In western Christianity, today is the commonly-celebrated day for the feast of St. Nicholas – the guy who brought you Santa Claus.
Well, sort of. The Santa Claus we know today, visually at least, is said to be a creation of the Coca-Cola Company. But the notion of a benevolent figure who brings gifts certainly conjures notions of Nicholas of Myra, a bishop whose fourth-century dealings with poor women’s dowries is the stuff of legend.
Believe it or not, though, that’s not what Nicholas was most famous for.
He lived through the time of the early church’s Council of Nicaea, which in AD 325 formulated the doctrine of the Trinity: One God, Three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And Nicholas is said to have played a role in articulating a truth Christians hold dear today: that God the Father and God the Son are of one substance. (This same application was made to the role of the Holy Spirit later on.)
That might seem like a bunch of tiny theologians dancing on the head of a pin, but it’s actually really important for the historic Christian faith. For if Jesus or the Holy Spirit were merely of a similar substance to the Father, Jesus could not be God, and could therefore not have been the final, perfect sacrifice for our sins.
In fact, without being of one substance with the Father, Jesus would just be another dude…a righteous dude, to be sure, but just another dude.
On St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6, some cultures celebrate their gift-giving in honour of St. Nick himself. There’s nothing wrong with that. But let me encourage you likewise to remember the gift of St. Nicholas as a theologian, who helped shape the church’s understanding of the mystery of the Triune God, upholding Jesus as of one substance with the Father.
Small though it may seem, it makes a big difference. For if Jesus were not God, there would be no reason for the season.
In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1.1-3, NLT