St. Nicholas

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 Second Sunday of Advent—St. Nicholas

from Zion United Church of Christ, Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania

In 2010 the church highlighted saints of the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany seasons: St. Francis, St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, St. Joseph, St. Stephen, St. Genevieve and the Magi.

The Second Sunday of Advent, December 5, 2010

Meditation: As Nicholas had mercy on children, may we live our lives in service to one another as living miracles of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ringing of the Church Bell

Greetings and Sharing Joys and Concerns

Opening Hymn of Praise: "O Come, Little Children"

Solemn Declaration and Choral Amen

Call to Worship

One: All Creation is waiting!
All: For what are we waiting?
One: We wait for a miracle.
All: Who is this miracle?
One: It is our Messiah, the One who saves us!
All: Come, let us worship and give thanks!

Candle Lighting:

One: We relight the first candle of Advent, remembering St. Francis of Assisi and praying for the hope that all creation may live in unity.
One: What candle is this?
All: It is the Candle of Saint Nicholas, the second candle of Advent, the season when the church awaits the coming of Christ.
One: What is the light this candle casts into a shadowed world?
All: The Candle of Saint Nicholas burns with the promise that all children may live in peace.
One: We light this candle recalling the promise of Isaiah:
For a child has been born for us,
      a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
      and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
      and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
      He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
      from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Sing: "Now Bless the God of Israel"

Affirmation of Faith: Nicene Creed
One: Nicholas was a representative to the Council of Nicaea. Let us say together the words of the Creed that affirms the tenets of the faith declared by that Council:
All: [Creed]


Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Luke 1:26-38

Prayer Versicle

One: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
One: Let us pray.

Prayers of the Church1

One: The Spirit of the Lord was upon him.
All: To bring good news to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted.
One: All powerful God,
you made St. Nicholas a bishop and leader of the church
to inspire your people with his teaching and example.
May we give fitting honor to his memory
and always have the assistance of his prayers.
The Spirit of the Lord was upon him.
All: To bring good news to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted.
One: As Nicholas reached out to the poor and needy,
may we extend the hand of Christian charity wherever it is needed.
Use us as instruments of your love
to a world in need of that love.
The Spirit of the Lord was upon him.
All: To bring good news to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted.
One: In this holy season of Advent,
let the light of the Christ Child so shine in our hearts
that we are filled with the glory of the Lord.
Make our worship truly a time of hope, peace, joy and love.
The Spirit of the Lord was upon him.
All: To bring good news to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted.
One: We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
All: Amen.

Hanging of the Greens Based on St. Nicholas

The Story of St. Nicholas2

His Early Years

During the days of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean town of Patara of Lycia, now in the nation of Turkey, there lived a wealthy couple, Theophanes and Nonna, who, though they had been married for many years, had no children. Remembering the story of Hannah in the Bible who had a child late in life after praying to God, Nonna did not lose faith. Finally after pouring her soul out, around the year AD 280, a son was born to the couple. They named him Nicholas after an uncle who was the abbot of a nearby monastery.

It was a dangerous time to be a Christian in the Roman Empire—it would not become a legal religion until Nicholas was about 33 years old. But Nicholas felt the call to the priesthood. In preparation he journeyed to the Holy Land, a difficult trek that required both sea travel and a caravan from the coast to Jerusalem. He followed in Jesus' footsteps, even choosing when he visited Bethlehem, to shun the inn and sleep in a cave, the traditional spot where Mary and Joseph found a manger for their newborn Jesus.

SING: O Little Town of Bethlehem—during song, bring Mary and Joseph to Crèche.

On Nicholas's return voyage home, a violent storm arose. He tried to calm the sailors and prayed for their deliverance. When the storm subsided, they found that the boat was still seaworthy, but the rudder had been smashed. The boat drifted for days out of sight of land, and the boat ran out of fresh water. The sailors were certain that they would die of thirst. But Nicholas did not give up hope. Just when all seemed lost, land was sighted! The boat drifted into the harbor of Nicholas's home, Patara. Because of this miraculous saving of the sailors, Nicholas is today revered as patron saint of those who travel the seas.


Perhaps it was angels who guided the boat to safety.
During Advent and Christmas we talk about angels more than at any other time of the year. Angels figure prominently in the stories of the annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel and the proclamation of Jesus' birth to the shepherds by the angel of the Lord and the multitude of the heavenly host.

The word "angel" means messenger. Angels are found throughout the scriptures as the messengers God sends to people on earth. They are often shown as mysterious creatures. Abraham encountered three persons, who are described in Genesis as either three angels or the Lord and two angels. Isaiah saw seraphs in attendance before the Lord's throne—beings with six wings. Revelation describes each church as having an angel protecting it in heaven—from where we get the idea of each of us having a guardian angel.

At Christmastime we remember that God sends messengers of goodwill and peace to all people in the birth of the Messiah.

SING: "Angels from the Realms of Glory"—Bring forward angel to the Crèche

Candy canes3

After his return from the Holy Land, Nicholas completed his religious training and was ordained as a priest by his uncle Nicholas. He set to work among the people of Patara. Nicholas's biographer, Symeon Metaphrastes writes of these days: "From the minute he became a priest, one can hardly keep count of the virtue and goodness he spread about him, of the nights spent at his devotions, days of fasting, goodwill, and his prayers for all." At his ordination, the elder Nicholas told the younger, "Blessed is the flock that will be worthy to have him as its pastor, because this one will shepherd well the souls of those who have gone astray."

The word "pastor" means a shepherd, and when persons were ordained pastor in the ancient church, they were given a shepherd's staff to carry (a tradition the Pope and many other bishops in the Catholic traditions continue). To symbolize the shepherd's staff the choirmaster of the cathedral in Cologne, Germany in 1670, took sugar-sticks and bent them into hook shapes, giving them to the children. These first candy canes were all white and unflavored.

The clergymen's custom of handing out candy canes during Christmas services spread throughout Europe and later to America. The canes were still white, but sometimes the candy-makers would add sugar-roses to decorate the canes further and started adding peppermint flavoring. The first historical reference to the candy cane being in America goes back to 1847, when a German immigrant called August Imgard decorated the Christmas tree in his Wooster, Ohio home with candy canes. About fifty years later the first red-and-white striped candy canes appeared. No one knows who invented the stripes, but Christmas cards prior to the year 1900 show only all-white candy canes. Christmas cards after 1900 show illustrations of striped candy canes.

SING: "Deck the Hall"—Put candy canes on Christmas Tree

Christmas Stockings

There was a family in Patara that had three daughters. In those days, it was necessary for a family to provide a dowry for a girl to be married. This family had fallen on hard times and had nothing to give as a dowry. In desperation, the father came to the terrible conclusion that the only way his daughters could survive was to sell them into slavery. Nicholas heard of their plight and secretly at night put several gold coins from his family's fortune in a sack and threw them through the open window of the house where the girls lived. Some versions of the story say the coins fell into one of the girl's shoes—others say it was her stocking left hung to dry by the fire—which is why in the United States we continue to hang stockings for St. Nicholas's gifts and children in Europe leave their shoes outside their doors for his coming.

Seeing the joy of the family that their eldest daughter could now be married, Nicholas would come twice more to deliver bags of gold for the other two daughter's marriages. Pawn brokers look to Nicholas as their patron saint, in that poor families sometimes would turn to them to provide dowries in exchange for goods they no longer needed. Nicholas' three bags became the three balls often displayed on pawn brokers' signs.

As Nicholas placed his gifts into stockings, let us now receive our morning's offering, placing our monetary gifts in Christmas stockings and bringing Christmas toys forward.

ANTHEM: "Come Now, Rejoice, the Savior Comes" —Take offering in Christmas stockings and place on altar.

Prayer of Dedication and Lord's Prayer:
One: As Nicholas gave gifts, we present to you our tithes and offerings and these Christmas toys. May they represent our lives reaching out to the wider community around us. Bless those whose lives are touched by this congregation. Lighten their hearts and give them the peace of the Christ Child. We pray this in Jesus' name, and after his manner, saying, OUR FATHER. . . .

Nicholas Becomes Bishop

The story of how Nicholas became bishop is told this way. The bishop of Myra, the area that included Patara, died and the other bishops of Lycia were meeting to choose his successor. For several days they discussed and prayed on which candidate to elect, but they could not come to a consensus. In a dream one of the bishops heard God tell him that they should elect the first person to enter the church for morning prayers. When he told the others the dream, they agreed, and when Nicholas entered the church, they consecrated him as Bishop of Myra.

Shortly thereafter the Great Persecution of the church began. Emperor Diocletian blamed the Christians for many of the problems facing the Roman Empire. Christians were arrested. Many were murdered or executed or thrown to wild beasts. Nicholas was thrown into a dungeon and sat in prison for about seven years in horrible conditions. After Diocletian's death, the next emperor Galerius continued the persecution of Christians. Finally, a general named Constantine staged a coup, during which he saw a cross in the sky. After winning the battle, he took this as a sign to end the persecutions and, after assuming the throne, in AD 313 granted Christians equal protection with other religious groups. Nicholas was freed, and though only in his mid-thirties, looked like an old man.

Constantine shortly thereafter called a council for the Christians to get them to reach a consensus on the nature of how they understood God and Christ. The Council of Nicaea, of which Nicholas was a member, wrote a creed—known as the Nicene Creed—explaining how God is a Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—one God, not three. They further agreed that God has always been this Trinity—everlasting and unchangeable, like a circle.

Advent and Christmas wreaths are Lutheran customs that originated in Eastern Germany. They are round as a symbol of God's eternity and mercy, of which every season of Advent is a new reminder. They are made of evergreens to symbolize God's everlasting nature and our immortality. Green is also the Church's color of hope and new life. Often on Christmas wreaths a bow of red is tied, a symbol of Christ's New Covenant.

SING: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice"—Place Christmas wreaths on windows.

Nicholas' Last Days

Nicholas fell ill and on December 6, 340, he died. An account written nearly a thousand years later reads, "When it pleased our Lord that he would send his angels, *Nicholas+ inclining his head . . . saw the angels come to him, whereby he knew well that he should depart."

The people of Myra carried Nicholas' body by torchlight procession to his resting place in a marble tomb in the city's cathedral. It is appropriate that the last act was to bring light, because Nicholas' life had been a light to the people.

Light is one of the great symbols of the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. The angel of the Lord stands before the shepherds, "and the glory of the Lord shone around them." A star guides the Magi from Persia to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem to find the Christ Child. And so, we light the Christmas tree each year, remembering that Christ is the Light of the World—but in each generation Christ's light is kept alive by people such as Nicholas of Myra who share the faith with others.

SING: "Rejoice, Rejoice Believers"—Light Christmas Tree


One: May our Gracious and good Lord bless you on this feast of St. Nicholas, God's servant, who is an example to us of a life of charity and love. May weseein his life an invitation to imitate his good deeds. Make us always mindful of the needs of others and help us rejoice in the abundance of your goodness around us. Through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Choral Response

Quiet Moments of Reflection


1.Introduction, response and conclusion are adapted from the St. Nicholas Center.
2.Biographical material on St. Nicholas partly based on William J. Bennett, The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters for Christmas, (Howard Books), 2009, and "Saint Nicholas" in Wikipedia.
3.Historical information on candy canes from
4.From the St. Nicholas Center, adapted

From Zion United Church of Christ, Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. Used by permission.

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