Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Saint Nicholas, a bishop
who gave freely out of the
treasures of God’s grace

Christmas or Chocolate? … is the real Santa Claus worth rescuing from the supermarket shelves? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick,

6 December, Lesser Festival, Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (White)


11 a.m.: Mid-Week Advent Eucharist.

Readings: Isaiah 61: 1-3; Psalm 68; I Timothy 6: 6-11; Mark 10: 13-16.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I have decided to break up my sermons during Advent into three short parts, reflecting on the theme of the candles on the Advent Wreath; reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day; and reflecting on the true significance of the real Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, as we prepare for Christmas.

So, this morning, I am not going to repeat anything I said last Sunday about Saint Nicholas, or read over my column in diocesan magazines; nor am I going to steal my thunder when it comes to my reflections on him over the remaining Sundays in Advent.

But I should point out that Saint Nicholas is celebrated today, 6 December, and not on Christmas Eve, and not on Christmas Day either.

Nor is he celebrated or commemorated in the calendar of the Church of Ireland, which is surprising considering he was such a popular saint in mediaeval Ireland.

So, the liturgical provisions we are using this morning – the readings, collect, post-communion prayer and so on – come from the Church of England’s Common Worship and a companion volume, Exciting Holiness.

In Exciting Holiness, it is recalled that Saint Nicholas was a 4th century Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, now southern Turkey. His reputation as a worker of wonders was enhanced by a 9th century author of his hagiography or his biography as a saint, and it is through these stories that he became best known.

Many of these stories concern his love and care for children, how he fed the hungry, healed the sick and cared for the oppressed. He saved three girls from a life of prostitution by providing them with dowries – and so developed the tradition of bearing gifts to children on his feast day, a practice that we have since moved to the Christmas celebrations.

But, why should a bishop who makes free giving to children a priority in his ministry be worth rescuing from Coca Cola, marketing and merchandising?

Because, as Christ tells us in our Gospel reading this morning, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’

Because Christ first himself comes to us as a little child with nothing at all, and yet is the most precious gift of all, given freely.

And so, let us continue in our childish efforts to rescue Saint Nicholas, the real Santa Claus, for the Church.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Collect:

Almighty Father, lover of souls,
who chose your servant Nicholas
to be a bishop in the Church,
that he might give freely out of the treasures of your grace:
make us mindful of the needs of others
and, as we have received, so teach us also to give;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God, shepherd of your people,
whose servant Nicholas revealed the loving service of Christ
in his ministry as a pastor of your people:
by this Eucharist in which we share
awaken within us the love of Christ
and keep us faithful to our Christian calling;
through him who laid down his life for us,
but is alive and reigns with you,
now and for ever.

This reflection was prepared for the mid-week Advent Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on 6 December 2017.

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