Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Saint Nicholas vs. Santa Claus

With Christmas always comes the wonder of "Santa Claus", that jolly old bearded man in the red suit with the reindeer and sleigh and the bag of goodies. Oh, and let's not forget the elves who work in his shop building toys all year long. Personally, I'm not a fan of telling kids about "Santa Claus", and here's why. We tell them about both Santa Claus and the baby Jesus side by side. They grow up to find out Santa isn't real, and will that lead them to question whether Jesus is real, too? It's just a question.

But, I love Saint Nicholas. Not the fictionalized St. Nick but the real Saint Nicholas. Yes, he really lived. This morning I watched with my kids a Veggie Tales video that sort of tells the story of the real Saint Nicholas. I say "sort of" because the wonderful people at Veggie Tales always take some creative license to make the stories more readily understandable for kids, but they keep the essential facts in place. It's not a criticism, just an observation. I love Veggie Tales as much as any kid.

So who was Saint Nicholas? He was a bishop who lived in the Roman Empire during the last great persecution and into the early years of Constantine's reign and the legalization of Christianity. He lived in the Eastern part of the Empire, never saw the north pole, and was probably never fat. You can see an icon of Saint Nicholas at that represents how he is often viewed in the Orthodox Church. Saint Nicholas was a man of character and generosity. He endured persecution for the faith and was beaten so badly that his body appeared bruised for the rest of his life. He came from a wealthy family, and as a bishop he used his wealth to help the poor. One story relates how he dropped gold coins into the stockings of three poor sisters to provide a dowry for them so that they could marry. This the beginnings of the "stockings" legend related to Saint Nicholas. Another story relates that he was one of the 318 bishops at Nicaea in 325, and that he rose up in anger at the Arian heresy and struck an Arian bishop to the floor with his fist. Saint Nicholas was a man who was not afraid to take a stand for Christ and the gospel. He was not afraid to spend his wealth to help the poor. He was a respected bishop of unquestioned character and generosity.

May we all be more like Saint Nicholas--standing firm for the gospel with generous hearts toward the poor. The world needs to see what we stand for.

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