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Tuesday, December 6, 2001

Lighting the Candle

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.
Ephesians 5:8-10

It was from my Dutch wife, Rita, that I learned about the significance of this day, “St. Nicholas Day”. It is St. Nicholas Day that begins Christmas festivities in the Netherlands and in many parts of Europe. On the night of December 5, Dutch children gather to watch his ship land in Amsterdam as St. Nicholas and helpers brings nuts and candies to fill the shoes and stockings set out for him. When the Dutch came to America and established the colony of New Amsterdam, the children continued to delight in the visits of St. Nicholas on his feast day. Over the years, St. Nicholas became Santa Claus and the reality of this godly man was secularized. If you look at the name Santa Claus, you see that “Santa” means saint and “Claus” is an abbreviation of Nicholas.

The Church has remembered St. Nicholas through the centuries as a man who followed Jesus’ command to be a light in dark places and to help the poor and suffering. He lived in the fourth century in Asia Minor when the Christian faith was beginning to spread across Europe. He was born into a wealthy family, but his parents died from the plague when he was quite young. Nicolas was a devout Christian who was made bishop in the city of Myra, a city on the southern coast of what is modern Turkey. There are accounts of his participation in the Council of Nicea in A. D. 325, which laid the foundation for the Nicene Creed that we recite in our churches over 1,600 years later.

In addition to Nicholas’ many church duties, he was known as a man who cared for his people, especially the poor. There are many stories of his secretly leaving gifts late at night for children of the poor. During the period of intense persecution by the Emperor Diocletian, Nicolas was imprisoned but eventually released. He continued his ministry until his death on this day in A. D. 343.

One of the best known stories about Nicholas’ gift giving is about a poor family that could not afford dowries for their three daughters. The parents were facing selling their daughters into slavery or prostitution. When Nicolas heard of their plight, he sold some of his possessions, took the money, and went secretly to the family’s house late at night. He threw three bags of gold through the window of their house to save the girls from a terrible fate. Although Nicholas intended his gift to be anonymous, it became known. The tradition of giving to the needy, secretly at night in honor of St. Nicholas, spread throughout Europe.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Clause! His name is Saint Nicholas of Myra, and we celebrate his life today! May we too be faithful to “live as children of the light.”




Our Father, we thank you for the many men and women, like Nicholas, who have been faithful in trial, steadfast in opposition, and generous in their lives. May we too follow their godly examples and give ourselves to those who are suffering and needy. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

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