SUNDAY, December 6, 1998
First Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-10
Psalms: Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Second Reading: Romans 15: 4-9
Gospel Reading: Matthew 3: 1-12
Even though the Second Sunday of Advent supersedes his feast, December 6th is also the Feast of Saint Nicholas, Bishop:
December 6: SAINT NICHOLAS, Bishop
The universal popularity of Saint Nicholas in both the Eastern Church, the Western Church and in secular circles has contributed to the legend of this saint. All we really know about him is that he was born of wealthy parents near Patara in Lycia part of Asia Minor. He was named bishop of Myra, which was a diocese in decline, but his holiness, zeal and accounts of miracles transformed the diocese into one of great faith. As bishop, he was among those who signed the doctrine affirming Jesus Christ's Divinity at the Council of Nicea in 325. Nicholas used his well-endowed inheritance from his deceased parents for the Church, aiding the poor. One legend, which spawned the concept of Santa Claus relates that there were three very poor sisters whose father, in order to make ends meet for the family, was about to turn them into prostitutes so he could also afford their future dowries. Nicholas, hearing of this, tossed a bag of gold into their house through a window on three different occasions, thus preserving them from a life of sin. The repentant father, discovering it was Nicholas, later fell at his feet in gratitude saying, "You are my helper. You have delivered my soul and my daughters' from hell." On another occasion, unable to personally reach the Emperor Constantine, through prayer he appeared in a dream to the Emperor informing the ruler that the three imperial officers he was going to put to death for treason, were innocent. Upon awakening, Constantine freed them immediately. Nicholas destroyed pagan temples and even managed to get a governor to admit publicly that he was condemning three innocent men because he had been bribed. The men were set free and the governor deposed. During the tyrannical rule of the Emperor Diocletian he was incarcerated for his faith along with many other Christians. There he was tortured and died around the age of 65 in the middle of the 4th Century. Nicholas had always been renowned for his charitable works toward poor children and, after his death the legend grew enormously. When the faith was brought to Northern Germany, so also were the tales of St. Nicholas who took on the folklore of "Weihnachtsmann", German for "the man of Christmas Eve. His popularity increased in the 11th Century when his relics were transfered from Myra to Bari in Italy. His shrine in this Adriatic coastal town became one of the most beloved of the Medieval times, visited by many crusaders who brought the legend back to various parts of Europe. The practice of giving gifts and sweets to children on the eve before the Christ Child's birth grew both from a secular standpoint as well as a religious one, for the adults spent much time in Church at Christmas with extensive ceremonies and if the children had something to keep them occupied, it made it easier on everyone. In Holland St. Nicholas became Sint Klaes which was soon translated into Santa Claus since the German name for Nicholas is Klaus. The image of Santa Claus however was taken from the pagan god Thor and associated with winter and the Yule log. They depicted him riding on a chariot led by two goats whose names were Cracker and Gnasher. It wasn't long before this translated into reindeer and the rest, as we know, is commercialism. St. Nicholas Day is still celebrated in Europe to this day with sweets placed in the shoes of children the night before. St. Nicholas is considered the patron saint of Greece, Sicily, Lorraine in France and Apulia, not to mention the universal patron of children everywhere. His popularity can be attested in the fact there are thousands of churches named in his honor throughout Europe.