Have you heard of “Krampus”? I had not until this Washington Post headline caught my eye: “Krampus isn’t coming to town. HE’S ALREADY HERE.” The subtitle adds: “The demonic anti-Santa, growing popular in America, will find out if you’re naughty, then hit you with a stick.”
The article explains that Krampus is a European invention who wears a red cloak trimmed with white fur, beneath which is “the body of a hairy, horned goat-like monster, with spindly, sharp fingernails and a long, creepy, Gene Simmons-esque tongue.” For centuries, he’s been “the bad cop to Saint Nick’s good cop” who finds “naughty” boys and girls and “beats them with sticks.”
Why is Krampus becoming so popular in America? According to the Post, “Interest has grown as people celebrating Christmas look for a counterweight to all the holly jolly. In an era of climate doom and political nihilism and high-definition war beamed onto our phones, there’s something about Krampus that feels more authentic.”
A folklore studies professor adds: “There have been a lot of dire things happening in the world. So Krampus just seems like a good figure to sort of be our boogeyman during the holiday retail season.”
A psychologist explains our problem
Following an uproar regarding her congressional testimony on antisemitism last week, Penn’s president resigned over the weekend, followed by the board chair. (For more, see my recent Daily Article Special Edition, “Should hate speech be permitted?”) However, this developing story has a deeper history.
Psychologist Joseph E. Davis warns that there is a crisis gripping our culture because “the social foundations for a robust sense of self have badly eroded.” He explains that in recent decades,
The world has become progressively more precarious, open-ended, and risky. The public frameworks that gave life direction and meaning—prescribed roles, rites of passage, compelling life scripts, stable occupational trajectories—continue to fade away. The defining web of institutions, norms, and social mores further erodes.
Dr. Davis concludes:
We feel empty, inadequate, and adrift because we have been thrown back on ourselves, forced to face the challenge—felt at younger and younger ages—of trying to establish an identity, make commitments, live with conviction, desire life, and find meaning without the very sources that make these things possible in the first place.
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding”
Yesterday began the Advent week of “peace.” This week invites us to embrace the biblical invitation: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). As we do this, we are assured that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7).
Across four decades as a pastor, I have often shared this promise with hurting people. But only today did I notice the precursor that gives it evidential foundation: “The Lord is at hand;” (v. 5). Note the semicolon—the Greek grammar makes clear that this factual statement is the beginning of the sentence that follows and the basis for its exhortations and encouragements.
Some interpreters believe verse 5 refers to Jesus’ return (Acts 1:11), others to his presence now with his followers (Matthew 28:20), but many believe both are in view. Because of Christmas, we know that the God who created us (Colossians 1:16) is now “God with us” (Matthew 1:23) who dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). And we know that if he could condense his immeasurable heavenly splendor to become a tiny baby in a manger, he can certainly return in all his sovereign glory (Revelation 19:16).
Because he is with us and he is coming for us, we can find in Jesus the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), literally a peace “which understanding cannot produce.” This peace signifies being right with God, others, and ourselves. We cannot create it through human agency and effort, but we can receive it when we draw near to the God who has drawn near to us. As we practice his presence in this world and anticipate being in his presence in the next, we experience that “peace” which his Spirit produces in our lives (Galatians 5:22).
This is the source that, in Dr. Davis’s words, enables us to “establish an identity, make commitments, live with conviction, desire life, and find meaning.”
A king who abdicated his throne for you
Like flowers that begin to die the moment they are cut from their roots, our post-Christian, secularized society has been decaying for decades. The reason is simple: God cannot bless those who reject objective truth and biblical morality lest he reward that which harms us. Until we seek our peace in his presence, we will find it nowhere else. Our partisan divisions will widen; our depression will deepen; violence in our cities and conflicts between nations will escalate.
How could it be otherwise? “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
Turn today to the One who came so that “in me you may have peace” (John 16:33). Enter his presence with thanksgiving and praise (Psalm 100:4). Then practice his presence by praying through the day (1 Thessalonians 5:17), thinking biblically (Psalm 119:105), and acting redemptively (Matthew 22:39; 1 Peter 4:10). This is how we “let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts” (Colossians 3:15).
And it is how we show a broken and conflicted world the peace human hearts long to know (Psalm 42:1).
On this day in 1936, Edward VIII abdicated the British throne so he could marry the American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson. If you were Wallis, considering all the king gave up for you, would you doubt whether he loved you?
The next time you wonder if Jesus loves you, return to Bethlehem. Your Prince of Peace awaits your next prayer.