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Pastor Michael C. Larson

Today the church celebrates the holy life of faith given to St. Nicholas, pastor and bishop of Myra. Lutherans will always be a little jittery when it comes to celebrating the saints but we shouldn’t. We are right to point out that there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5), and we’re right to be suspicious of placing our trust and prayers in anything or anyone outside Christ. However, the Reformers believed there was great benefit in remembering the saints whom God has given to His Church.

The Reformers give us three reasons to commemorate the saints. First, we thank God for giving faithful servants to His Church. Second, through such remembrance our faith is strengthened as we see the mercy God extended to His saints of old. Third, these saints are examples by which we may imitate both their faith and their holy living according to our calling in life.

Nicholas was bishop of Myra, modern day turkey. He was a pastor and shepherd of souls. He preached the Gospel. He administered the sacraments. He heard confession from sinners and pronounced absolution. He defied the emperor Diocletian. He was tortured and thrown in prison.

He was one of the authors of what we call the Nicene Creed, which we confess every Lord’s Day. Legend has it that Nicholas, at the council of Nicaea, actually slapped Arius, a false teacher concerning the Deity of Jesus.  

Other legends say that Nicholas saved three daughters of a poor father who had no dowry. With the young women being forced to slavery or prostitution Nicholas came to their aid and dropped three bags of gold coins from the roof top and down the chimney. The daughters were delivered from a life of poverty and distress. There are other stories of course about leaving money and treats in the stockings and shoes of children.   

The appointed Gospel text for the commemoration of St. Nicholas is a sobering reminder about the cost of discipleship. Jesus says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” We must let these words of Jesus remain. We are to love God above all things – even family. After all, family is forged first and foremost through the waters of holy baptism where we are truly born into the family of God. Jesus said “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it” (Lk. 8:21). The second and third condition of discipleship is that we carry our cross and renounce all that we have.

When we celebrate the saints, we don’t do so because they are perfect or without sin. The saints have mud on their boots too and yet the Scriptures say, “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” This is the beauty of the Gospel – the source of their goodness, their charity and love is not themselves but Christ.

Every saint points to the holy cross and says “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  

Nicholas was the recipient of the mercy and grace of God. A saint who, like you, delighted in the forgiveness of sins – and through this veil of tears fixed his eyes upon Christ.

At this time of year as commercialism and materialism hit a yearly high, we should recognize that even the unbelieving world knows something about St. Nicholas and Christmas. Even unbelievers know it has everything to do with giving gifts to children, and in this, they are not too far off. For what greater description of Jesus is there than simply that.  

The Prayer of the Church

Almighty God, You bestowed upon Your servant Nicholas of Myra the perpetual gift of charity. Grant Your Church the grace to deal in generosity and love with children and with all who are poor and distressed and to please the cause of those who have no helper, especially those tossed by tempest of doubt or grief. We ask this for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.