The St Nicholas Claus

stnickIf I wore an elf’s hat, rang some sleigh bells, cried Ho Ho Ho and offered gifts, you might recognise the signs of a jolly bearded fellow who haunts shopping centres and visits many a Christmas fayre during December.  You might not however, think of St. Nicholas, but of course they are, or were, one and the same.  Exciting news therefore, (and you probably knew this already) that Santa Claus is real!  Also, hot off the press, contrary to the myth and legend that has grown up, it matters not how naughty or nice you’ve been during the year, the gifts that St Nicholas offers are free for all.    The young boy made Bishop of Myra in the 4th Century was known amongst other things for giving away small gifts and occasionally larger ones.  Mostly anonymously, and of course famously into three stockings hung up by a fireplace.  On those three occasions we are told he secretly placed money to save three sisters from slavery by providing their dowry.  St. Nicholas gets a rough ride these days.  His Bishop’s hat has become an elf’s hat, his crosier has become candy canes and his red cope has become Santa’s dressing gown!  The antithesis of his small acts of kindness and charity are competitive gift buying and giving – but enough said about that!  St. Nicholas is a good Saint for Advent for he always, like the prophets, points towards Jesus and encourages us to consider the ultimate gift of Christmas, the Love of God that is found in Jesus, expressed for us as a child born to refugees in a strange town in desperate poverty.  It is a free gift.  It humiliates much of the rest of the seasonal observances by its simplicity.  It is a free gift, but we must choose to accept it.  However, don’t be fooled, contrary to another popular myth, you don’t always get what you ask for, but you’ll always get what you need if you ask!  I’ll leave you to ponder that one.  We often focus on light at Christmas.  In darkened churches we huddle around candles feeling their warmth and revelling in the flickering candle glow. In the streets we cover our trees and houses in as many lights as we can, to banish a little of the darkness of this time of year, to cheer ourselves with bright things.  Nicholas, though, was not afraid of the darkness – and neither should we be.  In his reflections last Monday Lord Leslie Griffiths of Bury Port suggested that he finds it all too difficult to see the glimmer of light this year, for there is real darkness this Advent time.  He is right.  Our world, in many places is lost in the darkness.  Unable as yet to resolve conflicts without violence.  Unable (yet, but we live in hope) to agree on targets to reduce environment damaging emissions.  Unable to agree on how to deal with thousands of refugees and migrants.  Unable to live with differences in religion, culture and identity.  There is plenty to be concerned about and the darkness of it all could take us down with it if we were to let it.    So where is the glimmer of light, where is hint of the salvation in this darkness?  I’m not pretending to have any of the answers, but St. Nicholas is a good place to begin.  A random small act of charity or kindness?  A small unexpected gift?  What are such things in the darkness?  Far from mere tokens, they are offered without expectation of a return gift, simply offered, and always with Christ as the focus.  John Lewis ran an advert a few years ago.  A boy is sat by a window counting down the hours till Christmas.  Finally when the hour comes he races down stairs not to open presents, but to carry a badly wrapped parcel and offer it at his parents bedside.  It is in the giving, I think the caption was.  It is easy at this time of year to speak of kindness to tell stories of how folk are kind to one another and to speak about the charity of St. Nicholas.  But the glimmer of light comes when speaking kindness turns into doing those small acts of kindness to people who are in need of them.  We can speak of this time of year as one for family and friends and tell the stories of years past, and the glimmer of the light comes when speaking of friendship turns to being a friend to one who is in need.  St. Nicholas was known for his gifts of charity and acts of kindness to those in need, but always pointed to Jesus as the one who brings the light and love of God, for he became that light and love in his actions.  We too can offer the same gifts this year by sharing a little of the light in what we do.  We too can usher in the light by being light to those who are in darkness, by offering love to those who are without, by focusing on hope for the future Jesus brings, a small gift offered shelter by a stranger in an act of kindness and compassion, so enters the light of the world.

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