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The Naughty & Nice St. Nick

Maybe no one deserves to have the phrase “the man, the myth, the legend” attached to him more than Nicholas of Myra—or as you know him, St. Nick.  He is, in fact, a historical figure: a man, a bishop, from the city of Myra in modern-day Turkey, and his feast day in the Church Year is this Friday, December 6th. He is also the inspiration for the myth and legend we know as Santa Claus.

I want to share two stories of the man, St. Nicholas—one nice, and the other naughty (in the eyes of the world, at least). In both instances, however, he shows himself a faithful confessor of Jesus and a model of Christian faithfulness for you and me. 

St. Nicholas provides us with an example of being not only nice but also, if necessary, naughty for the sake of Christ.

The “nice” story of the dowries

First, the story that, probably more than any other, connects the man to the myth.

There was once a poor man who had fallen on hard times. He had three daughters who were of an age to be married, and in those days a young woman's family had to have something of value (what’s called a dowry) to offer a prospective groom. Bigger the dowry, better the chance a young lady would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. So this poor man's daughters, without dowries, were destined for slavery—or worse.

Word of this reaches Nicholas. The bishop secretly goes to the house at night and tosses a bag of gold into the house. It sails through an open window and lands in a stocking that was hanging in front of the fire to dry. The family is overjoyed to find the gold in the morning and soon the first daughter is wed.

Not long after, another bag of gold again appears mysteriously, and the second daughter is married. The father, now eager to find out who his benefactor is, keeps watch during the night. A third bag of gold lands inside the house and the father leaps up and snags the fleeing donor. He says, "Ah, Nicholas, it is you! You’ve saved my daughters from certain disaster!"

But Nicholas is embarrassed and doesn’t want to be exposed. He begs the man to keep his identity secret and says, "You must thank God alone for providing these gifts in answer to your prayers for deliverance."

The “naughty” story of St. Nick & Arius

The second story paints a somewhat different picture of jolly old St. Nick, but which is no less a part of his being faithful.

Nicholas was a bishop in the 4th century, at the time the Council of Nicea was held, and he was among the attendees. The impetus for the Council was the teachings of one Arius, a priest from Alexandria. Arius denied the divinity of Jesus, saying that although he was the highest of creatures, Jesus was nevertheless merely that: a creature. He summed up his teaching with a little jingle: “There was a time when he (i.e., Jesus) was not.” 

The Council of Nicea was convened to give Arius a hearing and for the bishops to formulate their position on the matter. Arius was vigorously arguing his position, and the bishops listened on. After awhile, though, Nicholas became agitated as he heard this man tearing down the divinity of Christ. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer: he got up out of his seat, marched across the room, and slugged Arius in the face! 

After cooling down, Nicholas would repent and ask for forgiveness for his assault—though not for his conviction of faith. He was ultimately forgiven and restored. The Council would conclude with the divinity of Christ being affirmed, and our Nicene Creed is the result.

Nice & Nicean

Author Gene Veith suggests, (mostly) tongue-in-cheek, that since we have adopted St. Nick’s practice of giving gifts perhaps we should also consider giving a gentle "holy slap” to supposed Christians who defame the name of Christ. 

Of course, we by no means want to encourage physical confrontations, and Nicholas himself acknowledged his error. But in his firm conviction of faith St. Nick nevertheless provides us with an example of being not only nice but also, if necessary, naughty for the sake of Christ—or should we say, Nicean?

Sunday's sermon

Jesus tells us that His return is unexpectedly expected—we don't know when it will happen, only that it will happen. How should that change the way that we live? 

Listen to Sunday's sermon

News & Notes

  • One great way to commemorate St. Nick day is by making St. Nicholas Day gingerbread cookies. You can find a recipe here, and here's a pattern for cutting out and decorating. We've done this for years at the Tinetti household (don't tell the kids), placing them in the kids' shoes outside their bedroom door along with a little note of encouragement and a tangerine. Great fun!  
  • The Manistee News Advocate ran a really nice story on the Shoults-Sullivan family and our upcoming benefit dinner. Check out the story, and if you're not able to make the dinner but would like to support them you can send a check made out to church with their name in the memo line. 
  • By now you will have heard of the passing of our dear brother in Christ, John Steben. John was an incredibly thoughtful and deeply faithful man. I'm grateful to have known him. His funeral will be this Saturday morning at 11 a.m. There will be visitation beginning at 10 a.m.

From the Church Year

This Friday, December 6th, as noted above, the Church Year commemorates St. Nicholas of Myra. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

"Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. A.D. 342) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, although 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 Turkey today) 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."

Heretic most hated, 
Spread the lie
Our Savior was created.
Hearing of his fall from grace
Nicholas hit him in the face—
Holy Father Nicholas.

– William Tighe

Looking ahead to Sunday

The 2nd Sunday in Advent
  • Readings
    • Old Testament lesson—Isaiah 11.1-10
    • Epistle lesson—Romans 15.4-13
    • Gospel—Matthew 3.1-12
  • Hymn of the Day—"On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" (LSB 344)

+ Blessed Advent +

Pastor Tinetti

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