December 6, 2008

St Nicholas

Last night driving, Monte and me saw Mr and Mrs Santa Claus on a motorcycle in busy downtown Evergreen. I remembered reading that this was the night children could come see Santa. And then the other day at the Post Office, the postal worker was directing a mom and her kids to a box in the foyer for letters to Santa that went directly to the North Pole.

I've talked on my "Cycle of Celebrations" stuff across the country for quite some years now. I take a filled Christmas stocking along as a visual aid. I talk about the value of story and that the Bible mentions remembering the stories ... "tell the children ... that the grandchildren will know ... pass it on" ... over 300+ times. I researched Christian holidays, Jewish festivals, and then on to Saint Days.

I did not grow up with much of this and thought saint stuff was just Catholic. But it's all a part of church history. We have the Old and the New Testaments with their stories, and then what I call the Third Testament, carries on the stories. The apostle Paul refers to all of us believers as saints.

The Church for years started putting these stories on the Calendar. The dates are the people's death days - thus thought to be their Heaven birth dates. When Protestantism took off they threw out the calendar, as they did with so much (you know, the 'baby out with the bathwater' phrase).

As a result, since the St Nicholas story was not told for many generations, we end up with Santa Claus along with Jesus on Christmas. Instead, on December 6, we put up socks and fill them with stuff that reminds us of the real St Nicholas story and celebrate. We don't have to fear all the Santa stuff, just feel sad about the missing pieces of the whole story.

St Nicholas was a real person from present-day Turkey (288-354). He had lived through much persecution as a Christian and lived to see Christianity become the empire religion under Constantine. It's rumored he was at the Council of Nicea, where he was condemning the heresy of Arianism (not believing in the deity of Jesus). It's also said he slapped the heretic Arius.

There's SO many stories surrounding St Nicholas. The one he's most noted for is him throwing coins in a window, landing in socks hanging to dry, of a family who lost everything and the girls were going to give themselves to prostitution to make money. Nicholas employed people to make wooden toys to give away, and food - like ginger cookies, and even gave gifts of clothing. So these are things we put in the stockings: chocolate candy coins, ginger cookies, fruit, mittens or socks, and something wooden. So I'm always on the lookout for wooden toys and the candy coins. As Heather got older, I gave her wooden kitchen tools.

There's lots of silly stories (hagiography) ... but who knows. In those days people had eyes to see miracles. Do we look for miracles in our everyday - like God 'winks'? People used to wake up and say, "This is so-and-so's day" and remember their stories. If God was there for them, then he's here for us too. We wake up and it's just another Monday, or Friday, or Sunday. Our calendar days could be rich with stories - a Story Calendar.

Many saint stories are wild. Like maybe close to being heretics walking the edge over a precipice. But they are humans who hear the Gospel and walk it uniquely for their place and time. If not for them we'd not have much learning and healing institutions and inner city care. We'd not have kings, rulers, and church leadership hearing the Truth.

So use this day to celebrate and tell the real story of Santa Claus (who the Dutch brought to our country and it grew from there). Then the rest of December when people ask, "did you tell Santa what you want?" we can say, "his name is St Nicholas, and he's already been to our house". Then he's separated from Jesus.

Some have said, "I'm not going to tell my kids about Santa, cuz then they'll think Jesus is a myth too." Well I heard of a 10 year old telling college kids that he knew about Santa Claus, like he knew about elves, the easter bunny, and other pretend things. "I never got him mixed up with Jesus because I could tell from the way my parents talked and acted all year long that Jesus was true."

One year when we lived in Tucson, Monte took ashes from the fireplace and drew ash footprints coming out into the living room. We had left milk and cookies for Santa. At 31 and 29, I don't think Heather and Travis are psychologically crippled. Actually their sense of wonder (next to worship) is alive and well. Memories are the library of the soul.

Enjoy the cute books. I found that JRR Tolkien had written Father Christmas letters to his kids, and all his illustrations along with the 20 some years of letters are all in a fun book: Father Christmas Letters.

Sing the song "You better watch out ..." and then talk about the message of 'naughty or nice'. Because in Jesus, God gives salvation and adoption into the trinity family as a gift. We do not earn it.

"The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic His giving, by grace, through faith, and this not of ourselves," said Nicholas.

"We who still enjoy fairy tales have less reason to wish actual childhood back. We have kept its pleasures and added some grown-up ones as well." - CSLewis

"Come to me as a child," says Jesus.
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