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Posts Tagged ‘Santa Claus’

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You bestowed upon Your servant Nicholas of Myra the perpetual gift of charity. Grant Your Church the grace to deal in generosity and love with children and with all who are poor and distressed and to plead the cause of those who have no helper, especially those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief. We ask this for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

About St. Nicholas:  Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. AD 342) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, though there was a church of Saint Nicholas in Constantinople as early as the sixth century. Research has affirmed that there was a bishop by the name of Nicholas in the city of Myra in Lycia (part of modern Turkey) in the fourth century. From that coastal location, legends about Nicholas have traveled throughout time and space. He is associated with charitable giving in many countries around the world and is portrayed as the rescuer of sailors, the protector of children, and the friend of people in distress or need. In commemoration of Sinte Klaas (Dutch for “Saint Nicholas,”in English “Santa Claus”), December 6 is a day for giving and receiving gifts in many parts of Europe.

(from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

 This reflection on St. Nicholas is by Orthodox priest and professor, Rev. Thomas Hopko from his book, The Winter Pascha (St. Vladmir’s Seminary Press) on “good St. Nicholas”.  I think it is “spot-on”:

We use that term “goodness” so lightly in our time. How easily we say of someone, “He is a good man” or “She is a good woman.” How lightly we say, “They are good people.” A teen-age girl takes an overdose of drugs, and the neighbors tell the reporters, “But she was always such a good girl, and her parents are such nice people!” A young man commits some terrible crime, and the same rhetoric flows: “But he was always such a good boy, and his family is so nice.”‘ A man dies on the golf course after a life distinguished by many years of profit-taking and martini-drinking, and the reaction is the same: “He was a good man, yeah, a real nice guy.” What do “good” and “nice” really mean in such cases? What do they describe? What do they express?

In Saint Luke’s gospel it tells us that one day a “ruler” came up to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus answered him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone” (Lk18:18; see also Mk10:18). In Saint Matthew’s version it says that Jesus answered the man by saying, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? One there is who is good” (Mt19:17). However we choose to interpret Christ’s words, at least one point is clear. Jesus reacts to the facile, perhaps even sarcastic, use of the term “good” by referring it to its proper source. There is only One who is good, and that is God Himself. If you want to speak of goodness, then you must realize what—and Whom—you are talking about!

 Like God, and like Jesus, Saint Nicholas was genuinely good. Real goodness is possible. For, to quote the Lord again, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt19:26). A human being, even a rich human being who believes in God, can be genuinely good with God’s own goodness. “For truly I say to you,” says the Lord, “if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed … nothing will be impossible to you” (Mt17:20-21).The Messiah has come so that human beings can live lives which are, strictly speaking, humanly impossible. He has come so that people can really be good. One of the greatest and most beloved examples among believers that this is true is the holy bishop of  Myra about whom almost nothing else is known, or needs to be known, except that he was good. For this reason alone he remains, even in his secularized form, the very spirit of Christmas.

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Many have decried the type of Christianity that portrays God as a kindly old man with a beard in heaven, “the man upstairs” and all that.  But that portrayal is  not in the Bible one bit.  I maintain it is from the culture and here is an example of it below.  My wife pointed out this stanza from the 1946 Gene Autry written song. “Here Comes Santa Claus”:

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus lane
He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor
He loves you just the same

Santa Claus knows we’re all God’s children
That makes everything right
So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight!

Lutherans make a big deal out of “justification by grace through faith” in Jesus Christ.  And well we should.  But according to the lyric above, we are justified, made right, by all being “God’s children”.  We are not even all God’s children:   We are His creation.  If we are all His children, then we have no need for Jesus Christ, Baptism and faith which makes us His own. At best, we are wayward children, runaway sons and daughters who have forfeited the inheritance by sheer unbelief and sin. If we are all God’s children,  He did  not need to come down from heaven and die on a Cross and before that be laid as an infant in feeding trough, a manger. Why bother with all that?  But He did!  And related to that why bother  going to church?  Ahhh, there’s the rub, Satan’s rub.  If we are all God’s children,anyway, you don’t have to fuss about all that repentance and forgiveness in His Name. Satan does not want us to hear His good Word of Law and Gospel.  Instead, the Lord is a doting Grandpa who gives gifts if you are “good” (whatever “good” is).  And note that in the lyric Santa Claus “loves us all”, i.e. Santa Claus=/equals God!  Does the Lord love us for we are?  No, He loves us for His Name’s sake to make us His own:  adopted and forgiven.  Satan wants always to stop the adoption process. Does Satan really want you to be forgiven by his Enemy above?!

Satan does not come at us with pitchforks telling us turn away from God, adulterate, thieve and murder.  Even the old Adam might be able to see that!  He comes to us in sweet songs that are religious, spiritual, to turn us astray with every hum of that song.  It is a siren song luring us to the rocky shoals of hell itself.

Not here comes Santa Claus:  here comes Jesus Christ!  Love’s pure light, true light, shining in the darkness of our supposed light!  As someone has said, It’s not who comes down the chimney that matters, but Who went up on the Cross for you and for me.

A BLESSED CHRISTMAS TO YOU IN HIS PEACE THIS HOLY EVENING!

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The following quote is from Festivals and Commemorations by Philip Pfatteicher, for the Lutheran Book of Worship, which sums up what we know about St. Nicholas:

“Although Nicholas has become one of the most popular saints of the Christian calendar, nearly nothing is known about his life. He was a bishop of Myra on the south-west coast of Asia Minor (Turkey) during the fourth century. Beyond those bare facts nothing else is certain.”

My response is disappointment.  The article in the book cited above goes on:

In the absence of facts, legends abound:

  • Nicholas as an infant, it is said, refused to nurse on the ancient fast days of Wednesday and Friday.
  • He aided the poor and once saved three daughters of a poor man from a life of prostitution by putting three purses through the window of their home for their dowries. (So he is the patron of virgins.)
  • He wonderfully reconstituted three boys who had been is murdered and hidden in a pickling tub.
  • He saved three unjustly condemned men from death.  He aided sailors who were in distress off the coast of his diocese and once went to the Holy Land and showed courage on board ship during a storm. (So he is patron of sailors. )
  • He attended the Council of Nicaea and gave the heretical bishop Arius a resounding box on the ear.
  • He is the patron of Russia and of Greece; the guardian of virgins and poor maidens; the protector of children, travellers, sailors, and merchants, as well as guardian against thieves and volence. He is patron of many towns and cities including Bari, Venice, Freiburg, and Galway.
  • Because of his enormous popularity, he was impersonated by a man with a white beard, in the vestments of a bishop, who was kind to children. In Holland, even after the Reformation, Sinter Klass in bishop’s vestments and on a white horse visits children on the eve of his feast day. This popular figure was brought to New York by the Dutch and combined with the English Father Christmas. His day was moved from December 6 to December 25, his bishop’s vesture was replaced by secular clothing, but he retained his cheerful colors, the name Santa Claus, and the traditional association with gift-giving. With the added features of the Nordic “Christmas Man,” he was given a home and factory at the North Pole and a sleigh and reindeer. (In northern Europe Thor was the god of peasants and common people, who is represented as an old man, jovial, friendly, stout, with a long white beard, whose element is fire and whose color hence is red.  He fought with the giants of ice and snow and so became the Yule god) “
Then the histories recount the elaborate and byzantine narrative of what literally happened to his bones, i.e. relics moved, maybe stolen.  FWIW, again, I find the history a real let-down in terms of solid Biblical, Lutheran interpretative lenses.
 The following is not good history but Mr. Spock in Star Trek would say when met with legends:  there is always basis in fact in them.  The legendary aspects of Nicholas uniformly portray a man who served and loved his congregation and his neighbors in need.  Except for punching the heretical bishop Arius (this shows that Nicholas did not want the doctrine  of Jesus Christ to be defamed and this punch also shows him to be a sinner redeemed like us by Jesus  Christ), he may have been what is under the legends:  faith working in love and service.  He would not have wanted to riot in Walmart for $2. waffle irons.  He did  not slay with the sword, but promoted civil harmony…you get the picture and it is still a pretty good one for us to see:  but  the real thing, a saint in Christ by faith in and through Him, not the syncretistic aberration that sells Coke. The real St. Nicholas  is still a pretty good picture, icon, because he was good and became so by faith in Jesus Christ and did the good works that is our way of life given beforehand to us by the Lord to be our way of life:
8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2)
The following reflection continues what is said above and is “spot-on”.  This reflection on St. Nicholas is by Orthodox priest and professor, Rev. Thomas Hopko from his book, The Winter Pascha (St. Vladmir’s Seminary Press):

We use that term “goodness” so lightly in our time. How easily we say of someone, “He is a good man” or “She is a good woman.” How lightly we say, “They are good people.” A teen-age girl takes an overdose of drugs, and the neighbors tell the reporters, “But she was always such a good girl, and her parents are such nice people!” A young man commits some terrible crime, and the same rhetoric flows: “But he was always such a good boy, and his family is so nice.”‘ A man dies on the golf course after a life distinguished by many years of profit-taking and martini-drinking, and the reaction is the same: “He was a good man, yeah, a real nice guy.” What do “good” and “nice” really mean in such cases? What do they describe? What do they express?

In Saint Luke’s gospel it tells us that one day a “ruler” came up to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus answered him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone” (Lk18:18; see also Mk10:18). In Saint Matthew’s version it says that Jesus answered the man by saying, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? One there is who is good” (Mt19:17). However we choose to interpret Christ’s words, at least one point is clear. Jesus reacts to the facile, perhaps even sarcastic, use of the term “good” by referring it to its proper source. There is only One who is good, and that is God Himself. If you want to speak of goodness, then you must realize what—and Whom—you are talking about!

 Like God, and like Jesus, Saint Nicholas was genuinely good. Real goodness is possible. For, to quote the Lord again, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt19:26). A human being, even a rich human being who believes in God, can be genuinely good with God’s own goodness. “For truly I say to you,” says the Lord, “if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed … nothing will be impossible to you” (Mt17:20-21).The Messiah has come so that human beings can live lives which are, strictly speaking, humanly impossible. He has come so that people can really be good. One of the greatest and most beloved examples among believers that this is true is the holy bishop of  Myra about whom almost nothing else is known, or needs to be known, except that he was good. For this reason alone he remains, even in his secularized form, the very spirit of Christmas.

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"Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas!" "Happy Holidays!" "Sugar plums are dancing in my head"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you imagine this icon of  St. John the Baptizer on a Christmas card with those captions? I don’t think so. He ate bugs and wild honey and wore a 1st century hair-shirt and a big old leather belt.  A man eating bugs is nuts…

But what’s really nuts?  St. John or Santa Claus?    Just think, using a Christian saint to be a shill for sweetened carbonated water.   What is the  true Spirit of Christmas represented by the icon or the image above?  Which is the real thing, real Christianity? Personally, now which one do I prefer? Oh, yes the pause that refreshes as the Coke ad once proclaimed.  The pause that refreshes is the basis of what goes under the guise of Christian worship.  It pauses for a while and then like an addict I have to shell out some more money to quench my thirst, then more and pretty soon it’s big gulp time at the Seven-Eleven. John  gave the Word free of charge.  The Word of the Gospel is free and frees us from sin and death and for faith and love.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied, said the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the true Spirit of Christmas?  John who preached God’s freeing and washing-clean Word  or  the Santa Christmas huckster?  After Thanksgiving, I saw a piece from  comedy show in which they put together 3 actual recent news clips:

first, riots in Tahrir Squarein Cairo,                                                                                             riot in Syria                                                                                                                                        and then a riot in Walmart over $2. waffle irons and I mean brutal.

Which one of the pictures above is really nuts?  Could I be there in that melee?  Oh never?  No, you bet.  The Spirit of Christ or spirits?   The spirit of Christmas is either  the Holy Spirit or other spirits. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.  (1 John) It is easy to adorn a home or a Christmas tree in beauty and it is a good and fun thing to do.  But adorn our souls and our lives is not so easy to adorn, not at all by our own efforts, works, spirituality and the like.  Only Him whom John prepared the Way can and has.  He adorned our lives with His forgiveness from the tree of the Cross, once and for all. His baptism of us is our forgiveness received daily in repentance and faith.  Neither repentance avails without grace, nor grace without repentance; for repentance must first condemn sin, that grace may blot it out. So then John who was a type of the Law, came baptizing for repentance, while Christ came to offer grace.” (St. Ambrose)

The last verse of the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, states that Elijah, who went up into heaven in a fiery chariot, would return to prepare for the Messiah. As Jesus said, he is Elijah to come for those who have ears.  So that’s why Mark spends one whole verse on John’s clothes and his diet.

  • He wore a garment of repentance, the hard scratchy truth of our sin to be washed away for the forgiveness that the Lamb would bring:  Behold! He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.
  • He wore a leather belt as a man wears lifting heavy objects because of the weight of sin but the One Whom he was not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals, do a slave’s work, did the heavy lifting of our sins:  Christ was born for this.  In those days,  a leather belt was worn for traveling, so we travel in the holiness of faith and love, walking in the Holy Spirit.  And they wore robes and so a belt or a rope keeps one from tripping up himself…with the false advertising of the world’s false doctrines.
  • He ate locusts and wild honey, not exactly what we would call holiday fare!   Not a Christmas cookie in sight.  Hey Mom any Christmas treats?  Yes, son, crunchy bugs sweetened up with some wild honey.  Mom, why is your hand all swollen?  Bee stings.  John ate what the world deems not fit and likewise preached what the world does deem fit for consumption but without which we are dead.  We need the Word of God.

Prepare the royal highway, John preached. What rough places need to be made smooth?  What needs to be straightened in your walk?  What is the uneven ground that’s making for a bumpy, even dangerous, journey?  Make a highway for our God, He has.  I do not know about the infrastructure of our roads that need repair, but John is clear about the infrastructure of our lives that are in need of repair, that is repentance, daily, walking wet in our baptism. Baptism  which, “… signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” (The Small Catechism, Martin Luther, Explanation of Holy Baptism)

Baptism is not a done deal.  If it were, then it means the Lord is done with us: He’s not, as He called John to preach repentance, so in the reign of God, the Lord calls His Church and her preachers to preach and teach His Word.  Dying to hear, believing to live eternally with Him. Obeying His grace, seeing His Face,  serving those in our lives nearby, on the highway and byways through the maze of this world, always to pray so not to fall prey.   Amen. Even, so, come Lord Jesus come.

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