Advent Afternoons: The Eve of St. Nicholas
On the Eve of St. Nicholas
My grandsons love St. Nicholas, but they’ll run away screaming if Santa Claus comes into view. After all, Santa is a big, loud critter who sees and knows all and sends out elves to sit on your shelf and tattle on you, while St. Nicholas is a church-sanctioned saint who protects children (also sailors, brewers, pawn brokers and others) and leaves chocolates in your wooden shoes.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m 65 and I still believe in Santa. But I can also understand how the idea of being under behavioral surveillance by some huge hairy dude who can either make your day or take away your toys can be a bit unsettling to toddlers, especially when they are still learning to navigate the world of parental and societal regulations.
Sad, then, isn’t it, when we understand God the same way? Be good, believe the right things, follow the rules and you’ll go to heaven. If you don’t, well, you’ll get what you deserve and it won’t be fun. Hard to get excited about that.
Thankfully, that’s not what our faith (or the season of Advent) is about. Among other things, Advent is about imitating St. Nicholas. As a fourth century Bishop in Turkey, he was known for his attention to the needs of others. He was able to understand that the best way to help folks look forward to and prepare for the coming of Christ was to be Christ-like himself. He helped the helpless, the vulnerable and those who might not have been on the A-list for Christmas invitations. And most of the time he did it anonymously. (By the way, that part about hanging your stockings on Christmas Eve. Legend has it that he tossed coins through an open window to help impoverished and dower-less sisters. He didn’t sneak into their home, and he didn’t climb down a chimney. The coins fell into their socks as the laundry hung near the fire to dry.)
Anyway, St. Nicholas is a huge part of Advent. He embodies a spirit of eternal love and hope while we live here in the mean-time. That’s why we need folks like St. Nicholas. We need to be able to trust in goodness and to look forward with joy to the presence of God in the world. We need to be able to rejoice in the presence of the divine in the face of an infant. We yearn to be safe, warm, loved and sheltered. And, truth be told, we want to be able to make other people feel that way.
So, for Nicholas and all the Saints of God, we give thanks!