At the LCMS church, the service was lessons and carols. We did not have an actual sermon, but an allusion to Philippians 1:6 encouraged me: He who began a good work in you will see it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
The Sunday school class was conducted by a visiting pastor. He said that he does not currently serve a congregation but drives a bus. He showed us this video by Dr. Ken Klaus of Lutheran Hour Ministries. The pastor and Dr. Klaus seemed to have a problem with telling kids that there is a Santa Claus. One reason, of course, is that Santa does not exist. But another reason is that people ascribe to Santa attributes that belong to God. Santa gives gifts, and James 1:7 states that every good and perfect gift is from God. Santa has omnipresence, somewhat, in that he can cover the world in a single night. Santa is also omniscient in that he knows when you are sleeping, when you are awake, and when you have been bad and good. I thought about a handout that I received in a Hebrew class years ago, which facetiously argued that Santa was based on the God of the Hebrew Bible. Both ride a chariot, both are ancient, and both say “Ho, ho” (Zechariah 2:6).
The pastor and Dr. Klaus were suggesting that it is preferable to tell children about the historical St. Nicholas. Not only does that highlight the Christian nature of Christmas, but Dr. Klaus also said that it obeyed Hebrews 13:7’s exhortation to Christians to remember their leaders who taught them the word of God, to consider the outcome of those leaders’ lives, and to imitate their faith.
St. Nicholas was born in 270 to wealthy parents in Pataia, Turkey. His parents were wealthy, and they died from a plague when Nicholas was young. Nicholas went to Myra to church to pray early one morning, and the bishop there had a vision that the first person at that church in the morning would be his successor as bishop. The pastor said that the historicity of this incident has been doubted, but that more than one scholar maintains that Nicholas was only one of three bishops who did not serve as a priest beforehand (the other two are St. Ambrose and St. Severus). The pastor suggested that this may buttress the legend.
Nicholas is known for his charity towards the poor. He saved a man’s three daughters from becoming prostitutes, attempting to donate gold to them anonymously, in accordance with Jesus’s command. He was also known for confessing the faith during the Diocletian persecution. But he is also known for decking Arius, who claimed that the Son (who became Jesus) was a created being and was inferior to the Father. That was no more acceptable then than it is now, so Nicholas was stripped of his bishop’s garments and thrown into a cell. Nicholas was sorry, and he was visited by Jesus and Mary, who gave him bishop’s robes and Scriptures to read during the night. Mary also instructed two bishops to forgive Nicholas.
Scholars probably accept some of this story while debating other aspects. The pastor also referred to a ministry that seeks to celebrate Advent by worship, giving to the poor, and cutting back on commercialism. They continue the legacy of St. Nicholas.