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Stories of Lives Liberated

The Heart of Christmas

In the 4th century A.D., in the Greek province of Lycia (part of modern day Turkey), there lived a man named Nikolaus of Myra. In this Lycian town of Myra, Nikolaus was a Christian bishop and was strong in the faith. Nikolaus’ reputation greatly preceded him as a secret gift-giver – being known to leave coins in shoes that were left out for him. In fact, he became so well known for his giving that he was also called Nikolaus the Wonderworker.

There are many stories about this man’s deeds. In one such story, he provides hefty dowries of gold coins to a poor man and his three coming-of-age daughters (protecting them from a likelihood of not marrying and ultimately poverty). In the stealth of night, St. Nikolaus would pass by the poor man’s house and toss a bag of gold coins through the window – this would be repeated throughout subsequent years as the daughters aged. When the man confronted him, suspecting him of being the mysterious gift giver, Nikolaus simply said that it was not him he should thank, but God alone.

There have also been stories of miracles attributed to him – including multiplying wheat from a transport ship in order to provide relief from a famine and even raising children from the dead.

Nikolaus is venerated as a intercessory saint in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Throughout the centuries, the stories and traditions surrounding this saint evolved and were elaborated, being spread though out the world. In many cultures people began celebrating his sainthood on December 6th, the focus of this celebration being, of course, giving gifts to children. As this developed as a international custom, many different transliterations of his name have resulted – Sveti Nikolaj, Shen’Kolle, Sammichlaus, Sinterklaas, and yes, Santa Claus.

Given the proximity that St. Nikolaus’ day has to Christmas on the 25th of December, St. Nick’s gift-giving quickly became associated with (and in many ways synchronized with) celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. After all, what better way to celebrate God literally given to mankind than to learn from Nikolaus of Myra’s example and give gifts to the glory of God.
Unfortunately, as great as this notion may be, the secularization of the holiday season has all but replaced this ideal. Instead of saintliness that of St. Nick’s that says, “It is God we should thank,” we have a materialism driven market that yields “Santa Claus” as the god of holiday capitalism and stress as the #1 seasonal religion.

During the holiday season of 2012, retailers in the U.S produced nearly $3.2 trillion in sales. In the United Kingdom, a survey conducted in 2013 revealed that 2 out of 5 adults (18 million people) were “worrying” about how they would afford Christmas. In fact, 1 out of 10 said that they were still paying off expenses from Christmas of 2012.

What would Nikolaus of Myra have to say about succumbing to such a cultural tradition of pressure, anxiety, elves, and flying reindeer? I can only imagine! I daresay, he might point out that anxiety is the very wrong response to “good news of great joy” and “peace on earth.” This people-pleasing spirit of stress and despair is not worthy of such a celebration of God’s grace and goodwill towards men. That God would send us His beloved Son to be the Savior of the world is reason to rejoice and receive blessing! If we know and accept how much we have been blessed in Christ – that through faith in Him, we should be called the sons and daughters of God – then it becomes only natural to overflow with this blessing and spill out into the lives of others. Gift-giving is simply what happens when we so dearly love and worship the God of giving good gifts.

So whatever your circumstances this holiday season (and in the years to come), chill out and smile; and just remember the God you are loved and called by. Be filled with this unceasing love that is in Christ – only then will you have it in order to give it to others.

We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19
Ho ho ho! – Nikolaus (we don’t know if he actually laughs like this in heaven, but we hope so)

 

Sam Lamont devotes his writings to exploring God’s narrative as seen in world history, shining a light on how Christ’s church has developed throughout the ages. “Join me in reflecting on our past – as we peer through the lens of truth and freedom in the gospel; I pray we will grow all the more in our understanding of what Christ has called us to be.”