Readings – Malachi 3: 1-4; Song of Zechariah; Philippians 1; 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6
From our Old Testament reading of the prophet Malachi, he spoke of God refining us like gold and silver, making us purer as God intended us to be like God created us to be.
From the Song of Zechariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem and the father of John the Baptizer, God came to earth to set us free, to save us from “missing the mark”, from sin, to be the person God intended us to be.
From the Gospel according to St. Luke, John the Baptizer’s message was to repent, to turn your life around, to reorient yourself to God’s true north, to the person God created you to be. This message was proclaimed for all persons, not just for a chosen few, for all of us, for “all flesh shall see the salvation of God”.
From St. Paul’s letter to the congregation in Philippi, he encouraged them “that your love may overflow more and more with the knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best…”.
These readings point to a great saint of the Church whose day we celebrate tomorrow, 6 December, St. Nicholas. Born into a wealthy family, he entered the Church and served as a deacon, served as a priest, and served as a bishop. Through all stages of his life, he served to make this world a better place and to live his true self, to live as the person God created him to be.
In the ancient world, the most dangerous profession was to be a sailor. Psalm 107 states:
Some went down to the sea in ships and plied their trade in deep waters; They beheld the works of the Lord and his wonders of the deep. Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose, which tossed high the waves of the sea. They mounted up to the heavens and fell back into depths; their hearts melted because of their peril. They reeled and staggered like drunkards and were at their wit’s end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper and quieted the waves of the sea. Then were they glad because of the calm, and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.
This passage has been set to music by numerous composers, especially composers of Great Britain. They were a nation of seafarers, just as the people of the coastlands of eastern Turkey, the homeland of St. Nicholas, were seafarers. St. Nicholas would go to the docks with sacks of limes, lemons, and another citrus for the men as they embarked on their sea voyages. The citrus was packed with vitamins that would keep them healthy.
St. Nicholas would also use his inherited wealth to aid the poor, especially young girls who had few life options. Legend tells us that he threw small bags of gold coins through open windows where children lived, and they would land by the fireplace. One version tells us that he aimed for their shoes set out by the fire. Another version tells who he aimed for their leggings, their stockings, that were hung by the chimney with care. His generosity supported the young and less fortunate of his own day. He was looking out for the next generations in a grandfatherly way.
The third thing St. Nicholas is noted for is his leadership. In the third century, he was elected bishop, he was elected to shepherd all the people of his region, Christian and non with his kindness, and with his love. The staff of his office of bishop is still in use today. It is a shepherd’s staff, taking us back to the 23rd Psalm, the Lord is my shepherd, and also back to King David who served his family as a shepherd as a young boy.
So, to conclude, I think St. Nicholas of Myra, Turkey of the third century is a saint for our times, too.
He cared and provided for the most dangerous profession of his day, sailors. I think he would be caring for the first responders, for the front-line workers, and for the health care professionals in our day.
He assisted those most at risk, the children. They are still a concern in our own day all around the world.
He stepped into leadership with kindness and love, though he was imprisoned for a time and tortured, too. He led in the Church and also in the communities of eastern Turkey.
St. Nickolas became the free person God created him to be, refined like gold and silver, generous and overflowing with love for all.
The collect for him is found on the blue bulletin insert.
Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea; Grant we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.