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It's that time of year in which we hope for that perfect gift from Santa Clause, and we celebrate the season by eating lots of good food, going to Christmas parties, and singing Christmas Carols. I'd like to propose that we change one of the beloved carols of the season to be, um, shall we say, a little bit more historically accurate? Here it goes:
He sees when you’re dissenting, He knows when you’ve blasphemedHe knows your error, so he’s gonna seperate you from the other sheepOh, you better not doubt, You better not divide!You better not trade truth for a lie!, I’m telling you why,Saaaaaaaaaanta Claus is smacking you down!
Not too many people are aware of this but Saint Nicholas of Myra lived in the fourth century, and he was present at the infamous Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. He is fondly remembered for being kind to the poor, generous to orphan children, and most of the stories told about him regard his charitable gifts. Of particular note is the legend that he routinely left gold coins in the shoes of the orphan children as they slept, in order that they would be able to buy a hot meal and possibly even a new set of warm clothes. He is rumoured to always have done this right around the season of Advent, and it is this legend which has given rise to the mythical Santa Claus fairytale.
But let us pause and remember that Saint Nicholas was the first to insist that Jesus Christ be kept at the center Christmas. The Council of Nicea convened in 325 A.D. in what is present day Turkey to discuss a number of issues, but the big item on the docket was the heresy of Arius. Arius, a bishop from Alexandria, Egypt, argues that Christ was not divine, but just a created being, albeit the highest of all created beings. In short, Arius was the original Jehovah's Witness. Arius was invited to defend his position, and Saint Nicholas, also present at the meeting, sat and tried to politely listen. But at some point, as legend has it, Santa Claus just couldn't take Arius' heresy while sitting down. He stood up and punched him in the face! The council exploded into an uproar, and as the story goes, Saint Nicholas was almost defrocked for unChristian-like behavior.
Kids all around the world are told that if they are naughty then Santa Claus will not give them any spectacular gifts on Christmas morning, but as one parent to another, we all know that these are often idle threats. However, I've always wondered where this tradition came from. Despite my best efforts I cannot convincingly connect this tradition, historically, to the legend of Saint Nicholas of Myra. Regardless, I have no doubt that if Saint Nicholas were here today to speak to the issue himself, he would undoubtedly tell us the only way one is nice is if he is willing to pursue and believe the truth. Orthodoxy is the true test of being naughty or nice!
Truth is the first and last virtue. The pursuit of truth is the highest of all pursuits which our Creator has given to us all, and it is this virtue of pursuing truth from which all other virtues flow. If you have not truth, then you have nothing at all but a lie. It does not matter how nice you may be. If you do not love truth and so pursue truth, then at best you are a hopelessly wicked man who ignores the greatest of all God's gifts. You see, truth is not just a concept. It is a person. And the pursuit of truth leads you to an intimate encounter with a man who was born in Bethlehem. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
Many will go through this season pursuing toys and trinkets, but they will care nothing for the truth. Some believe that love is the highest truth and the season is all about loving our families and loving others. But there are false loves. Love is only love when it runs within the confines of truth. So you see, even love is governed by this higher virtue. To truly understand the meaning of the season requires more than a warm heart that is willing to do nice things for others and give gifts. To truly understand Christmas you must first understand the truth. Saint Nicholas would not have had it any other way. So make merry this Christmas season and pursue truth to its purest form, and find God's gift to you, the truth of Jesus Christ.
There are quite a few Saint Nicholas pictures floating around on Facebook. Here's another one that made me laugh: