God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God
Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; 4th Week of Advent, 2013
20 December 2013Posted by on
Hebrews 11:1-3 NIV2010 Faith in Action
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
Matthew 25:35-36 NIV2010
Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Today is the Forth and final Sunday in Advent. The Church has set this season to remember Jesus’ first coming (the First Advent) two thousand years ago, and to prepare ourselves for his final return (the Final Advent) sometime in the future.
In the last few weeks we looked at Paul’s epistle to Galatians and at James’ epistle to the early church in Jerusalem. Both of these pastoral letters were written around 49 CE (less than 20 years after Jesus was crucified and resurrected)
Both of these pastoral letters give us a window into what life was like for the first Christians less than 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection; what they were struggling with and what it meant to be followers of Jesus living in a world that had beliefs and convictions different from their own. Their struggles were not all that different from our own.
Today I want to talk about another character from our Christian heritage. When I was thinking and preparing for the season of Advent, one of the questions that came to me was, “I wonder what Christmas looks like through the eyes of Santa Claus?” Now some of you may be thinking, what does Santa Claus have to do with our Christian heritage. Allow me to explain.
In order to answer this question, I had to think about the historical person whose life and ministry gave birth to the personification of Santa Claus.
Santa Claus is an abbreviation for Saint Nicholas. St. Nicholas of Myra was a historic person born on 15th of March 270 in Asia Minor in the city of Patara (He died on 6th of December, 343). He was the only son of a wealthy Christian couple who died in an epidemic when Nicholas was very young; that is why he had no siblings. After his parents’ death, young Nicholas was raised by his uncle, also named Nicholas. His uncle was a priest and the Bishop of Patara.
Uncle Nicholas tonsured his nephew as a reader in his cathedral and later ordained him as a priest.
Eventually Nicholas was sent to serve his own church in the nearby city of Myra, and eventually he became Bishop of the city of Myra. In 325, he was one of the Bishops summoned by Emperor Constantine and charged with developing a concise statement explaining what Christians believe. We know that statement as Nicene Creed (UMH 880).
Earlier I mentioned that Nicholas was born into a wealthy family, and he inherited his parents’ wealth when they died. When he became a priest he made the decision to use his wealth to help his neighbors in need. He did not want to draw attention to himself; his intention was that all he did would point to God. That is why when Nicholas learned of a need, he would take a pair of socks, wrap a couple of coins in these stockings and at night, under the cover of darkness, he would toss the package into the window of a house. In the morning a family would find the treasure that appeared to be Heaven sent.
There are historical accounts of Nicholas providing dowries to three young women so they would not have to be sold into slavery or prostitution, but instead would have a chance to marry and have a family of their own. There are historical accounts of Nicholas providing money to a craftsman whose tools were destroyed, helping him to reestablish himself in business and continue to support his family.
Eventually when he became a Bishop and had lots of students and priests in his church, it became difficult for him to sneak around without getting caught. That is how these stories came to be written down, and that is how we know so much about him.
By the time of Martin Luther and the reformation (1517 give or take a decade or two), the custom of exchanging gifts was firmly established and it happened on the feast commemorating Saint Nicholas on December 6. Children were told that St. Nicholas/Santa Claus was bringing these gifts. Some people started worshiping St. Nicholas instead of Jesus, and that is one of the issues Martin Luther tried to address.
Martin Luther came up with the concept of Christkindl; the idea was to discourage worship of St. Nicholas and instead remember Jesus’ first Advent and prepare for his Second Advent. The tradition of exchanging gifts was changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve.
Martin Luther’s Christkindl was an angelic creature with blond hair and angelic wings. Martin Luther intended it to be a reference to the incarnation of Jesus as an infant. On Christmas Eve it would visit all the children who were obedient to their parents and behaved “well” during the year; as a reward Christkindl would bring them toys and treats. The idea did not catch on very well; Christkindl came to English as Kris Kringle, another name for Santa Claus.
This is a very quick look at the tradition of Santa Claus. My hope in sharing this is that we gain a better understanding where this tradition stems from so that we can incorporate this understanding into the way we live our faith and devotion to God.
The historic Bishop Nicholas of Myra was inspired by Jesus’ words, “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was sick you visited me. When I was in prison (or could not come to you), you came to me.” Saint Nicholas took on faith these teachings, and he reached out to his neighbors. His dedication, life and actions are so meaningful that they still inspire Christians today.
Paul wrote in his letters to the Hebrews, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
As I stand before you today, I am confident that God created this Earth. I take it on faith that God’s human children, personified in Adam and Eve, inadvertently released evil into God’s Creation. That is why God had to take our form and come to live among us, so that God could show us that evil does not have the last word, and we do have a choice and a hope. Saint Nicholas’ ministry was about making all that real to those around him.
Jesus came to demonstrate faith, hope, love, peace, and ultimately joy that comes from knowing and living the deeper truths of life. I am talking about the truths of knowing God who created the Universe and the world in which we live. I am talking about God who knows each of us and calls each of us by name. I am talking about God who came to live among us in the form of a baby and eventually grew up to demonstrate and to teach us about life. I am talking about Jesus who demonstrates by his life, his teachings, his death and resurrection that evil does not need to win or rule our lives. I am talking about Jesus who offers healing and redemption. I am talking about Jesus who promises, “I will walk with you always, I will never forsake you, I will be by your side, I am as close to you as you let me to be.”
That is what Saint Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus, is about. St. Nicholas did not only believe all that, St. Nicholas counted on it and he lived it.
The Advent season is a time for us to remember that Jesus is coming back and that the way we live our lives matters. Someday we will face our maker and we will be asked what we did with our lives, how we glorified our God and whether the world is a better place because we were here.
So back to my original question, “What does Christmas looks like through the eyes of Santa Claus?” The answer to that question depends on who is OUR Santa Claus? The reality is that Saint Nicholas lives in all of us to some extent. Collectively, all of us are “Saint Nicholas”/”Santa Claus” and it is up to us how OUR “Santa Claus” sees Christmas.
When we give gifts without any thought of glorifying God, we end up with lots of junk that takes a lot of energy to maintain, to store, and takes all of our time away from us. When all we do is concentrate on glorifying God without paying attention to what is happening in the world, we become so Heavenly bound that we are no longer Earthly good.
Does our “Santa Claus” seek to bless his neighbors by meeting a need that they have, or does he give gifts simply to meet his own need to feel generous and superior?
I just want to look at the last year and remind you of some ways that “Santa Claus” of CUMC blessed their neighbors.