Someone has said that there are four stages to a man’s life: one (you believe in Santa Claus), two (you don’t believe in Santa Claus), three (you are Santa Claus), and four (you look like Santa Claus).
Let me tell you about the man we call Santa Claus. St. Nick was born in the year 280 A.D. in Lycia of Myra (Turkey). He was raised by pious and wealthy parents who brought him up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. But he lost both his mother and father when he was just a teen. Inheriting the family fortune, Nicholas had a desire to use these riches for good. The first opportunity came when he heard about a father who, through no fault of his own, was left desolate with three daughters. (Back then, without marriage dowry money, the girls would be condemned to a life of singleness which could mean anything from slavery to prostitution.) So Nicholas threw a small bag of gold coins into the window of the home, which landed in one of the lady’s stockings that had been hung on the fireplace to dry (thus the current Christmas tradition). He continued such generosities until deciding to enter the gospel ministry. After graduating from seminary, Nicholas was so well thought of by believers in his home town, that he was immediately voted into the high office of their bishop. And he soon showed that his generous nature did not extend to paganism as he openly challenged the gods of the heathen temples. It was said that evils spirits “fled howling before him.”
And many people were being saved. However, the wicked deities did not go quietly into the night. And in the year 303 A.D., the Emperor of Rome, Diocletian, ordered the persecution of Christians. Thus Nicholas, being the leading preacher of his town, was seized by the magistrates, chained, imprisoned, and tortured (along with other leading clergy). Finally, in the year 313 A.D., Emperor Constantine came to power and ordered all persecution of Christians to cease. During those ten hard years, the ones who refused to deny Christ became known as confessors and when Nicholas walked out of prison, the crowd yelled out, “Nicholas, the Confessor!” (He had been beaten repeatedly until he was raw and his body was the colour of vermillion.) But ten years later, the church faced another attack, not from without but from within. One of its bishops, Arius, was spreading the false teaching that Jesus was born in time, thus not eternal, and therefore not deity. It became known as Arianism and had gained a real stronghold throughout the church (except in Nicholas’s district who had biblically exposed the heresy and kept his flock from embracing it). The Council of Nicea was called in the year 325 A.D., and Bishop Nicholas sat on the council as one of the delegates (ultimately playing a major role in the drafting of the theological treatise against Arianism and presenting Jesus as eternal). But during the meeting, Bishop Nicholas and Bishop Arius got into a heated debate over the issue, until Nicholas finally walked over and punched Arius, leaving him knocked out cold on the floor, all in front of the Emperor, Constantine. (Not exactly the way we see the man from whose life the jolly “ho, ho, ho” figure of Santa Claus has now developed.)
The bottom line? Saint Nicholas was a bishop who – really knew what it was to be saved, had a great pastoral heart for his people, fervently strove for doctrinal purity, and freely shared of his wealth with the needy. Now that’s the kind of Santa Claus we can all believe in!