by Charles Buckhahn, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Saginaw, Michigan
Optional PowerPoint slides illustrate the talk
Christmas Eve, 2010
In the chancel, a Bishop's chair is placed near the corner of the altar which is on the Lectern side, towards the congregation. On the side of the chair is a stand or holder for Nicholas' crozier. On that corner of the altar is a bag of coins.
[Slide 1] (Nicholas enters the chancel with crozier in hand. He reverently bows to the altar and then goes to the front of the altar to greet the congregation.)
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, here in . . . wait a minute! You are not the people of my parish! And if I don't know you, you certainly don't know me. So let me introduce myself; I am Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. [Slide 2] Myra is located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Providence of Lycia, which is in the south-western corner of the country you NOW call Turkey. Myra is the Metropolis of Lycia, that is, Myra's Bishop is the Archbishop for all the Christian Churches in Lycia. My name, Nicholas, means "victory of the people." But the victory I proclaim is not that of any people or nation, but that of our Lord Jesus Christ; a victory over sin, death, and the Devil; a victory that is ours through faith in Him.
I was born to a wealthy, Christian couple, about the year 270, in the city of Patara, located about 30 miles west of Myra. [My father was Theophanes and my mother was Nonna.] They had me baptized as an infant and brought me up in the Christian faith. However, they both died when an epidemic hit Patara when I was but 16 years old. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," I used my whole, large inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.
For example, [Slide 3] there was a rich man in Patara, who had fallen on hard times. He had three daughters of an age to be married. In my day a young woman's family had to have something of value, a dowry, to offer prospective bridegrooms. The larger the dowry, the better the chance a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery, or worse.
Word of the family's misfortune reached me. (Nicholas picks up a bag of coins from the corner of the altar) Coming in secret by night, I tossed a bag of gold into the house. It sailed through an open window, landing in a stocking left before the fire to dry. What joy in the morning when the gold was discovered! The first daughter soon wed.
Not long after, I tossed another bag of gold into the man's house. The second daughter was married. The father, wanting to know who the secret benefactor was, kept watch during the night. As I tossed a third bag of gold into the house, the watchful father leaped up and caught me. "Ah, Nicholas, it is you!" cried the father, "You have saved my daughters from certain disaster."
Embarrassed, and not wishing to be known, I begged the man to keep my identity secret. "You must thank God alone for providing these gifts in answer to your prayers for deliverance," I said. (Nicholas places the bag back on the corner of the altar)
I was now raised by my uncle, also named Nicholas, who was the bishop of Patara. Encouraged by him, I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, visiting the place of our Savior's birth in Bethlehem, the place of His crucifixion, and the place where He was risen from the dead. When I returned a few years later, my ship landed at Myra. There, the Bishop of Myra, John, had just died and the bishops of Lycia gathered to select the new bishop for Myra. However, they could not decide who would be the right choice. One night, the oldest and wisest bishop heard a voice in the night telling him to watch the doors of the church the next morning before matins. The first person to enter the church with the name of "Nicholas" was to be the new bishop. This wise bishop shared his vision with the others, urging them to pray while he waited at the doors. As the time for Morning Prayer drew near, [Slide 4] I came to the church to give thanks for a successful sea voyage. As I entered, the waiting bishop asked what is my name. "I am Nicholas," was my reply. "Nicholas, servant and friend of God, you shall be bishop of this place," said the bishop. I protested that I was not worthy to be named bishop. I said that I was too young and inexperienced for such great responsibility. All the bishops, however, said it was God's will for me to be the new bishop. They brought me into the church and there (Nicholas sits on his Bishop's Chair and places his crozier into its holder) I was consecrated the new Bishop of Myra. I promised to bring the Gospel of Christ to the people and defend the faith from all those who would attack it.
Attacks would come shortly by the impious Roman Emperor [Slide 5] Diocletian. He sent an order that Christians must renounce Christ and worship idols. Those who did not submit to this order were placed in prison, tortured, and executed. I, however, boldly preached the Christ and was ready to suffer for Him. For this [Slide 6] I was seized and confined in prison together with many Christians where we remained for a good while, bearing severe suffering, enduring hunger and thirst and an overcrowded dungeon. I led my fellow prisoners into the word of God, strengthening them with the Gospel of Christ, and encouraging them to suffer eagerly for the truth. Soon, we were given freedom, for Christ casted down Diocletian from the imperial throne through [Slide 7] Constantine the Great, to whom Christ was pleased to entrust the Roman Empire. When Constantine became Emperor, he restored to the Christian congregations their confiscated property so they could once again worship.
Soon, however, the Church would be attacked again, but from within the Church, by one of her own ministers! (Nicholas rises to talk) Now, [Slide 8] when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, we celebrate the fact that the Baby Jesus is not just a human baby but is also the one, true God. God became one of us in Jesus' birth. The Creator became the created. The big, theological name for this teaching is "The Incarnation." Some call the celebration of the birth of the Savior "The Feast of the Incarnation."
I have just returned from the first, all church council in the town of Nicaea, where we discussed and debated if Jesus Christ is both true God as well as true man. One of the Church's ministers, [Slide 9] Arius of Alexandria, falsely maintained that Jesus was not true God. During the debate, I became angry with Arius. Finally, I could no longer bear hearing Arius denying Christ as true God. Outraged, [Slide 10] I got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! The rest of my brother bishops were shocked that a bishop would lose control and be so hotheaded in such a solemn assembly. They brought me to the Roman Emperor Constantine, who said that the bishops themselves must determine my punishment.
The bishops stripped me of my bishop's garments, chained and threw me into jail. I was ashamed and prayed for forgiveness. During the night, [Slide 11] Jesus appeared, asking, "Why are you in jail?" "Because of my love for you," I replied. Jesus then gave the Book of the Gospels to me, Mary gave me back the vestments of a bishop. Now at peace, I studied the Scriptures for the rest of the night.
When the jailer came in the morning, he found my chains loose on the floor and me dressed in bishop's robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. When Constantine was told of this, the emperor ordered that I be freed and fully reinstated as a Bishop. Later, [Slide 12] the Council of Nicaea rejected Arius and his false teachings and produced the Nicene Creed which, to this day, many Christian Churches use. Thus, we protected the Church from those who would attack it from within.
And so, today, let us celebrate the birth of the God-man, Jesus Christ. He came to earn our forgiveness. He came to make us citizens of His eternal Kingdom. He came so that we might become instruments of His love through our giving, our serving, and our loving one another. Let us be such servants of the new-born Savior, always confessing Him as our Savior and Lord. Blessings upon your families and homes! Amen.
[Slide 13] (Nicholas takes his crozier and exits the chancel)
PowerPoint Slides to illustrate the presentation, from Charles Buckhahn, adapted
By Charles Buckhahn, Associate Pastor, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, Saginaw, Michigan. Used by permission.
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