I’m not sure how it happened, but the modern picture of jolly old St. Nick, with rosy red checks, ear to ear smile, and a belly like a bowl full of jelly, couldn’t be further from the truth of who St. Nick really was.
St. Nicholas (AD 240-343) was the bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and lived through the brutal Diocletian persecutions of the early 4th century. While many Christians gave in to their torturers and denied Christ, Nicholas held strong and maintained his confession. As a result, he was beaten, exiled, and ultimately thrown in prison, where he continued to be tortured. All the while, bishop Nicholas maintained his confession and lived to see the day when persecution of Christians was banned at the Edict of Milan in 313.
A decade later—and this is where it gets good—Nicholas was one of the bishops who attended the first ecumenical council at Nicea in AD 325. Emperor Constantine, newly converted (?), presided over the meeting, and several bishops were given the floor to expound on their theological views. Most notorious was bishop Arius, who was famous for denying the deity of Christ. As Arius carried on, old St. Nick was more aggravated than jolly, as he squirmed irritably in his seat listening to Arius’s heresy. Nicholas was committed to (what would be) the orthodox position that Christ was fully human and fully divine—Nick spilt a few pints of blood for this conviction. So finally, Nicholas couldn’t take it. He got up from his seat, marched to the front where Arius was spouting off, reared back and straight socked Arius right in the face!
“You just got Kris Kringled, son!” shouted out St. Nick.
Ok, well I made that line up, but the rest is true, as far as I can tell.
What I find fascinating is that our society has replaced Jesus with St. Nick, when all along the original St. Nick would be horrified at this. Nicholas bled for Jesus, was tortured for Jesus, and when Jesus’ name was being attacked (from his point of view) he got into the ring for Jesus.
When we replaced the birth of King Jesus with Santa Claus, we bring shame on both the King and his most feisty defender.
So you better watch out this Christmas season. Don’t make the mistake of Arius and miss the real meaning of Christmas. St. Nick is making a list and checking it twice, and if your theology is not in order, you better watch your back, cause jolly old St. Nick may drop down your chimney and open up the can on you!