Many people get creeped-out by the ubiquitous little Elf on the Shelf who, in colorful leotards and a facial smirk, keeps watch over children around the world in their homes from Thanksgiving until Christmas, scoping out naughty and nice behaviors to report to Santa Claus. The arctic minion even appears in classrooms to help teachers maintain order amidst end-of-year excitement. He’s in cars, on playgrounds, and anywhere else children spend time. He sees everything and hears everything.
Now that we have cameras inside shops, offices, and institutes, as well as outside in streets, alleys, parks, and parking lots, law enforcement agents, bosses, and principals are much better at proving facts, time-lines, and crimes. Parents have a much tougher time defending their innocent child who “would never do that” when they are beckoned by a school official to watch him/her “do that” in real time: the camera doesn’t lie. Many adults in our modern society even live by the assumption that somebody could always be watching or listening. It’s not a bad assumption.
The little elf represents an attribute of God that we have passed along to believers: He is always watching and listening. Since our childhood, Santa has been likened to the Almighty and Omnipotent One who sees us when we’re sleeping, who knows when we’re awake, who knows if we’ve been bad or good… Thankfully, he is on our side. Even though he makes a list and checks it to encourage favorable behaviors, Jolly Old Saint Nicholas wants all of our Christmas wishes to come true. He and parents form an alliance to direct children to goodness and then reward them on Christ’s birthday. Many of God’s children perceive Him as a year-round Santa.
Probably since around 1948, when George Orwell wrote his famous novel, 1984, we have simultaneously resisted and sought a Big Brother society. In the thirty-six years from its publication to arrival of the target year, and again in the thirty-six years from the title year to the one we enter in a few weeks, humans are increasingly accepting of having our words and deeds monitored. Like the ever-present eye of the camera, Big Brother knew everything, saw everything, heard everything, and directed everything, but no one could verify that he actually existed. Most of us complain about interference and overreach in government because it is invasive; and many fear computers for the same reason. Such invasive knowledge, we think, belongs to God alone (and Santa, I guess).
As children of our family, most of us contribute good behaviors and accept that our periodic bad actions will result in punishable consequences. Similarly, as citizens of our society, we are usually positive and helpful members; if we would commit a crime, we understand that it ought to be followed by consequential punishment. And, as people of God, we accept that our sins should be rectified by penance or purgation. Society and parents benefit from safety tools, like cameras and elves, but God sees beyond the physical to the spiritual. His view is not just exterior that sees material evidence but interior that peers into the soul. Cameras, Big Brother, and Shelf Elves see and hear a lot. Parents and Santa do that, too; and, in addition, they love us beyond our grasp. God, as well as seeing, hearing, and loving beyond our comprehension, also creates, redeems, and sanctifies.
He is the One we want to see everything and hear everything—as it should be.