By Bishop Eric Menees
Around this time of year many may speak of Santa Claus or St. Nick, but they don’t know much about the original Saint Nicholas who is the basis for our today’s St. Nick.
Nicholas was a bishop in the 3rd century in the Roman Empire. His parents were wealthy Christians who raised him in the faith, and after their deaths, he distributed their wealth to the poor. One poor family in particular had three daughters, and they had no money for their dowries, money given so that they could marry. Without money the daughters would be left unmarried and, in their poverty, forced into something like prostitution just to survive. Nicholas provided the family with three bags of coins so the daughters could marry and avoid lives of sin. This story was the basis for today’s Santa Claus being a gift giver.
Nicholas wasn’t giving gifts just to be nice or to cheer people up. For Nicholas gift giving was about sharing the love of God with others and helping to bring about God’s will in their lives. Nicholas’ faith is what led to his gift giving among other things. Nicholas eventually became the bishop of Myra, and shortly thereafter Christianity faced the toughest persecution it had ever seen. Nicholas as the head of the church in Myra was beaten and thrown in a jail. Nicholas was only released when Christianity was made legal throughout the Roman Empire.
Now that Christians could meet publicly, they needed to meet to decide on issues of belief. This first happened with the Council of Nicaea, called to decide on whether or not Jesus Christ is God. Tradition says that as Arius, the one opposing Jesus’ divinity, was standing and explaining his position, Nicholas walked over and slapped him. Nicholas’ zeal to defend the divinity of Jesus sounds less like Santa Claus and more like Jesus in his zeal driving the money changers out of the Temple.
So yes, Saint Nicholas like Santa Claus was a gift giver, but his giving was based on his deep faith, a faith that was the grounding of his whole life. Nicholas was willing to suffer for his faith, and defend it strenuously because it was the most important thing in his life. This season as we give gifts, we should do it like Saint Nicholas rather than Santa Claus. We shouldn’t do it out of a desire to make people feel better or to feel better ourselves, but to share God’s love and to do God’s will. We should be giving in faith.
Please join us at St. Clements’ Church this Christmas Season. Services are at 10 a.m. on Sunday at 498 N. Valencia in Woodlake. Our Christmas Eve Service will be at 4 p.m.
This guest column for Prays Together was submitted by the St. Clement’s Anglican Church of Woodlake, and written by the Rt. Rev. Eric Vawler Menees, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin.
Prays Together is a rotating column between the pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Exeter, Church of Christ of Exeter, Nazarene Church of Exeter, Church of God of Exeter, the New Life Assembly of God and Rocky Hill Community Church as well as the Lemon Cove Presbyterian Church.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.