Happy St Nicholas day! Today, throughout most of continental Europe, the gift-giving saint will appear in a variety of clothes, with a variety of sidekicks, to hand out a variety of gifts to good kids. He’s an historic figure who was arrested for his faith, got involved in a fist fight over theology at the Council of Nicaea, and was famous for his hands-on approach to human need, sneaking through open windows to leave needed money in the stockings of the poor hung out to dry overnight–hence the stockings and chimneys of modern folklore.
And what does that have to do with Revelation and Amos, with locusts and angels, with fights over whose wife the multiply-widowed gal will be in heaven? Not much, honestly. Except when you remember that fights over the meaning of passages like those we read today, with their focus on gloom, doom and the future, seem to be the preferred theological domain of those who don’t want to have much to do with fixing the present.
Rather than addressing human need (let’s call that “loving your neighbor as you love yourself”) and standing up for ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’ (“love the Lord your God with all” you’ve got, those last two words being a Wilson paraphrase and not an accurate quote), a lot of folks like to peer into the mysteries of the Abyss and spend their time worrying about whether Mikhail Gorbachev is the Antichrist (news flash! the word Antichrist appears only five times in the whole Bible, just as the much-bickered-over ‘mark’ or ‘number’ of the Beast appears only once–whereas commands to love and care for the poor and outcast, the widow and orphan and immigrant, number literally in the thousands of verses). Remember that hysteria? And what, exactly, has poor Mikhail done lately to earn your nightmares?
Such theologizing, friends, is not at all how Nicholas lived his life. He was a man of deep faith and profound learning and deep biblical faith, a man who went to jail and torture rather than abandon his Jesus. He lived in an era when the Roman Emperor was literally setting up statues of himself decked out as a god, demanding Christians give up their faith or die in the arena–and rather than spend all his time on Revelation, a book which would certainly seem more applicable to his news than to ours, he got busy proclaiming the Gospel and feeding the hungry, punching out heretics and slipping gold coins into the socks of girls who otherwise would have been sold as slaves to pay off their parents’ debts.
A faith which is all about speculation and esoterica isn’t Christian: it’s gnostic. Which is, by the way, a heresy. Which is, by the way, the sort of thing that dear got dear Nicholas of blessed memory very, very testy. So, unless you want to run the risk of getting sucker punched by jolly old St Nick, get busy living your faith in the here and now. ‘Cause this is not a saint on whose naughty list you want to appear!