Yes, Virginia, There is a St. Nicholas
What, no Santa Claus? Why there might as well be no angels and archangels! No shepherds and wise men! No Joseph and Mary! No infant Jesus in the manger! No cross and empty tomb! No Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! No church, no communion of saints, no forgiveness of sins!
But of course, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! Oh, I don’t mean those silly old santas you see in the shopping malls wearing those funny red and white suits and bushy beards. Those are make believe Santas. They’re for fun. I’m talking about the real Santa Claus. His real name is Saint Nicholas. St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century in a town called Myra in what today is the country of Turkey. We don’t really know very much about St. Nicholas. We’re not even sure exactly what he looked like. He probably had a long beard. We know he didn’t wear a silly red and white suit. He probably wore black most of the time. His clothes probably looked something like what your pastor wears on Sunday morning in the Liturgy.
You see, St. Nicholas was a bishop. A bishop is a pastor in charge of all the churches in his town. He makes sure that everyone is well cared for and that his pastors are teaching people true things about God from the Bible. St. Nicholas especially was concerned for all the poor widows and orphans in his city. If they didn’t have shoes, he’d bring them shoes. If they didn’t have a blanket to keep them warm at night, he’d give them a blanket. If they needed food, he’d bring them food. If they needed a place to sleep for the night, he let them sleep in the church. He was always looking for poor people to help, especially little children who had no parents.
The real St. Nicholas didn’t worry so much about whether children were naughty or nice. He knew that all children are both naughty and nice, sometimes at the same time. So are adults. He also knew that Jesus died for everyone, the naughty and the nice. St. Nicholas wanted everyone to believe that. He didn’t keep any kind of list that he checked over twice, except maybe a list of all the people in his congregation who needed some kind of help. He was careful about making sure that people knew how much God loved them by showing them his love. If you looked at St. Nicholas and saw how much he loved other people, you could see the love of Jesus shining through him.
You see, Virginia, St. Nicholas loved Jesus very much, and he knew that Jesus loved him. He believed that Jesus was his best friend in the whole world and his Savior. St. Nicholas knew that because Jesus suffered and died for him, he would live forever with Jesus. He knew that Jesus became poor so that we might be rich in heavenly treasures. That’s why he was always doing good things for poor people. He wanted to show them the love of Jesus from his own heart.
St. Nicholas worshiped Jesus much the same way that we worship Jesus every Sunday. He preached God’s Word and celebrated the Lord’s Supper with his people. He preached sermons about Jesus, just as your pastor does, Virginia. Sometimes the children in St. Nicholas’ church got a little restless and noisy, but St. Nicholas didn’t seem to mind that. He was so happy that the children were there with their parents to hear about Jesus that he just kept on preaching anyway. He told people how God sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, how he suffered for their sins under Pontius Pilate, how he died on a cross and was buried to save everyone from death and hell, how He rose from the dead three days later and now reigns as our Redeemer, and how Jesus is going to appear very soon to take us to live with Him forever. Many people believed in Jesus because of St. Nicholas’ preaching. That made St. Nicholas happy.
St. Nicholas wasn’t always jolly. When people didn’t believe in Jesus or made fun of him, St. Nicholas became very sad. Sometimes he even cried when some people in his city never came to church. When people said bad things about Jesus, St. Nicholas would get very angry. One time, a fellow bishop named Arius said some bad things about Jesus. Arius said that Jesus wasn’t really God. That made St. Nicholas very upset. You see, St. Nicholas loved Jesus so much, he couldn’t stand to hear such awful things.
Some good bishops got together with St. Nicholas and wrote what we call the Nicene Creed. It’s the same Creed we say together in church every Sunday. Just think, Virginia, when you say the Creed, St. Nicholas is saying it with you! It makes him very happy to hear little children say the Creed by heart. St. Nicholas is always jolly and happy when children love Jesus and confess Him.
The real St. Nicholas actually doesn’t bring presents to boys and girls at Christmas time. And he doesn’t slide down chimneys. Most houses don’t even have chimneys anyway, and he couldn’t possibly fit in them even if they did. And he doesn’t fly around the sky in a sled pulled by reindeer. Those are funny make believe stories to make little children laugh and be happy. Actually, your Mom and Dad give you presents at Christmas time. They do that because they love you, and they want to teach you to give good things to other people, especially poor people, just as St. Nicholas did. Most of all, they want you to remember God’s Gift to you of His Son Jesus.
St. Nicholas died a long time ago. But he still lives! St. Nicholas now lives with God. Thank God, St. Nicholas lives, Virginia! He lives because Jesus died and lives. He lives because he was baptized and believed in Jesus, who was born and died and rose and reigns for St. Nicholas and for us all. I don’t know if St. Nicholas sees you when you’re sleeping or knows if you’re awake. But I do know that St. Nicholas is with us whenever we are together in church to hear God’s Word and to eat and drink Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper. He’s there with the angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven.
No, Virginia. You shouldn’t believe in Santa Claus. St. Nicholas doesn’t want you to believe in him or pray to him. He wants you to believe in Jesus. Pray to your heavenly Father through His Son Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Love and trust Jesus with all your heart, and know for certain that He loves you with all His heart. He was born of Mary and laid in a manger for you. He baptized you when you were a baby so that you could belong to Him forever. He forgives you and feeds you and teaches you and will raise you from the dead. Those are gifts only God can give you. So believe in God. And thank God for St. Nicholas.
The Rev. William M. Cwirla, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Hacienda Heights, California Christmas, 1997, Revised Advent, 2004
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