What do we really know about “St. Nicolas”? He was born to wealthy parents in the town of Patara, Turkey about 270 A.D. He was still young when his mother and father died and left him a fortune. His humility was immediately evident. As a teen ager he heard about a family destitute and starving. The father had no money for food to feed his three daughters. Under the cover of night Nicholas threw a bag of gold coins through the window of their humble dwelling, saving them from starvation.
Eventually, he became a bishop, and was destined to lead his congregation through the worst tribulation in church history. In A.D. 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered a brutal persecution of all Christians. Ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods, Nicholas and thousands of others refused. They were then dragged to prison. Believers were fed to wild animals, forced to fight gladiators for their lives, beaten and set aflame in Roman arenas. Yet the persecution could not stamp out Christianity. Instead, it spread like wildfire. Third Century leader Tertullian observed, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Finally, after years of imprisonment, Bishop Nicholas walked out of captivity, freed by decree of the new emperor Constantine. Those who survived Diocletian’s torture chambers were called “saints” or “confessors” by the people. Nicholas was one of these. The bishop was beaten but not broken. He served Christ’s people for another thirty years. Through the prayers of this tried and tested soldier of the faith, many found salvation and healing. Nicholas participated in the famous Council of Nicea in 324 A.D. He died on December 6, about A.D. 343, a living legend.
St. Nick of yuletide fame still carries faint reminders of this ancient man of God. The color of his outfit recollects the color of bishops’ robes. “Making a list, checking it twice,” probably recalls the old saint’s lecture to children about good behavior. Gifts secretly brought on Christmas eve bring to mind his humble generosity to the three daughters.
Yet is he were alive today, this saint would humbly deflect attention from himself. No fur-trimmed hat and coat, no reindeer and sleigh or North Pole workshop. As he did in life centuries ago, Bishop Nicholas would point people to his Master. “I am Nicholas, a sinner,” the old saint would say. “Nicholas, a servant of Jesus Christ.”
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship