On this Second Sunday of Advent we take a detour into the wilderness to listen to the prophet named John, the Baptizer, who is:
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’”
John, the Baptizer, who pulled people away from their busyness, and had the religious leaders come down from the Temple, to hear his fiery preaching about getting ready to receive the One Who was coming,
the One we – who live in the days beyond that time, know is God
wrapped in our humanness and tagged with the name “Jesus” –
which means: “God saves.”
Now we know we are to use the weeks of Advent to prepare the way to welcome Jesus as The Gift we receive and then share.
Today, Dec. 6th is when we remember one person who was such a good example, that his stories and songs are passed on from one century to another, along with his name that has changed through time: from St. Nicholas, to Jolly, old St. Nicholas, to St. Nike, to Santa. Today, Dec. 6th, “St. Nicholas Day,” is a good time to reacquaint ourselves with the person who helps us meet the original, REAL Santa.
Nicholas was born in 270 to a wealthy family in a seaport city called Myra in what is now Turkey. His parents’ wealth didn’t get in the way of teaching that it is only in giving to others that one is truly rich - in joy and love.
His parent’s love of God influenced him to enter the monastery, become a monk, later the Abbot, the name for the monk in charge of the community, and still later when the city needed a new bishop, the people came together in the cathedral to pray and ask God to give them a name. In a dream, God told one of them that they should all pray together the next morning. The first person to come through the door of the cathedral should be the next bishop.
Because Nicholas always came to pray at the beginning of the day, he happened to be that person and suddenly found himself becoming Archbishop.
When a person was called to be pastor or bishop, it was a call to be a shepherd, under the Good Shepherd, Jesus, as a the sign and reminder of that call to serve, the person was presented with a staff or shepherd’s crock.
It is a sign that adds a special meaning to the Christmas Story of shepherds tending their flocks by night,
and coming, with staff in hand, to kneel before the Baby born to be the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep. The shepherds with staff in hand at the manger, has prompted the Christmas custom of passing out candy canes – with red strips for Jesus’ death to give us His pure white life.
St. Nicholas, with the servant’s staff, reminds us that a Christmas candy cane is a sign that we, too, are called to let Jesus shepherd us, and, in turn, to be shepherds, to care for and to help one another, or to let others shepherd us when we are the ones in need.
So, today, St. Nicholas Day, take a small candy cane home with you, as a reminder of the staff carried by the original, REAL Santa.
Today we remember another detail from the life of St. Nicholas. He heard about a poor father who didn’t have the money to provide wedding gifts for his three daughters. (The gifts were the only way in that day that they could survive by having a husband and live in his home and family.) The father didn’t afford a wedding gift for one daughter, let alone three. His only solution was to sell his daughters into slavery.
Just as the father was about to do that, Nicholas came by at night and tossed a bag of gold through a window in the house, except the third time the window was closed, and so he climbed up on the roof and dropped it down the chimney. One by one, the girls were saved from being sold into slavery.
Doesn’t that story of bag with gifts, roof, and chimney prompt an “Ah hah!” as we remember and maybe recite "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house." and on through the poem that has been called “the best known verses written by an American” (Burrows, Edwin G. & Wallace, Mike. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) – first published anonymously in 1822 and then claimed in 1837 by the author Clement Clarke Moore.
That’s why we now say Santa comes down the chimney, along with the gifts, with the delivery date in America being Christmas Eve - while in other countries it is still Dec. 6th with St. Nicholas’ sack (usually colored red) promoting us to reclaim the intention of gift-giving from: expecting to receive, to planning to give in our ongoing times when individuals and families are caught in the plight of that desperate father.
Now the “window” and the chimney through which Nicholas dropped much-needed gifts, is Hendricks Room on Dec. 20 or under the tree in our lower church vestibule, where the gifts that are brought or dropped will be taken to Bethany Children’s Home, and there are white socks to give to men at Grace Bean’s Soup kitchen, and money-gifts that go to Heifer Project.
And, remembering the secrecy of Nicholas’ gift to that family, there is that added thrill :to give a gift of kindness to someone in our home, on our street, in school, at work; to make a gift of time to do a chore that relieves someone else who has too much to do; to give the gift of face-to-face listening and talking – a precious gift in America where a married couple has only 30 minutes of conversation in a week, and a parent and child only 14 minutes. (From St. Nicholas Center website)
So, today, St. Nicholas Day, a red sack (show it) is a reminder of gift-giving restored to the example set by the original, REAL Santa.
On Dec. 6th, St. Nicholas Day, a reading from the Letter to the Hebrews is often used as a reminder, that, like him, we must first receive the amazing Gift of God’s love and joy and peace in Jesus,
as this blessing:
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,…make you complete in everything good…which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ,
to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
So, today, St. Nicholas Day, that blessing is a reminder of the source of the example set by the original, REAL Santa.
A candy cane, a sack, and a blessing – signs of the original, REAL Santa named St. Nicholas…the person we now become. AMEN.