“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble” (Prov. 4:18-19).
On the first day of November each year, the church traditionally celebrates All Saints Day. We Protestants always struggle with days like this, knowing that our only access to God comes through Christ and no other. Oh, there are a few saints that we are happy to celebrate – St. Patrick, who gives us an excuse to drink beer for breakfast, and St. Valentine, who reminds us to make our relationships sappy-sweet. Of course, if we know anything about either of these men, we will quickly realize that we’ve simply coopted their days for our own satisfaction.
But what is a saint? Very simply, it is one sanctified, set apart. And this is the beauty of being a saint – it is achieved on the merit of another’s work, another’s life, another’s death. One of my favorite lines in hymnody was written by Horatio Bonar in 1881.
On merit not my own I stand;
On doings which I have not done,
Merit beyond what I can claim,
Doings more perfect than my own.
Upon a life I have not lived,
Upon a death I did not die,
Another’s life, Another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.
Not on the tears which I have shed:
Not on the sorrows I have known,
Another’s tears, Another’s griefs,
On them I rest, on them alone.
Tomorrow is a very significant day for me! Turning 60 reminds me that I have long crested the hill of life, and the speed to the end is getting faster and faster. But tomorrow is also a very significant day in the life of the church. On December 6th, Christians remember St. Nicholas as a man whose light shined brightly before others, glorifying the Father in heaven. He lived in fourth century Asia Minor. St. Nicholas was born into a wealthy family, but after his parents died from a plague, he shared their wealth with the poor. Nicholas was a devout follower of Jesus and was made bishop in the city of Myra on the southern coast of what is modern day Turkey. There are records of his participation in the Council of Nicaea, in A. D. 325 (even some tall tales about slapping the heretic Arius), which gave us the Nicene Creed, which we recited yesterday.
Nicholas was widely known as a man who cared for the poor. There are many stories about Nicholas secretly leaving gifts at night for the children of the poor. Stalwart in the face of persecution, he was imprisoned for a time by Emperor Diocletian. But upon his release from prison, Nicholas continued his faithful ministry until his death on this day in A.D. 343.
One of the best-known stories of Nicholas’ generosity tells of his anonymous giving to a poor family whose parents could not afford dowries for their three daughters. When the parents were faced with selling their daughters into slavery or prostitution, Nicholas intervened. He went to their house late at night and threw three bags of gold through the window to save the daughters from a terrible fate. Although Nicholas intended his gift to be a secret, his generosity soon became known. He unknowingly began the long tradition of giving secretly at night to the poor.
His name would be become renowned across much of the world through the years, though we know him by his more colloquial name, Santa Claus. As Francis Church famously wrote, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”; his name is St. Nicholas of Myra. His was a life well-lived, and a call to each of us to remember that we who have looked in faith to the Lord Jesus, who are saints as well, robed in his righteous robes, are called to walk the path of righteousness, which “is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” Indeed, in Christ, we are “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Phil. 2:15).