Jesus, St. Nicholas and You

by the Rev. Herb Beyer

Artist: Joseph A. Roy, Jr.
St. Nicholas Center Collection

Some complain that Christmas has become too commercialized and too secularized. Far too many people observe the holy day of the Christ mass without any acknowledgment of Christ at all. A store clerk remarked to me: “I don’t know what all the Christmas fuss is all about. It’s just another day.” This guy had no idea of what Christmas is really about. The truth is “no Jesus, no Christmas.” The guy had no faith. He might have shared the same perspective as the fictional character Scrooge. If he had it his way, it would be another day to work and make more money. Or it’s about parties and presents and TV specials without reverence for meditation on the main focus of Christmas, namely, God taking on flesh and blood to save us. It seems like Santa Claus gets more attention than Jesus.

It might help folks to correct the problem if they understand that the legend of Santa Claus originates from an actual historical person – St. Nicholas. That’s where the name comes from – Santa is the word for Saint and Claus is a shortened form in Dutch of the word Nicholas. Santa Claus, St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a real person who lived in the early 300’s A.D. Perhaps as a child, you received a gift on his special day, Dec. 6.

>p>Nicholas was born into a wealthy family in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey. Having become a Christian, Nicholas chose not to pursue riches but instead devoted himself to the Church. He became bishop of a corrupt and decadent city called Myra. And Nicholas became well known for transforming it by his commitment to the Christian faith and life, hard work and preaching the Word of Christ.

St. Nicholas was also known for his love for those in need, such as poor widows and orphaned children. As bishop he saw to it that the Church worked to care for the needy. His giving of gifts, especially to impoverished children, is part of what formed the Santa Claus tradition.

There is one story in particular about Nicholas that stands out above the rest. There was a man in the city of Myra who had three daughters. But this man did not have enough money to provide his daughters with suitable dowries necessary for them to marry in those days.

Without being able to marry it was likely that they were to end up as prostitutes. Nicholas, deeply troubled by this, decided to help and chose to do so in a way that wouldn’t draw attention to himself.

Taking from his own resources, Nicholas prepared three bags of gold. On three successive nights Nicholas went to this man’s house and threw a bag of gold into one of the open windows–one bag of gold each night for each of the three daughters, sufficient to provide each of them with the necessary dowry. Later on when this story was told in colder regions, Nicholas was portrayed dropping the bags of gold down the chimney.

He was a defender of that faith, preaching about Jesus, baptizing people, absolving them of their sins in Jesus’ name, feeding them the life-giving and life-renewing Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In all that St. Nicholas did, he pointed people to Jesus.

Unlike Santa, he wasn’t one making a list and checking it twice to see who was naughty and nice, and bringing those on the bad list only lumps of coal or switches.

Instead, Nicholas gave them Jesus’ love and forgiveness. The generous deeds of Nicholas draw our attention to the infinitely generous love that he himself first received from God. Nicholas defended the faith, facing death, risking his own name and reputation.

The same love of Christ that was at work in St. Nicholas is also at work in you. For in your baptism you were crucified with Christ; and you no longer live, but Christ lives in you and through you. The Lord is working in you so that His boundless love spills over to others.

Every present that we give is a sign of that greatest gift of all, the Christ child in the manger — given to us, noticed by shepherds on that night, recognized and received only by few throughout His life. Hidden within the wrapping of His humanity dwelt God Himself, full of grace and mercy. Jesus is love in the flesh for you.

There is no greater present than that. That is the ultimate gift St. Nicholas sought to give. Lift up the true meaning of Christmas, and give the gift of Jesus to all who cross your path. And may their worries, doubts and fears in these troubling days give way to faith, love, hope and peace that is Jesus’ to give.

By the Rev. Herb Beyer, pastor of Tri-County Cooperative Ministries, ELCA, serving Lavaca, Fayette and Colorado counties, Texas, and Zion Lutheran Church, Moulton, Texas, Dec 17, 2021. Permission pending.

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