I have two questions for you today: Who is the most popular Christian outside of the Bible and what does Wednesday have to do with Christmas?
I want us to understand that one of the most important messages of Advent is giving.
We will discuss small things, significance, the most popular Christian outside of the Bible and why he still is so popular.
Advent’s message: small things
Some pastors enter politics. Most say that would be a demotion. They are already doing the most important work on earth today. Luke compares political and religious events to what would take place in an insignificant corner of Israel. Small things are often of far greater significance than what’s in the news headlines. Making things straight and level and smooth (Luke 3:1-6) may seem like small things, but they are far more important than who has the political power in the world’s capitals or who has what religious titles today. When we get about doing the Lord’s work, we find that he is often involved in small things in this world’s eyes, things far away from the fame and fortune that this world seeks. The big things of this world are insignificant compared to the small things of God.
Advent’s message: significance
What are the most significant events taking place on earth today? Is it the stuff that makes the news? Is it what world leaders, national leaders or even regional leaders are doing? What about the things being done by bishops and other religious leaders? If we compare the history described in Luke 3:1-6, we will see that at that time, none of those things was significant compared to a much more important event. At this time of year, we also see many things which try to crowd out the Christmas message like insipid politics, religious pomp and commercial sales. What is the message of Christ’s birth? It is a message that is far more important than any: prepare the way of the Lord, make things straight and level and smooth. All people will see the salvation of the Lord.
Advent’s message: Nicholas
Who is the most popular Christian outside of the Bible? We may think of famous theologians or reformers but the most popular is Nicholas of Myra, who was loved by many in his time and those who read his story today. The fiction surrounding him has grown to the point that he is the second most important Christmas character after Jesus. Why is he so popular? Though he was very wealthy, he spent his life giving it away and touched the lives of thousands. He saved many from financial ruin, helped out in disasters, defended people in court from false charges, provided food during famines, saved children from slavery, travelers from murder and prayed and saved sailors from shipwreck. The real Saint Nicholas is loved because he made crooked roads straight and rough ways smooth (Luke 3:1-6). Shall we?
Advent’s message: giving
Nicholas was born of wealthy Christian parents in what is today southern Turkey. It was a Greek area at the time. He followed Jesus’ comments to a wealthy young man (Matthew 19:16-30) to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. He spent the rest of his life doing just that and is known for his generosity to those in need. One story tells of his providing a dowry for three daughters who, without it, were bound for a life of sexual slavery. Little bags of coins were tossed in a window landing in stockings and a shoe, giving rise to several Christmas traditions. As we think of making crooked roads straight and rough ways smooth in preparation for Christ’s coming (Luke 3:1-6), it is good to follow a wonderful example of giving like Saint Nicholas’.
How can any of us match such wonderful giving, especially since most of us are not wealthy? Over the past year, I got to know a gentleman by the name of Dar. Was his name Darling or Darrel? I asked. He was named after a beloved citizen of Hancock, Maryland. Dar, the original Dar, was not wealthy like Nicholas, but of meager means and yet known for his generosity. If someone needed help, he was there. He repaired things for neighbors without asking for payment. He generously gave whenever there was a need. Though not a wealthy person like Nicholas of Myra, Dar’s giving was not limited by a lack of funds. His funeral was one of the well-attended one’s in that city’s history. He was loved by all. Though we may not be able to give as Nicholas did, we can follow his example as he followed Christ who gave it all.
What does Wednesday have to do with Christmas? Woden or Oden was once a pagan god. Possibly once a tribal king whose history has been lost and later turned to myth, he was known throughout the European northwest as a wild hunter who rode on horseback. Many of today’s myths surrounding Santa Claus go back to stories of this ancient northern god sometimes called Father Winter. His name was also given to the fourth day of the week, Woden’s day or Wednesday. The story of the real Saint Nicholas is of a man who was devoted to giving. Because of his generosity, he has become the most popular Christian outside of the Bible.
One of the great messages of Christmas is giving. A Savior was born who would give it all. A saint is remembered who spent his life giving away his fortune. We are reminded that giving is the thing. Let us think about ways to give.