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Does Santa know the reason?
December 20, 2010
by Rev. Bill Hillyer, Saving Grace Lutheran Church, Delano

In 1897, a little girl named Virginia O’Hanlon was shocked to hear her friends claim that there was no Santa. So, in order to find out the truth, she decided to write a letter to The New York Sun newspaper.

The editor of the paper, Francis P. Church replied to Virginia’s letter. The title he used to respond to this little girl’s letter has become one of the most famous editorials of all time, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Have you ever wondered about Santa Claus? Was there ever such a person? Well, the truth is that there really was a Santa Claus!

Back in the fourth century, in what is now modern-day Turkey, lived a humble Christian man who was the pastor in a small town. This man was voted by his fellow clergy to become the bishop of Myra (located in southern Turkey).

Many stories have been passed down about this faithful preacher and teacher of the Christian faith. But, while many of our church fathers from the first few centuries are known for their theological writings, our St. Nicholas is not known for writing anything.

However, we do know that he was a lover of orthodoxy and keeping God’s Word pure and undefiled. We also know that he preached the Gospel, exposed sin, defended the poor and afflicted, battled injustices, and was a good pastor to his flock. And perhaps most importantly, we also know that he was a fervent defender of Jesus’ divinity.

In 325 AD, Emperor Constantine called the bishops together to settle a dispute that had been causing division and confusion among Christians. Another pastor, Arius of Alexandria, was teaching that Jesus was important, but that he was only the first creature God made – and not true God. It is also said that as Arius spoke, he began to sing a hymn that mocked the divinity of God’s only Son.

What happened next is a little controversial – but it seems that Bishop Nicholas, infuriated by the blasphemy he heard coming out of Pastor Arius’ mouth – struck or slapped Arius in the face! He then went on to defend the truth of Jesus’ divinity by using the words of the Bible.

Now, because this type of conduct was not in keeping with a man of St. Nicholas’ rank, the other bishops were forced to de-frock him. They took his bishop’s mitre and his robe and had the pastor placed in jail.

Stories are told that Jesus and Mary appeared to St. Nicholas in his prison cell and restored him to the rank of bishop. When the jailer arrived the next morning, he found Bishop Nicholas clothed in his bishop’s robe and mitre, and quietly reading from the Word of God.

All of the bishops confessed that they had dreams telling them to restore Nicholas, so he was restored the next day after apologizing for striking out in anger at Arius.

At the conclusion of the council (known today as the council of Nicaea) the bishops unanimously adopted what Christians today know as the Nicene Creed. Special emphasis was given to Jesus’ divinity in this creed. The creed was perhaps the most important thing that St. Nicholas accomplished in his time on earth, ensuring that the truth of the Scriptures would continue on for centuries to come.

There are many other stories told of that man we know as Santa Claus, all telling of his wonderful gift of charity and gift giving. The real Santa Claus died around 342 or 343 AD, still serving the Savior he loved so much, still serving the people God had called him to.

There is much good that we can take from St. Nicholas and his life. Perhaps the most important is to remember that his gift giving and charitable work all came because God gave to mankind the most precious and important gift of all time – His one and only Son, Jesus Christ – so that all who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus! May the true story of St. Nicholas point us to the real meaning of Christmas so that we all know the “reason for the season.”

Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!