“’Twas the night before Christmas…” the 19th century poem begins, and goes on to say, “…the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”
Saint Nicholas. Known in many countries for over a thousand years as Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Weihnachtsmann (“the Christmas Man”), and, of course, Santa Claus, the name of Saint Nicholas has become synonymous with the ideas of winter, generosity, festivity, presents, children, box stores, outrageous sales, and last, but not least – Christmas.
A Generous Man
Though legends abound, Nicholas was a real person who lived in the 4th century AD. Nikolaos of Myra, as he was known, was the Greek Bishop of that city (now known as Demre, part of modern day Turkey).
Born on March 15, 270 in the port city of Patara (also in Turkey), he died on December 6, 343, and was the son of wealthy, Greek Christian parents. Nicholas grew up in a home full of faith, and after his parents died in an epidemic, he went on to become a priest, and later, a Bishop (a pastor of pastors).
In his lifetime, Nicholas was respected for his acts of kindness and generosity. He was known especially for giving gifts in secret. It was said that he would put coins in the empty shoes of those who were poor when they left them out for him to see.
Legends grew around this great man of faith into the story of the chimney-descending Santa Claus we tell to children today.
The Stories We Tell At Christmas
While our thousands of tales about Saint Nicholas are imaginative, and maybe even fun, are they true enough to give us guidance, to give us light, for our everyday lives
And we have other stories of the season we enjoy at Christmas, each with its own bit of light to shed on our path. Maybe your favorite, like mine, is one of the following:
• It’s A Wonderful Life (“Teacher says every time a bell rings…”),
• A Christmas Carol (“You may be an undigested bit of beef, …a crumb of cheese…”),
• Miracle On 34th Street (“I believe, I believe; it’s silly, but I believe…”),
• White Christmas (“’How do you do?’ ‘Mutual, I’m sure.’”),
• A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”), or
• Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (“…Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”)
Stories That Give Limited Light
While all of these stories (and the memorable songs attached to them) are endearing and heartwarming, conveying beautiful truths about family, friendship, and generosity, they all have a limit to their ability to offer real guidance to our lives.
• We never hear someone going through a divorce reciting lines from It’s A Wonderful Life to help them walk through their pain.
• We never hear parents, whose teenager is estranged from them, singing Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer to console themselves that everything will be okay.
• We certainly never hear the child of a parent dying of cancer praying to Santa Claus as their hope for healing.
Why not? These are not stories from which we can find sufficient light for our entire life’s journey. Sure, these stories shine some rays of truth on our situations, but they still leave deep shadows unaddressed. They can never truly guide us, with a bright Light, to safety, to peace, to harmony in relationships, to life that lasts forever – to Home.
The Light That Leads Us Home
God’s Word is called a “…Light to my path” in the Bible (Psalm 119:105). For billions of people over thousands of years, the Scriptures have provided vital guidance to people walking through life’s hardest challenges.
The New Testament in the Bible goes further to say that there is a Light that can live in us and be with us as we navigate life’s difficult terrain.
As the truest Christmas Story ever told opens in the book of Matthew, Jesus Christ steps on the scene of human history and says these seven, simple words recorded in John 8:12:
“I am the Light of the World.”
The Light we all need for life’s journey must transcend the passing comfort of Christmas lights, and even the soft glow of family and friends. We need a lasting Light, a guiding Light, that shines in the shadows of our darkest fears and deepest failures, penetrating them with truth and life and faith – and Hope for the future.
The Light that we all need to experience this Christmas season is the Light of the World – the Light whose name is Jesus.
He is the One that Saint Nicholas bowed down to worship. He is the Light that is available to us through our brightest days and darkest nights. He is here to shine on you this Christmas, to lead you Home.
Enter The True Story Of Christmas
You may be facing some challenges that a cup of egg nog and Christmas cookies can never fix. If that’s true, embrace the lasting Hope of Christmas once again, with fresh faith – the faith of a child.