When you say "Christmas", many people immediately think of Santa Claus. And there is a growing movement among Christians today to remove Santa Claus from Christmas celebration. Personally, I think that's a bad idea. Why? Because Santa Claus is one sign which, fully understood, points back in time to the birth and lifetime of Christ.
Let's take a look at exactly who this fellow is. His name was Niklaus (pronounced NEE-klowse) or "Klaus" for short. He was born in Patara, in what is now Turkey. His parents, who were vary wealthy, raised him with a deep and abiding love of Christ. Upon their death, young Klaus took Matthew 19:21 very seriously. When he could have lived in luxury, he instead gave all that he had to the poor.
One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. (thanks to Stnicholascenter.org for the info)
Though he lived in the fourth century, Niklaus provides us with such an excellent example of charity and generosity that to this day we strive to follow his example. His lifestyle of giving is a wonderful reflection of the life of Jesus, who gave everything He had for the otherwise doomed human race. But even more than his generosity, Niklaus' life was shaped by his deep, deep love of Jesus. Under the emperor Diocletian, he endured ruthless persecution because of his love for Jesus. Despite exile and imprisonment, his faith never wavered. He dedicated his life to the Lord and was made bishop of Myra at a very young age.
One of the best illustrations of Niklaus' love of Jesus comes from the council of Nicaea in 325. When one of the other attendees by the name of Arias made the claim that Jesus was inferior to God the father (and went on and on in that vein forcefully and at length) Niklaus found his ire building until he stormed across the room and struck the man in the face. While I'm not advocating hitting anyone, I can't help but admire such passionate love.
The other bishops were insensed. How could a bishop lose his cool in such a solemn assembly? But then, how could the Son of God lose his cool in the temple courts? Personally, I applaud Niklaus. My question is why weren't the other bishops consumed with zeal for Christ instead of standing around listening to heresy like a bunch of pompous first-century pharisees?
Unfortunately, because it is a crime to strike someone in the emperor's presence, Niklaus was defrocked, his name stricken from the council's records and he was placed in chains and jailed.
While it's impossible to verify or disprove, it is said that Jesus appeared to Niklaus while he was in jail and asked why he was there.
"I am here because I love you." answered the bishop.
Jesus gave Niklaus a copy of the scriptures and returned his robes to him. When he was found, still in jail, reading the scriptures and wearing his robes, the chains that had bound him lying on the floor, it became clear that God did not approve of the defrocking. He was set free and reinstated as bishop.
The stories of this amazing man go on and on. I can tell you how he waged a lifelong war against Artemis. How he rescued innocents who were wrongly persecuted. How even long after his death, stories would come rolling in of how he had appeared to those in trouble and rescued them.
But the point isn't WHAT in particular he did. The point is that he did it. His life was ruled by love. Love of God and love of his fellow man. He honored God in all he did, and because of it, God chose to honor him. He made Niklaus synonymous with the celebration of Jesus' birthday. He holds him up as an example of what the follower of Jesus should be. Saint Niklaus is a sign which points backwards to Jesus because he was an optimal reflection of Him. He gave up all he had out of love, to be a servant of his fellow man. He taught those around him about the God whom he loved with all his heart, even when he had to suffer for it. He fought against those things that would keep God and man apart. But most important of all is that everything he did, he did out of love.
Today, there are thousands upon thousands of "santas" who carry on the work of St. Niklaus in his name. You see them all the time. They brighten the faces of children in department stores and shopping malls. They raise money for the salvation army and other charities. And yes, there are even those who sneak into houses on Christmas eve and leave gifts. I have no doubt that this last category includes one who lives at the north pole and ranches reindeer. There is even one particular Santa who put together an anthology of Christmas-themed webcomics and gave all the proceeds to the poor. Wherever you find a Santa, you find acts of love being performed. And you can be assured that in Heaven, St. Nick himself is still busy with his acts of love.
But consider this: What does "santa" mean? It means saint. The word saint applies to all who call Jesus their lord. You could say that every Christian who fulfills their duty to love Christ and their fellow man is a member of the order of Nicholas.
For nine weeks, we have examined the signs which tell us who the Messiah is and what he does. Today, we have examined one sign which points backwards to Jesus, and which instructs us to be like Him. It all comes down to this:
Matthew 22:36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
Pastor Oren Otter
December 24, 2005