In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

The Church places before us today for veneration St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, the Archbishop of Myra in Lycia. St. Nicholas is one of the most greatly venerated saints in all of Christian tradition. And it’s a pity that the image of this great saint has been replaced in our culture with “Santa Claus,” and the complete secularization of this entire Nativity season. We no longer find the primary focus (of Christmas) to be on Christ – in some places you can’t even put up a Nativity scene any more because people will be offended and complain. But we have to remember that all of the modern fuss about Christmas (lights, Santa, snowmen, loads of presents, commercial takeover) is a perversion of what this feast is all about. Just like everything in Christian life, our focus is always Christ.

And Saint Nicholas is given to us (as we continue to go through our fasting in preparation for our Lord’s Nativity, we’re half way) as an icon of what we’re called to be in Christ. And St. Nicholas is a perfect foil, the exact opposite, of what the fallen world calls us to focus on during this time of the year.

1 – St. Nicholas calls us to focus all of our energies on Christ. The world wants us to give our time and our effort to ourselves; the sickness of fallen humanity is a fascination with ourselves. [Fathers-Lucifer saw his own beauty, forgot the glory of God, and fell] And this self-centeredness leads us to ignore not only God, but even our fellow man that we see every day. St. John writes, “if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). This past week during the “pre-Christmas sales,” human beings were trampled to death under the feet of their fellow man trying to get into a store and buy stuff they wanted for themselves. St. Nicholas is a corrective for this – in his life we see a total dependence on God, an absolute focus on Christ and the things of God.

2 – Today we’re told to get as much as we can; to get and to receive become the themes of Christmas. Giving is part of it, but only to reciprocate what we’re getting – there’s very little desire to really help people in need (it’s done some, but how much of it is real substantial help). St. Nicholas had no care for worldly acquisitions; he gave all he had to the poor and to the needy with no thought for his own comfort or desires. The most famous story about St. Nicholas is when he throws the bags of gold in the window of a poor family to save the daughters from being sold into slavery. He would give people the coat off his back, the shoes from his feet, and the food from his table; for the sake of Christ he would go without. He was watching out for the people of his flock, for the people of his community.

3 – And for all of his effort, St. Nicholas wanted no recognition. He gave in secret, to avoid the praise of the world. No bumper stickers or T-shirts or TV specials. As Christ says, “When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand what thy right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3). If we want praise, the Scriptures tell us that we have our reward. Our assistance of the poor and needy, and even of our brothers and sisters in Christ, should be done in love and in Christ, with no desire for thanks or recognition.

4 – And finally for this morning’s look at St. Nicholas, he calls on us to stand and defend uncompromisingly our faith and our Holy Tradition. St. Nicholas was at the first Ecumenical Council, which proclaimed the Nicene Creed and pronounced as heresy the teachings of Arius. And Arianism was a very popular teaching at that time…many of the bishops were even drawn to the ideas of Arius. Today we’re tempted greatly by a world that wants us to keep our faith to ourselves. A world that wants us to say that everything’s okay, and to just go along with the next fad, or the next popular idea. Our world wants faith to be only a personal, private decision that has no impact on the way we live or interact with others. Christianity won’t allow that! Our faith affects every aspect of our lives, everything we do. We carry Christ into the world; and sometimes that means standing up for Christ in the middle of a crowd, or reminding others of the true meaning of the Nativity season. We not here to shove our ideas on others, but we will boldly proclaim the Truth when the occasion calls for it.

I’m sure there are other things we can take from the life of St. Nicholas as a balm, to help cure our wounds and the woes of the day. And the people of God have always loved St. Nicholas, because he fulfilled everything that a hierarch of the Church was to be. He loved God above all, and he thought about his suffering people long before he gave consideration to his own wants or even needs. He lived everything we read in St. Luke’s Gospel this morning—he was poor and hungry and hated and reviled, he was slandered and imprisoned, and he offered and suffered everything for sake of the Kingdom of God. May he be for us the example of life in the image of Christ.

Holy Father Nicholas, pray to God for us!

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!