Like a big, friendly dog that wants to rough house in the living room, the worldly spirit of Christmas jumps all over our quiet Advent.
All the music, shopping, parties and expectation steal our attention so it’s hard to focus on purple candles, prayer and waiting for Jesus’ coming.
Today’s saint knew that Christ was the true joy of Christmas, so now he probably shakes his head at how his red-suited “descendant,” Santa Claus, has made his Christian charity in gift-giving so secular and commercial.
No doubt he prays for us especially during this season, as we try to keep the worldliness of Christmas at bay so we can prepare our hearts through prayer and little acts of charity.
Nicholas is famous for giving gifts but he did a lot more than that. He was probably born in about 280 AD of wealthy Christian parents in Patara (now Demre, Turkey). He received an inheritance which he gave to the needy.
A source of our Santa tradition is the story of how Nicholas secretly delivered three bags of gold to a destitute father’s home so he could give his daughters dowries. It’s believed the bags landed in shoes or stockings drying by the fire. Despite his attempts at secrecy, Nicholas, by then a priest, was elected bishop of Myra.
During the persecution of Diocletian, some accounts say Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured. It is believed that he participated in the Council of Nicaea in 325 and strongly denounced the Arian heresy, which asserted that Jesus is not truly divine but a created being.
According to another legend, when the governor had been bribed to execute three innocent men, Nicholas intervened and won their release. After three officers who had witnessed the men’s release were themselves falsely accused and condemned to death, they remembered Nicholas and prayed for his intercession. That night, Nicholas appeared to the Emperor Constantine in a dream, asking for the officers’ release. When the emperor questioned the officers and learned of their prayer for Nicholas’ intercession, he freed them.
After a life of service to the Lord, Nicholas died around 343 and was buried in Myra.
Before Santa was even imagined, Nicholas was long venerated in the Church, especially by the Orthodox. Many churches are dedicated to the saint. In 1087, merchants from Bari, Italy, took Nicholas’ relics to their city, where they are still located.
Every year the’ relics are exumed and they exude a clear liquid called manna which is believed to have healing properties. It’s a pretty amazing story about this amazing saint which you can read at a website all about St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas, prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming and show us the true Spirit of Christmas.