This Christmas, there will be lots of talk of Ol’ Saint Nick, but, agreeing with Nathan Busenitz, there is one Santa story that rules them all.
First, some background is needed.
Time and lore have turned the legend of Santa into a large, rosy-cheeked, white bearded, reindeer driving home invader, but the original Santa was quite different. He was known as Nicholas, he was the Bishop of Myra, and he lived in the 3rd and 4th century. As Nathan Busenitz notes, the real Nicholas of Myra was known to be extremely loving and generous to the poor, but he “did not live in the North Pole. He was not Scandinavian. He did not drive a team of magical caribou. He did not work with elves. Nor did he travel the world every Christmas Eve exchanging presents for milk and cookies.” Instead, he was a pastor and he worshiped the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Heretic Slapper
In 325AD, the Christian church gather together at Nicaea to help figure out a controversy stirred up by a man named Arius. Arius taught that Jesus, although divine, was not fully God, but instead the greatest creation of God (much like modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses teach). Arius maintained that Jesus was a creature of God instead of God the Creator. So, pastors from all around gathered to discuss the controversy (of which they eventually decided Arius had departed from the Biblical teaching about Jesus and condemned his teaching as heresy). It is at this very council where Bishop Nick of Myra won my heart.
William J. Bennett explains the story for us.
Tradition says that Nicholas was one of the bishops attending the great council [of Nicaea]. As he sat listening to Arius proclaim views that seemed to him blasphemous, his anger mounted. He must have asked himself: Did I suffer through all those years in prison to listen to this man betray our beliefs?
His anger got the best of him. He left his seat, walked up to Arius, faced him squarely, and slapped his face. The bishops were stunned.
Arius appealed to the emperor himself. “Should anyone who has the temerity to strike me in your presence go unpunished?” he demanded. . . .
[Consequently,] Nicholas found himself under lock and key in another wing of the palace.
But in the end, the bishop of Myra got the result he wanted. When the arguments were done, the council rebuked Arius for his beliefs. The bishops drew up a statement that came to be known as the Nicene Creed, which affirms faith in the Holy Trinity and declares that Jesus is “of one substance with the Father.”
Perhaps Constantine secretly enjoyed watching someone put Arius in his place. Perhaps some of the bishops admired Nicholas for standing up forcefully, if overzealously, for his beliefs. Nicholas must have had friends and supporters in high places, because when the Council of Nicaea concluded, he was set free and his clerical robes were restored.
(William J. Bennet, The True Saint Nicholas [New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009], 38-40.)
So, with the real Santa in mind, let’s rewrite all of our goofy, mythological Christmas songs about the gluttonous legalism and change them to honor the heretic punching, Jesus worshiping pastor of Myra.
HT: Nathan Busenitz