The Christmas season is full of stories. Most people love the stories of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Traditionalists appreciate the TV special about The Little Drummer Boy who plays for baby Jesus. But, the most famous Christmas story of all, next to the Bible’s actual account, is that of Saint Nicholas.
Some of these stories are completely fictional while some contain bits of truth. This week people throughout the world will celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on Thursday, December 6th. We all should ask ourselves who is Saint Nicholas and how did he come to be Santa Claus.
After all, Saint Nicholas was indeed a real person. He lived from the late 200’s until about 350 AD. Nicholas was a committed Christian—so committed that he was imprisoned for his faith by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. He stayed in prison until Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan granted Christians religious freedom.
Tradition places Nicholas at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD where the Deity of Christ was debated between Arius and Athanasius. Arius, like many throughout history, denied the doctrine of the Trinity. Specifically, he did not believe that Jesus was God in the flesh. As a result, Athanasius vigorously debated Arius as he proclaimed that there is One God who exists in Three Distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the midst of a heated exchange, Saint Nicholas is said to have walked up to Arius and slapped him in the face for spouting heresy.
As with many people who lived long ago, reality over time becomes legend. Saint Nicholas is a prime example. Tradition holds that he was an orphan who came from a wealthy family. As an adult, he chose to give much of his wealth away to the poor. In particular, he is said to have had a heart for children. As a result, he was known to toss pouches of gold through the windows of poor children’s homes. Sometimes, they would land in stockings that were hung up on the walls of the home. If the windows were closed, he would toss the pouch down the chimney instead.
As centuries turn into millennia, history evolves into legend and legend morphs into myth. Those who have loved the story of Saint Nicholas embellished it. People have said his prayers calmed the seas and that he performed actual miracles. At some point during the 1800’s, Saint Nicholas morphed into Santa Claus.
Many today who look at the Bible’s account of the Christmas story have come to a similar conclusion. They believe Jesus was indeed a real historical figure. They concede that his parents were two Jews who may have been named Joseph and Mary. Furthermore, they may even conclude that he said some great things and performed some memorable acts of mercy.
But for them, history has evolved into legend when it comes to Jesus. Christians say: “Jesus was born of a virgin.” Our Post-Christian culture responds, “Please, that’s ridiculous!! Nobody stays a virgin much past 18 anymore!” Christians say: “Jesus is God in human flesh.” The culture objects, “This is just some bogus claim of Jesus’ overzealous followers who cooked the Book (i.e., the Bible) in order to win over a following of simpleminded people who need a crutch to get through life.”
Many of them might ask “How did Jesus ever come to be known as God?” They can point to the case of Saint Nicholas where history evolved into legend and then over time it morphed into myth and like ancient Arius reject Jesus’ true identity. Yet, I believe that if the real Nicholas were here, he’d read today’s passage in John 1:1-18 in order to clear up any misunderstanding about who Jesus is, why He came to earth and why it really does matter. You see, Jesus never came to be God, but God did come to be Jesus!
This article is an excerpt from my Christmas sermon series. Please join us as we celebrate the Christmas season throughout the month of December. All are welcome to join us for worship this Sunday at 10:30 am. Lighthouse Community Baptist Church is located at 22 Pequot Trail in Pawcatuck.