We Want Him Back!

by the Revd Aidan Smith, St. Martin-within-Ludgate, London, England

Carol Concert — 19th December 2012

St Nicholas head
Poster: Tilt Factory, Brussels, Belgium
St. Nicholas Center Collection

To put it simply, we've decided that we (in the church) want him back.

Some have argued that he might have been having too good a time, especially over the last 100 or so years.

There have been one or two who have thought that not only has he got a little 'too big for his boots' (large black ones, if I recall), but that he has detracted peoples' attention from what they should really be concentrating on at this time of the year.

Until recently, quite frankly, we in the church have not quite known what to do with him.

You could argue that he's allowed himself to become, and arguably, one of the greatest and best known icons in the world.

A case for a lack of effectiveness in the way we in the church have managed him? Possibly.

It didn't start that way. (Well, it never does, of course).

He was one of our very best—out at the start.

It had begun in very bad times for us. He was badly treated by the authorities in one of their crackdowns. There were stories that he'd been tortured with the rest of them.

Like so many of the faith, he could have ended up in a bad physical or mental state,
or worse.

Thankfully not. He took Jesus' words as they stood and simply decided that he was going to live out the Good News. It's what we're all meant to do.

To be brutally frank, we in the church didn't think that was going to be so successful. But we've been wrong on other things too. . . .

I think that he truly grabbed peoples' attention. Generally, it was in the small things. Isn't it always?

But sometimes the so-called small things, turn out to be big things, very big things indeed.

Take those three girls for instance.

There were hundreds in their position; still a lot like them here at the back end of 2012. Nothing much to offer. Nothing available for them. The only option, the only thing available to them was a life (you could hardly call it that), of selling . . . themselves.

He was determined that they (that's the three girls), at least, would have a chance, an opportunity to have some life of decency. And he would make that opportunity for them, because he thought that that was what Jesus had, effectively, done for him. HE would, therefore, make the difference.

Some of you may know what happened next.

For those of you that don't,
provided money that would be the basis for the three girls to escape a life—best not spoken about.

We'll never know about what exactly came next. The fine detail of the story.

The tale that went round—the one that's come down to us over 1,670 years is that three (remember that number!) bags of coins were thrown over a wall into the girls' home, the money being Dowries for the girls. One aspect of the story is that the bags landed in the girls' shoes. Shoes . . . stockings . . . you know the rest.

Now, there are a lot of other stories attributed to Nicholas—stories of help provided to others. But the die was cast. He became one of our best known people—our saints, (holy ones) we call them. Some countries, like Russia, adopted him wholesale. Here in England alone, there are more than 500 churches named after him.

We in the church thought he was pretty good news. Yes he had his ups and downs over the intervening centuries—a bit of a downgrade in some places, here (in England) for instance, at the Reformation. In some countries his memory mutated, changed a bit. Commemorated in the Netherlands for his life as one of our Bishops, some of his Dutch followers then took him with them when they emigrated to New York, and the rest is, as we say, history. Ho, Ho, Ho!

For many, it's quite difficult today to discern (look beyond the red suit and the big white beard) the man who took Jesus at His word and originally lived out (in what we now call Turkey) the Christian life in acts of love, charity and generosity: manifestations of the faith inspired by the one, whose birth we celebrate next Tuesday.

So, we, the church, are beginning to reclaim him. 'bout time. Ironically, Saint Nicholas is, as you may know, the patron saint of pawnbrokers—those three balls in their signs (Heaven help us!) a reminder of those three bags of money that Nicholas provided to save the three girls. So, it would be far more appropriate that the church is now upping its efforts in redeeming Father Christmas, or Santa Claus.

In short, we think it's time we had him back!

I think that the church has been a bit cowed by St. Nicholas—hasn't known how to deal with what the world sees as one of its greatest success stories. We've accustomed ourselves to limit our stories of Christmas to Bethlehem: The baby, Mary & Joseph, the shepherds and the star. Not any more. The story, of course, is simply (and has always been) bigger than Bethlehem.

In St.John's Gospel, we celebrate Jesus as 'the Word'. It is Jesus, the word of God, God Himself, who continues to inspire Christians (like St. Nicholas) across the centuries. The vast majority of those have taken Our Lord at his word and sought to turn every day into Christmas Day.

The church,
Almighty God, needs us ALL to be like Santa, St. Nicholas.

the Good News
both this Christmas,
and every day.

We believe! Indeed.


By the Revd Aidan Smith, the Guild Church of St. Martin-within-Ludgate, London, England. Used by permission.

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