By Paul Koch –
Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s time for the decorations, songs, gift buying, and parties. It’s time to celebrate that most wonderful time of year—it’s Christmas time. That means it’s finally time for you to kill the Elf on the Shelf.
It was only a year ago that I first learned about the phenomenon of the Elf on the Shelf. I had heard rumors of such a thing for many years, but last year was the first time that I actually spoke to parents who use the Elf on the Shelf in their homes.
They explained that you buy a little elf figure that, as you might have guessed, sits on a shelf in your home. The elf is given a name by your children, and it functions as a sort of spy for Santa Clause. Beginning after Thanksgiving, it remains in one location during the day, and every night it moves to a new location so that the children believe that it is actually going off to rat them out to good old St. Nick about their behavior. This has apparently evolved into the elf getting into mischief during the night and other things that make it exciting and magical for the children. The elf then becomes a focal point in the home for when children misbehave. “You better get your room clean or else the elf will tell Santa you’ve been naughty.” “You don’t want the elf to think you aren’t listening, do you? What do you think Santa will think?” And so on.
As far as I can tell, the reason for the whole Elf on the Shelf hoax rest in the convictions that Santa isn’t enough to produce the right behavior for this time of year. The whole, “He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you are awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake” lacks the tangible means to get real results.
The thing is, we simply don’t trust Santa to produce the right form of behavior we expect from those who are about to get gifts.
If gifts are to be given, there must be some measurable means to show worthiness, or at least a change of attitude. Though the song tells us that that Santa knows when we’ve been bad or good, we also know that the jolly fat man has a habit of giving his gifts anyway, even to those who really belong on the naughty list! The promise of the Elf on the Shelf is the hope of a real, practical discipline that comes from those who are given such blessings on Christmas morning.
Of course, the Elf on the Shelf isn’t really all that new. There was an old tradition in Austria and Bavaria of the half goat, half demon called Krampus that would terrorize children during Christmas time. In the seventeenth century, Krampus would appear beside St. Nicholas and would be the one that dealt with the bad children. If you were good, you received the blessing of Santa Clause; if you were bad, Krampus would search you out!
Deep down, people have always feared that Santa wouldn’t be enough, so we find a solution to Santa’s reckless gift giving by either bringing a devil into our homes or the accusing gaze of the Elf.
Many years ago in a class on the Lutheran Confessions, Dr. Kolb said to a group of aspiring pastors-to-be that we were to be the hitmen and midwives of God. I’ve always held firm to that description of my vocation. To this day, I still believe that the heart of my task is to do that work. I have been sent by my Lord to kill and bring forth life through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. And it is then the Law and Gospel that are the organizing functions of my office. While they are categorically different, they are both necessary. But the temptation is always to distrust this work, to say that being a hitman and a midwife is not enough. Perhaps I ought to be the schoolmarm as well, making sure the behavior is consistent with the gifts of salvation.
The temptation is always to believe that the threat of the Law will lead to anything but death, that it can produce in a person the desired works that make one worthy of the blessings. Behave before the elf and get your gifts from the big guy. Instead, we should be reminded that
Believers, however, do without coercion, with a willing spirit, insofar as they are born anew, what no threat of the law could ever force from them” (Ep. Formula of Concord, Concerning the Third Use of the Law, 6.).
Sinners don’t need more encouragement; they need to die and be brought to a new life in Christ alone.
So, it is time to kill the elf that sits on the shelf. When the kids wake up searching for him but can’t find him anymore, you can tell him that you knew how much they misbehaved and that you knew that the little rat was going to tell Santa, so you interceded and killed him instead. You killed their accuser because you love them and want them to rejoice in the all blessings of Christmas morning. Then ask them to pick up their room to help get ready for such certain gifts, and I bet you will find a willing spirit.