Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When Santa Went to Jail

The back of this ornament you see pictured above says 1982, but the story begins over 30 years earlier.

It is initialed by my late paternal grandmother with her classic insignia of a crossing M and N. The M stands for Margie, but sometimes she said it stood for ‘Make-do’. But for us, the M always stood for Meemaw.

In the late 1940s my grandfather was in the United States Air Force and stationed in Japan along with my grandmother and two aunts. My dad and uncle had not yet been born. Being a young mom with two young daughters, my grandmother got creative one Christmas to keep her children occupied. She decided she would make Christmas Cookies.

These turned out to not just be any Christmas cookies, but with the help of a special cookie cutter she had found, she decided to make Santa Cookies.

Sort of like the guy who created Velcro accidently stumbling on such a great invention while hunting, my grandmother stumbled upon a wonderful Christmas tradition that has now been in our family nearly 70 years. What started out as a way to help little girls stay busy during Christmas, turned into one of my favorite family Christmas traditions.

Each year she would make these cookies and mail them to friends and family. When we came along she would patiently work with us each Christmas season to make these cookies and decorate them correctly. In 2004 when my wife and I were dating, she came over to help us decorate cookies. My siblings and I were aghast when we saw the future Mrs. Nelson pick up one of our beloved Santa Cookies and begin decorating it like a gingerbread man! Mistake! There's a certain way to decorate these cookies! That's where the ornament above comes in handy.

She had these ornaments cut out of wood and then decorated them just like the cookies and gave them out to family members. Not only does it help us get the pattern of decorating the cookie right, but it also reminds me of great memories with my grandmother. The ornament above has been around longer than I have.

It’s something I will forever cherish.

Well, a few years ago when my children were old enough to make cookies we decided we wanted to keep the tradition alive. At the same time, we also wanted to think of a way to clearly connect it to Christ and to focus on Him during all of our holiday festivities. It's not that we are 'anti-Santa', we just wanted another way to use a great tradition to talk with our kids about Jesus.

Turns out, this wasn’t hard to do, because Santa Claus has a real name: Saint Nicholas.

In 325 A.D., Saint Nicholas was a Pastor (Bishop) in Myra, which is in Modern Day Turkey. Now, St. Nick was a generous Pastor, and there are stories of his kindness and even his affinity for giving generous gifts in secret (see the connection?)… But I want to focus about the time jolly ole St. Nick lost his cool.

In 325 A.D. there was a church council in a place called Nicaea. Church councils were places where a lot of Pastors got together to talk about important subjects and seek to know what Scripture taught on them. This particular council was called because there was a man by the name of Arius who had begun teaching that Jesus was not equal with God the Father.

Similar to what the Jehovah(less) Witnesses now teach (there is nothing new under the sun!), Arius was saying that Jesus is important but He is not co-equal with God the Father. Arius famously preached "There was a time when the Son was not!", thus denying the Son's eternality, and equality with God.

Arius had begun to amass a decent following and at the council of Nicaea he went on and on about Jesus not being fully divine.

Maybe it's because his stockings weren't on quite right, or maybe he hadn't had a chance to smoke that fine Christmas pipe yet that day, but our boy Nicholas was fed up. More accurately it was because Nicholas loved the Jesus of the Bible that he got up from his seat at Nicaea, walked across the room and...

Well, he certainly didn't give Arius a cup of cheer, glass of egg nog, or plate of cookies.

Instead, he slapped that heretic right across the face. Backhand? Front hand? I'm not sure. But the place was shocked. So shocked, that like the Miracle on 34th Street, but for a much nobler reason, Santa Claus was thrown into jail. Whatsmore, he was stripped of his bishopric!

That would be a lump of coal difficult to swallow, but thankfully, the story doesn’t end there.

Nicholas was eventually freed from jail and because of the work of faithful men like Nicholas and others like Athanasius, the heretic Arius was eventually silenced. And not because one side 'won' and the other 'lost' but because it is impossible for both sides to be faithful to Scripture. Why? Because Scripture is clear on this issue.

You see, we cannot have Christmas without the Jesus of the Bible. And the Jesus of the Bible is fully God who became fully man, to rescue us from our sins. If Jesus is not God, then we are still lost in our sins, hopeless and helpless. But the good news is, as Scripture affirms, Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3). He is the First and the Last (Revelation 1:17). He is the I AM (John 8:58).

Jesus is God incarnate.

God became man so that He could give His body and blood on the cross to secure the way of salvation for all who repent of their sin and believe this good news. Nicholas was willing to go to jail for this truth. Many others have given their very lives for it.

This truth is what we celebrate this Christmas: God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

Whether or not your family does 'Santa Claus' is entirely up to you. But I wonder if you might take the opportunity this year to share with your children and others the story of the real St. Nick? While I don't condone slapping heretics, I do encourage thinking rightly about Jesus! And God has used many men in church history, including Nicholas Bishop of Myra, to remind us of the importance of the truth of God's incarnation.

St. Nicholas and others composed a Creed at Nicaea that captures the Bible’s teaching on Jesus. There was actually another Nicene Council in 381 in which the Nicene Creed was somewhat edited to help accurately reflect Scripture's teaching on the Trinity. I would like to conclude this blog with a portion of this creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

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