As I shared, I have shifted our order of Advent emphasis this morning.
This Sunday is often Peace… but, JOY seemed appropriate for Saint Nicholas Day.
There is a common, disappointing misperception that the Saints (capital S) are Catholic (capital C). Saints, whether capitalized or not, are catholic (lower case) meaning ‘universal’.
However, Protestant engagement of the Saints is different than Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Protestant traditions do not pray to the Saints nor consider them able to intercede on our behalf. Instead, Protestants recognize the Saints as simply extra-ordinary examples of Christian discipleship.
This extra-ordinary discipleship, according to our John scripture, is one who testifies to the Christ Light in hope, peace, joy, and love. In accordance with our Isaiah scripture, this testimony is proclaiming good news to the oppressed, liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, as well as binding up the brokenhearted.
Whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or even non-Christian, without argument Saint Nicholas is among the most well-known and beloved saints throughout the entire world. Saint Nicholas, in the Dutch language, has been adapted to Santa Claus.
The Dutch, English, and other European immigrates brought their Saint Nicholas traditions to the United States, where Saint Nicholas and Father Christmas have merged into our modern depiction of Santa Claus and the related traditions. Unfortunately, the adapted depictions and traditions have become disconnected from the widely unknown legendary tales of Saint Nicholas. Thus, may we pause and reflect briefly on the legends and traditions.
Saint Nicholas, although extra-ordinary was not perfect. Saint Nicholas was a Bishop and early Church Father, who reportedly had a temper resulting in a physical altercation with Arius, who would be deemed a heretic. Remember: All Saints have a past and all sinners have a future.
Saint Nicholas is a protector and Patron Saint of children.
According to legend, he was traveling during a famine and discovered three children who had been kidnapped and murdered for food. He was able to bring these children back to life. Can you imagine the JOY of these children, their loved ones, and the whole community?
Saint Nicholas is a protector and Patron of virgins, as well as the Patron Saint of Gift Giving.
According to legend, a man had three daughters and no dowry funds. Unfortunately, the daughters were facing a grim future in the world’s oldest profession until a mysterious gift of gold coins, enough for a dowry, was thrown through his open window. This happened three nights in a row, thus providing a dowry for all three daughters to be married. Can you imagine the JOY of this father and these daughters?
These legendary tales of Saint Nicholas protecting children, protecting their innocence, and his gift giving reputation, it is easy to understand him as an ideal embodiment of Christmas JOY.
In Europe, Saint Nicholas is celebrated on his Feast Day, which is often December 5-6.
The traditional celebrations include:
- Children will leave their shoes by the chimney or front door.
In some nations, it is common to leave hay/carrots for Saint Nicholas’ horse.
- Saint Nicholas visits the homes, especially those with children.
- Saint Nicholas fills the shoes of behaved girls and boys with sweet treats, small toys, and money.
- Saint Nicholas may also leave behaved girls and boys a small gift under their pillows while they sleep.
- Saint Nicholas fills the shoes of misbehaved girls and boys with coal.
In the United States, these traditions have been adopted and adapted.
On December 24-25, we often celebration Saint Nicholas visiting our homes, filling our Christmas stockings hung by the fire, or elsewhere, with care, and leaving us gifts. We often leave Saint Nicholas cookies and milk to power him for the long night of travel, but some homes (such as mine) also leave snacks for the reindeer.
The truth is, whether you celebrate on December 5-6 or December 24-25, Saint Nicholas continues to shine the Christ light of hope, peace, love, and especially JOY into our hearts, souls, homes, communities, and the entire creation every single year with his extra-ordinary protecting of children, protecting of innocence, and the pleasure of giving gifts.
May that Christ light of hope, peace, love, and especially JOY,
shine brighter this day, this season, this year, and beyond.
Scriptures were Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8 and John 1: 6-8, 19-28.
Originally preached on 6 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).