Thursday, December 06, 2007

December 6--St. Nicholas

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas, probably next to Mary and Francis, the most popular and well-known of all the saints, although, regrettably, in this country he became a figure called Santa Claus.

But even Santa Claus is St. Nicholas. It’s where the name comes from. The Dutch settlers of the Hudson Valley (among whom are actual ancestors of mine) brought with them “SinterKlaus,” St. Nicholas in their language. A couple hundred years later he had become Santa Claus and most folks had forgotten the origin of the name, certainly its Christian roots.

Nicholas was a real person, although we don’t know much about him. He was Bishop of Myra in present-day southern Turkey. He was among those imprisoned during the last great wave of persecution of Christians by the Romans, under the Emperor Diocletian. He was freed by Emperor Constantine in the shift to the approval of Christianity in the Roman world. He was at the Council of Nicaea in 325, that gave us most of the Nicene Creed as we know it. He may have been involved in something of a brawl there. He died around the year 352, probably on this day.

Four basic stories came to be told after his death, which sealed his place in the Christian imagination. He secretly provided money so that a poor neighbor of his could provide the dowries for his three daughters (hence his symbol is often that of three golden balls or sacks of gold—symbols still used by pawnbrokers); he rescued three children whose lives were being threatened by an evil man; he appeared after his death and stilled the sea, thus saving a ship fill of sailors; and he rescued three men imprisoned for minor crimes whom he felt were about to be executed unjustly. Because of these stories he has for centuries been the patron saint of pawnbrokers, sailors, children, and prisoners. A wonderful lot!

It occurs to me that makes him a perfect saint to be specially remembered and celebrated in our parish, as well as at St. Stephen’s. He is a natural saint for the ‘hood. Perhaps we could name our Covenant for Cooperative Ministry for him. I think I shall at least propose to the Vestry that we re-dedicate the side Altar at Church to him.

Above all, Nicholas is a great symbol of those two great Christian virtues: hospitality and generosity, a fitting thing to remember this time of year as we make or buy Christmas presents, and as we fill out our pledge cards and Capital Campaign pledges (which I had the privilege of doing yesterday).

Happy Nicholas Day! Do something generous for someone else today!

P.S. I love this picture of Nicholas visiting with presents. He’s with his donkey (with whom he is often pictured) and brought it right into the living room. My mother would have a stroke!

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