Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Newsletter: Yes, Virginia, There is a St. Nicholas

Last December, Thomas and I caught the end of a Christmas animation special on television. When I think of animation and Christmas, I usually think of islands of misfit toys and boys with blankets quoting the gospel of Luke. However, this cartoon was different. Santa Claus rode a rocket sleigh propelled at dizzying speed by eight robot reindeer. Although there was no discernable plot, there were plenty of explosions and battle scenes. It’s as if the Power Rangers were given the opportunity to rewrite "A Visit from St. Nick." What a long strange trip it has been.

Long before being a pop culture icon, before being a huckster for rampant commercialism, before being "a jolly old elf," Santa Claus was simply Nicholas. The boy grew up in the third century in Patara, a small village in what is now modern Turkey. Born and baptized into the Church, his parents raised him to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. While still young, his parents died during an epidemic, and left him a small fortune. Moved by his faith, Nicholas used his entire inheritance in a ministry of compassion. In the name of Jesus Christ, he helped the needy, the sick, and the suffering. While still young, he became a leader in the church and was made Bishop of Myra. He was a leader of steady convictions which drew him into conflict with Roman authorities. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned for his faith. In better times, Nicholas attended the Council at Nicaea in 325. There he and the other bishops hammered out a statement of faith accepted universally by the Church that Jesus Christ is fully human, fully divine.

Over the years, Nicholas’ story has become encrusted with fantasy, hype and cultural baggage. Much of it is harmless fun, like stories of giants and beanstalks. In the process, however, we lost a great man of compassion, faith and conviction. Nicholas belongs to the Church, he belongs to us, and his example is a witness to Jesus Christ. Tell Nicholas’ story. Share it with your children and grandchildren. Receive this Christmas season a visit from old St. Nick.

Grace & Peace,