In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit is the spirit of Yahweh, same as saying the spirit of justice and liberation. He’s the one who spoke through the prophets proclaiming the truth.’”
 Bultmann, John, 614. “To love him means to be obedient to his demands, and this obedience is faith.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 559. “I: ‘In the Gospel of Saint John the world’ is the same as the system, unjust society, the status quo. Those who belong to the system, says Christ, cannot receive that spirit.’”