Good Morning Brothers and Sisters…
The ‘silly season’ is upon us. Now I will warn you, my wife says that I ruin every holiday and suck the joy and fun out of every tradition. With that in mind, I will not focus on the pagan rituals that are part of the ‘silly season’ or the fiscally irresponsible spirit that seems to corrupt so many of us, instead, I will focus on the silliest character of them all…Santa Clause. Now, before you decide to go elsewhere for some spiritual edification, let me say this…Santa is Pro-Jesus. To prove that, we need to go back in time for a bit.
In March of 270, a boy was born to wealthy Christian parents in Asia Minor, present day Turkey. His parents died while he was still a boy and he was raised by his uncle, the bishop of Patara. Both the boy, and the uncle were named Nicholas. Bishop Nicholas taught the younger Nicholas and used him as a ‘reader’ of the divine liturgy during the Mass, or service. This was foretelling to the eventual life of Nicholas, who through reading gained a deeper understanding of God. (A little side note here; The Church at this time did not have a Bible. We had the Old Testament Scriptures, and a collection of letters written by the Apostles, Church leaders, and others, to different groups of Christians occupying territory from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Northern Africa.) Young Nicholas was ordained as a Presbyter (Priest) and traveled on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to visit many of the sacred sites and to learn how to listen to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. He spent a number of years there, somewhere around 312-316. Returning to Asia Minor, he was consecrated a bishop and served at Myra. If you are thinking that Bishop Nicholas becomes St. Nick, who becomes Santa Clause…you are right, however, the history is better than the myth.
During this time, Rome was at war with itself. The territory of Rome had been divided into different areas and different rulers governed. But, power being what power is, you could only have one Emperor. When the smoke cleared, Constantine emerged as the Emperor over all the Roman Empire. Constantine is regarded by many to have had a ‘conversion’ experience while fighting for the throne. Others think he was only sympathetic to the Christians because of the devotion of his mother…either way, Christianity was legalized by Emperor Constantine, and began to enjoy life free from persecution. Finally free (for the time being) of Roman persecution, the Church could turn its attention to other pressing matters, like establishing ourselves institutionally. Before the ‘rules’ or ‘rites’ of Christianity could be established, we all needed to decide on what we held to be true about Jesus. You see…there was a rift within the Church about ‘who’ Jesus was. The majority believed that Jesus was God, co-equal with God the Father. A growing minority believed that Jesus was not equal with God, but was the ‘son of God’, a created being like us. The Emperor of Rome, Constantine himself, was sick of the dispute because it was bad for the Empire to have a Church divided. He called a meeting of all the bishops in the city of Nicaea. In 325, bishops arrived in Nicaea from all over the Roman Empire. Role was taken and the 151st attendee was listed as “Nicholas of Myra of Lycia”, the man who would become St. Nick; aka Santa Claus.
Nicholas was revered for his secret gift giving, his passion for the less fortunate, and there are many stories of his exploits that lead us down the road toward a ‘Santa Clause’ type figure. His exploits grew past his region of service and other countries and dialects picked up the tales of the now dead Saint. Stories of incredible kindness and grace, stories of miracles and healing, mixed into the differing cultures of Asia Minor and Europe leading to this mythical invention of ‘Santa Clause’. What fascinates me the most is what Nicholas is famous for during the ‘council of Nicaea’. A good ‘reader’, Nicholas was well versed in the divine liturgy, the Sacred Scriptures as he understood them, and was listening to this lively debate about the very nature of ‘who’ Jesus was. He, like the other bishops, was being held there, under guard by Constantine, to get a ‘statement of faith’ written and adopted, so that the Church would be of one accord as to the nature of Jesus. A bishop named Arius was the chief proponent of the idea that Jesus was not God, but a created being just like us. He believed that Jesus was Savior, but not co-equal with God. (This dispute is regarded as the first heresy of the Church.)
St. Nick, full of righteous fury, runs across the floor and smacks Arius in the mouth. Chaos ensues and the story gets a little murky after that as to the reaction of Constantine who was in attendance. The result however, is not in dispute. The ‘council of Nicaea’ writes a statement of faith we call the ‘Nicene Creed’. This creed declares that Jesus is indeed, co-equal with God the Father, and largely establishes the doctrinal litmus test for the New Testament and theology about the Trinity, or Triune nature of God. In other words, ‘Santa Clause’ is Pro-Jesus, and I implore you to remember that this ‘silly season’. The feast day for St. Nicholas is this Sunday December 6th. I will remember him as the bishop passionate enough to institute the ‘Christmas Slap’…I believe the Church needs a few more men like this one.