From the pen of Pastor Mindy …

In the Spirit of St. Nicholas

In the Spirit of
St. Nicholas
Some of my friends decry the commercialization of Christmas and the elevation of Santa Claus over Christ as the chief symbol for the season. As a young pastor an organization known as Alternatives did what they could to combat the trend. One of their alternative catalogs became a favorite of mine. It showed a two panel cartoon of a no vacancy sign at the “Bethlehem Motel” in the first panel, with a traditional Joseph, Mary and a donkey. The second panel showed poolside with Santa, reindeer and elves in shades poolside. Later Christian publishing companies came out with Santa at the manger and “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” pins.
What place does Santa have in our celebrations? In 1897 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies and other editorials and on posters and stamps.  In part he wrote “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”
The tradition of Santa began centuries ago with St. Nicholas of Myra. Nicholas’ piety, his prayers and his good works led to many legends about him. He is reported to have died on Dec. 6 in 343, celebrated as Saint Nicholas Day as a festival for children in many countries in Europe. The American Santa Claus, as well as the Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas, derive from these legends. “Santa Claus” is itself derived in part from the Dutch Sinterklaas.
St. Nicholas was born around 280 in what is now Turkey. The Greek Church reports that he was imprisoned during the persecutions of Diocletian. Some 20 years later he appeared at the council of Nicaea and joined in the condemnation of Aryanism. Nicholas battled paganism, tore down many temples including one to the Greek goddess Artemis the chief pagan shrine in the district.
Nicholas’ parents were Christians who had sent him to study sacred books at the age of 5. He lost both of his parents when he was young. He reportedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. He is reported to have heard of one particularly poor family whose father could not afford to keep his daughters, had no money for a dowry and was about to sell them into a life of shame. When Nicolas heard of this he took a bag of gold and tossed it through an open window, providing a dowry for the eldest daughter. The same happened for the second and on the occasion of providing for the third daughter, the grateful father caught Nicholas in the act of the giving and was able to thank him.
So how can we regain the spirit of St. Nicholas? We have many choices. We can choose to donate a tithe of what we would give. We can buy local to help boost our local economies. We can give global gifts through our local churches to support the Lutheran Hunger appeal global barnyard, the Heifer Project or other worthy causes. We can give less stuff and give more time to others.  We cannot make others change their ways, we can only choose to model the behavior we want to see in our own actions. We can choose to celebrate with joy and the spirit of love and generosity.
Have a
Blessed Christmas,
Pastor Mindy

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