At Christmas time in our family we celebrate with the coming of Santa Claus. He arrives on Christmas Eve after the kids have gone to sleep to bring gifts and spread Christmas cheer. He is a magical figure who has roots in a saint who lived long ago.
Saint Nicholas was born in the 3rd century AD. We don’t know much about him but there are few things that stand. First of all by the time he was 5 yrs old, he was studying theology. Impressive. After his wealthy parents died, he decided to use his inherited wealth to help the less fortunate. He heard of three local girls whose father could not provide them with dowry money. Without it, the daughters would not have been able to marry and would have been destitute. Nicholas threw some small bags of gold coins into the window of the home (some traditions say down the chimney and others say the money landed in their socks that were hanging by the window to dry). The money kept the girls from a life of servitude.
Nicholas becomes a priest, is trained for ministry and eventually is chosen to be the bishop at Myra (in present day Turkey). He is tortured and imprisoned for his faith in 303 AD and then later released when Christianity is legalized in 313 AD. In 325 AD he is part of the Council of Nicaea, which is held to deal with the heretical teachings of a man named Arius. Arius argued that Jesus was not eternal, but instead was a created being. At the meeting Nicholas became so enraged by Arius’s blasphemy that he punches Arius in the mouth and knocks him to the floor!! (When I told my daughter this story, she said “Go Santa!”)
Whether or not the account of this fisticuffs is entirely true, we may never know. But the underlying point is this – Nicholas would not put up with heresy and defended the divinity of Christ against a trend which threatened to shipwreck the early church.
So when you think of St. Nicholas – aka Santa Claus – James Parker of Southern Seminary says this – “Think of a godly Christian bishop who was persecuted and imprisoned for faithfully proclaiming the faith under the most dangerous of circumstances. Think of someone who had a sensitive caring pastoral heart and took care of the flock of which God had made him shepherd. Think of someone who provided support and defense for children, the weak and poor, the helpless and victims of injustice. Think of someone with an unparalleled passion for doctrinal purity. And to top it off, think of someone whose whole purpose in life was to point people to Jesus.” Now that’s my kind of Santa Claus!