First Thursday of Advent; St.Nicholas: “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Mark 10. “..aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6
St Nicholas has been honoured in both East and West and the countless stories associated with his name all bear witness to something extraordinary about him.
According to tradition, he was born at Patara, Lycia, a province of southern Asia Minor where St Paul had planted the faith. Myra, the capital, was the seat of a bishopric held by Nicholas. The accounts of Nicholas given us by the Greek Church say that he was imprisoned in the reign of Diocletian, whose persecutions were waged with great severity. Some twenty years after this he appeared at the Council of Nicaea, to join in the condemnation of Arianism.
He was apparently very well brought up by pious and virtuous parents, who set him to studying the sacred books at the age of five. His parents died while he was still young, leaving him with a comfortable fortune, which he resolved to use for works of charity. Soon an opportunity came. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money and his three daughters could not find husbands because of their poverty.
In despair their wretched father was about “to commit them to a life of shame.” When Nicholas heard of this, he is said to have taken a bag of gold and at night tossed it through an open window of the man’s house. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl, and she was quickly married. Nicholas did the same for the second and then for the third daughter. On the last occasion the father was watching by the window, and overwhelmed his young benefactor with gratitude. The symbol of his gratitude, the three golden "purses", became a familiar sight in Victorian times as the sign above the door of a pawnbroker's shop.
The story of the Miracle of the children in the salting tub is told by St. Bonaventure: St. Nicholas was on his journey to the Council of Nicea, he entered an inn whose owner had killed two boys for their meagre belongings. The innkeeper was not content with that, he placed the boys in a vat of brine, and was going to sell them as various cuts of meat! St. Nicholas restored the boys to life and converted the innkeeper.
The connection between St. Nicholas (or Santa Claus, or Sinterklaas) and Christmas has evolved over time and place. Sinterklaas (Dutch)and in some other European countries, the Bishop (Santa) Claus rides on a white horse, “helped” by the mischievous Zwarte Piet, who peers down chimneys to see whether the children of the household have been well-behaved or not. Those who receive presents thrown down the chimney have earnt them by good behaviour; those who don’t - well Zwarte Piet is more-restrained in these days of safeguarding the vulnerable!
St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, prostitutes, sailors, those in debt, pawnbrokers, and the police, amongst others. He is also a patron saint of Russia.
Nicholas was known for his concern
for justice, and his care for the needy and vulnerable - a model for modern living,
He is said to have died on this day,
6th December, in 343.
THE COLLECT FOR TODAY
God, shepherd of your people,
whose servant Nicholas revealed
the loving service of Christ in his ministry as a pastor of your people:
awaken within us the love of Christ
and keep us faithful to our Christian calling; through him who laid down
his life for us, Jesus Christ.
Today, in much of Europe,
presents are given
to commemorate God's generosity through St Nicholas,
and through God's Son,
whom Nicholas served and proclaimed.
Here is a prayer for those who find Christmas difficult, where the present for which they would most wish has been taken away....
All around us are the sights and sounds of Christmas, Gentle God:
the laughter of parties, the shouts of children......
So, in this time when every night stretches into eternity,
we come to you, bringing our gifts:
not gold, frankincense and myrrh,
but the grief that is the empty space
in the wardrobe filled with memories, the bitterness that tastes like two-day old coffee.
We have stood on the side of every room we have gone into,
hoping against hope that someone would talk or ask us to dance,
but find the wall is our only friend.
In a season when so many people don't have enough hours in a day
to get their lists checked off, their cards mailed,
their presents wrapped, we have all the time in the world: to remember the loss that has stolen the joy of the season; to grieve over a job, a dream, a loved one we have lost; to sit in the shadows of our homes, too weary to turn on the lights;
to wander the streets lit by decorations on all the houses,
but not by the Light of the world.
So, be with us in our longing, in our loss, in our lives.
~ written by Thom Shuman
Almighty Father, lover of souls,
who chose your servant Nicholas
to be a bishop in the Church,
that he might give freely out of the treasures of your grace:
make us mindful of the needs of others and,
as we have received, so teach us also to give;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.