Yesterday was the celebration of the feast of St. Nicholas. He was a bishop in the church in some of Christianity’s most formative years, during the fourth century. Many people who know the story of Nicholas’ aid to the poor think that is all he was about. Yet he is better known as a staunch defender of orthodox Christian faith.
Without getting armpit-deep in theological jargon, Nicholas played a pivotal role in advocating for Jesus’ full divinity and full humanity. He was present at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, which forged the Nicene Creed; and he gave Arius, the heretic who refused to assent to Jesus’ co-equality with God the Father, a run for his money in debate. (Apparently, he slapped Arius and got into quite a bit of trouble for it.)
This picture of St. Nicholas looks quite a bit different than the one that has morphed into our contemporary Coca-Cola commercial Santa Claus, doesn’t it? Yet it is this 20th-century version of the great saint that is worshipped by most people at Christmas nowadays. Christmas shopping, it seems, is not about symbolic gift-giving in honour of the greatest Gift ever given, but is about guilt, obligation, and propping up the economy. It’s about tradition and romanticism.
Santa has replaced Jesus, even though his “inspiration” defended Jesus’ identity and role as God’s Son to the death.
Let me encourage you to treat this season as a time to speak about the real Jesus: not the Jesus who is trapped in a feeding trough, unable to cry, stuck in a post-Victorian memory, but the Jesus who was born holy, and born for a holy purpose. Exalt the Jesus who was born to die and rise again. Had he been merely a created being subservient to God, as Arius believed, then he would not have been born to die. No, he went to the cross fully God and fully human. He went to the cross as the final perfect sacrifice for the sins of the human race. Because he was fully God and fully human, his death atoned for our sins, once for all. Because he was fully God and fully human, his resurrection paved the way for us to experience eternal life. As the angel Gabriel announced to Mary, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1.31-32a, NLT).
We cannot leave that Baby trapped in the manger. Don’t “keep Christ in Christmas” – let him out! Let him be the God he is, who longs to reign in our hearts all year, not just for a month. Treat the real St. Nick as your inspiration, and live out your faith biblically. (No trips to the mall required.)