Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

St. Nick’s more famous accomplishment

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.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
– John 1.1-3, NLT

Encouragement From The Word

The feast of St. Nicholas

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas among our high-church friends, a day when the church marks the remembrance of a church leader whose heart for giving has become legendary…so legendary that, like many stories, it has been warped and changed into something it was never intended to be.

Indeed, St. Nicholas, the ancient Christian bishop known for great benevolence, has, for so many, become Santa Claus, the Coca-Cola drinking poster-st_nicholas_myra_500boy for consumerism at its worst.

Think about it:  the figure of Santa Claus is not a Christian symbol of giving, but an icon of hope for commercial endeavour.  Had there been no St. Nicholas to morph, there would be no “Black Friday”, the day retail businesses begin to make a profit for the year.  It is no small irony that Black Friday occurs the day after American Thanksgiving, when over 300 million people set aside time to be grateful for all that they have, only to be enticed by sales to trample over people to get – what? – more.

St. Nicholas was not about more.  And St. Nicholas did not give only to “deserving girls and boys”.  No, Nicholas’ benevolence stretched beyond adding to the storehouses of the deserving to meeting the basic necessities of the truly needy.

For many in North American society, Jesus’ birthday celebration has become an opportunity to accumulate more rather than to extend grace and kindness to others, as Nicholas did.

I encourage you, today, to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas by treating Advent and Christmas as seasons not of spending money immoderately, but of extending grace lavishly.

Jesus said, “Take care!  Protect yourself against the least bit of greed.  Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot” (Luke 12.15, The Message).

By the way, thanks to everybody who prayed for my wife and me while we were in Israel.  We arrived home safely last night, and are still processing the trip!

Encouragement From The Word

Imitating Nicholas

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 st_nicholas_myra_500present 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.)