This year I visited the house of Saint Nicholas.
It was in a hot town, nothing at all like the North Pole. There were no penguins, not even ice for my Diet Coke. My clearest memory was standing where the great pastor was buried and knowing his body had been stolen. Nicholas was no longer in the town he loved and no longer slept surrounded by his beloved people.
What was there was a powerful memory of a pastor so good to his congregation; he became the symbol of every good pastor. Nicholas cared so deeply for children, the weak, and the poor, that legends surrounded his actions. He stood so firmly for truth in confused times that he became a model of theological courage. Nicholas was not in Myra physically, but Myra was full of the memory of Nicholas.
Every good pastor is following in Nicholas’ steps. The medieval king had two bodies: his physical person and his sovereignty. The king could die as a person, but the Monarch never dies. The President might die, but then the President lives.
Santa has many bodies. Every pastor who loves the poor, defends orthodoxy, and serves the weak is Nicholas. Nicholas is dead, but Santa Claus lives!
In that sense, I grew up with Santa Claus, because my Dad was and is a very good parent and pastor. (Since my mother was the ideal pastor’s wife, she must be a very trim Mrs. Claus!)
My Dad and Mom did not mind if we played at Santa Claus, but every so often he would point out that the presents came from them and not Santa. “I am not giving the credit,” he chuckled, “to some fat man in a red suit.”
We knew Dad and Mom bought us thoughtful gifts, because they loved us. (The memories are good: a castle with knights, my Vic-20, my first watch, my own copy of the “Midnight Cry,” and my grandfather’s knife and tie rack.) They were Santa to us.
I watched Dad as he let folks move into our small parsonage and eat at our table for our time. Mom and Dad reached out to other people without any demand for a return. Dad may have been paid to preach, and he was an excellent preacher, but nobody paid him to answer the phone when it rang all the time.
I never saw my Dad lie. He sometimes did not want to help and would groan into action, but off to the hurting person’s home or hospital bed he would go. Dad never let me down, even when I shamed him. When I was at the bottom, Mom and Dad came and associated themselves with their prodigal son.
They were both Saint Nicholas to me.
They loved children not their own. They loved women in trouble. They loved their Church enough to pour out a lifetime of prayer and service to her. I honor them this holiday season every time I see that jolly man in a red suit or an image of the bishop of Myra in church.
Why not do the same for your pastor this Christmas?
Does he reach out and serve without being asked? Some pastors are well paid and work in large parishes, but most work for very little relative to their education. I know of times when Dad could hardly buy food for us, let alone treats. God always came through, but God often used people to help.
Can you help your pastor? Can you help his kids? Every time I saw Dad pray and some parishioner heard God and was used by God to meet the specific need that Dad was throwing up to God, my faith was strengthened. Many of our Christmas gifts were purchased by unexpected Christmas giftts from the faithful.
I remember the gifts that produced the gifts and feel very jolly.
I saw the Church work.
I know from friends that not everybody was blessed this way. There are bad pastors and foolish ones. My own life has fallen short of Dad’s integrity, especially when I was young, but most of us are blessed with giving couples who love us more than we deserve.
Saint Nicholas was not perfect and neither were my parents. Just as I hope for forgiveness for my (greater) sins, so I forgive those imperfections. There are, I know, millions of good men and women pouring out their lives for their own towns, their own Myra.
I saw people in the congregation used to answer my Dad and Mom’s prayers. Dad was like Nicholas, but his congregation was like the faithful in Myra that gave Nicholas the gold he used to bless the poor. I didn’t just know Mr. and Mrs. Claus, but all the elves in the workshop!
Can you give some little pastor’s kid the same blessing?
Saint Nicholas is in glory in the great cloud of witnesses. You honor him when you honor men like he was. Honor some Santa Claus.