Saint Nicholas’ day is, of course, a very special day in the life of the Church and the 500 plus Churches in the UK which are named after him.
It’s hard to believe that Saint Nicholas was real because he so often gets confused with Santa Claus. But real he was, serving as Bishop of Myra, now Turkey, in the 4C. He’s the Patron Saint of Children and Sailors as well as Scotland, Russia and Greece and, would you believe, Pawnbrokers! (Legend has it that Nicholas gave three bags of gold to a family to save their children. The pawnbrokers use three orbs as the symbol of three bags of gold as a place to get money in time of need).
The stories of Saint Nicholas are many: his healing ministry; his support for and defence of the poor; his generosity – for, just like Saint Francis of Assisi, he gave away all his wealth. He was also willing to stand up for Gospel truth at a time when the Arian heresy was at its peak – a heresy that denied that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. He was actually stripped of his Bishopric because of this – but was later reinstated. But most of all, Saint Nicholas was known for his love of God and his love for others. The kind of love we read about in 1 John 4:7-14.
The Uniqueness of God’s love.
God’s love in the Bible is known as Agape love. The purest, deepest kind of love expressed as an act of will rather than through emotions. Vs7-9 remind us that God’s love is given without any merit or qualification on our behalf. He loves us in spite of our disobedience and our sin. His love for us is perfect and complete and nothing you or I could ever do would cause God to love us any more or any less than he does. And it is this divine, sacrificial, costly, unconditional, everlasting, inexhaustible, overwhelming and unchanging love that is offered to each one of us through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. A love Saint Nicholas knew to be true in his own life.
God’s love is shown in the way we love one another.
As vs11 reminds us: Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Here the writer emphasizes the need for each of us to be full of Agape love for others. And it is this Agape love that should characterise the Christian community if we are to stand apart as having a distinctively different kind of love from the love that exists in the world.
We know that Jesus gave us a new commandment in John 13:34-35: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love and another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples. Christians are to love, because they belong to God and because God is love. It’s often said that love is a verb – a doing word! How we need God’s Agape love if we are to be a blessing to the world in which we are called to serve – just as Saint Nicholas was during his lifetime.
God’s love is needed in our lives.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle to demonstrate God’s unconditional love for others in the way that He loves me. My heart isn’t big enough to forgive those who hurt me. My heart isn’t big enough to forgive those who cost lives through initiating war and genocide and causing refugees to leave their homes. My heart isn’t big enough to absorb all the pain I see around me in this world …
I need something that helps to put my own feelings and my own pride to one side. Remembering the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross does all that for me, vs10.
But I don’t believe we can love as God wants us to love if we’ve not fallen in love with God ourselves, vs8. But when we do, and Jesus comes into our lives, vs13, the Holy Spirit enables us to be a different kind of person. He provides us with a new kind of love altogether and enables us to produce God’s Agape love in our daily lives.
It’s interesting that Saint Nicholas’ feast day falls in the middle of the Advent season as we look forward to celebrating both the Return and the Birth of the Lord Jesus Christ – but I believe we can do so with renewed enthusiasm because of Saint Nicholas.
May he be the Patron of all Christians filled with the love that comes from God alone. May we commit to be a people who have a giving heart; a people who meet the needs of those in our community – especially in the Market Place. May we have a heart that blesses others. But most of all, may we have a heart that yearns to introduce people to the Father of Christmas as we the good news of Jesus, vs14: the Saviour of the world.
A Special Prayer for Saint Nicholas Day
Almighty Father, lover of souls,
who chose your servant Nicholas to be a bishop in the Church,
that he might give freely out of the treasures of your grace:
make us mindful of the needs of others and,
as we have received, so teach us also to give;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
NB. Paula and I were married on 6 December 1986. We weren’t Anglicans at the time and we didn’t even know about Saint Nicholas Day! It was a convenient Saturday after Paula finished her nurse training. Not knowing what the future would bring, getting married in December wasn’t a good move for a future man of the cloth!
Randy Stonehill, an American Christian singer wrote ‘Christmas Song for all Year Round’ and included this line: I know that if Saint Nicholas was here, he would agree, that Jesus gave the greatest gift of all to you and me.