Let me tell you a story, a true story of how I became known as Santa Claus around the world.
Nicholas was born in the year 280, over 1,700 years ago. He was born in a tiny little town called Patera. That town is no longer there but it was in an area we now call Turkey — in eastern Europe on the north coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
His father was a well-to-do merchant named Epiphanius and his mother was Johanna. Both of his parents loved Jesus very much. Because of how his parents lived as Christians, even when Nicholas was young, about 7 or 8 years old, he was thinking that he wanted to follow Jesus and dedicate himself to Him. One of the things his parents taught him wa to always help other people and to give presents whenever he could.
When Nicholas was 17, something terrible happened. There was an epidemic in the little town of Patera. Almost everyone became sick and many people died, including Nichols' mom and dad.
After their funeral Nicholas realized he had inherited everything from his parents — he now owned their house, his father’s business, everything. He also remembered the words of Jesus — the story in Matthew chapter 19, verse 21. This story is about the rich young man who came to Jesus and said, “I want to follow you.” Then Jesus said, “There is one thing I ask, sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. Well the rich man was very sad and he didn’t follow Jesus.
Now Nicholas thought to himself, “Wait a minute, I’m a rich young man, too. And I want to follow Jesus and someday lead a small church.” I looked around at my neighbors and others in town and saw lots of suffering, especially many widows and orphan children because of the epidemic which killed so many people. So, I sold everything I now owned so I could help them.
There was a man in the town where Nicholas lived whose wife died during the epidemic and he was very poor. He had three lovely grown daughters and he was desperate because he didn't even have enough money to buy food to feed them.
Back then was a terrible thing called slavery. In fact, it still exists in many countries today. The man was so desperate that he was thinking of selling his daughters as slaves because as slaves their new masters would feed and take care of them.
When Nicholas found out about this man's problems, he put together three bags of gold coins. One night, after it was dark and everyone was asleep Nicholas snuck up to the man's house and dropped the three bags of gold coins through an open window. Now some people say one of the bags came open and coins rolled into the girl’s stocking which were laid by the fireplace to dry. That is why many families now hang stockings at Christmas. Other people even place in the stockings a round chocolate pieces wrapped to look like a gold coin.
Sometime later Nicholas applied to become a priest (or minister). He was accepted and received special education and training. Then he was assigned to a small church nearby.
Over time, the Bishop for the area moved him to slightly bigger churches. When he was only 30 years old, the Bishops in the area chose him to become the Senior Bishop of Myra, a large city nearby on the cost of the Mediterranean Sea. Because he was so young he was often called, “The Boy Bishop.”
As a Bishop, Nicholas wore a red robe or long red coat and In northern Germany they painted pictures of him in a red coat. But in northern Germany it gets very cold in the winter so in the pictures they added a fur lining to keep him warm.
in those days, the country was part of the pagan Roman Empire and ruled by the Emperor in Rome, a thousand miles away. Sometimes, if the government found out you loved Jesus, they would arrest you and put you in prison. Sometime, they would even kill you because you loved Jesus.
One of the Roman Emperors was a man named Diocletian and he really hated anyone who said they loved Jesus. The local soldiers arrested Nicholas and put him in prison for seven years. They did everything they could to get him to say he did NOT love Jesus. But he would never say that because he always loved Jesus.
After spending seven years in prison, something wonderful happened. A new man named Constantine became emperor. After he became emperor he became a Christian and loved Jesus. Of course, after that, Nicholas was released from prison.
Sometime later, the Emperor Constantine, along with 300 priests and bishops, met in a town called Nicaea. And Nicholas was there, too! Together they wrote an important document that is still read in Christian churches today. It is called the Nicene Creed. It says that when Jesus was born, God became just like you and me. God became a human. And that’s why we celebrate Christmas, the birthday of Jesus. We celebrate that Jesus was born in a humble stable in Bethlehem and became just like you and me.
Nicholas became one of the first Christian saints. People didn't honor him because he died a heroic death like St. Peter or St. Paul. Other Christians started to call him Saint Nicholas because they said, “Nicholas loves Jesus so much that you can see a lot of Jesus in him.” That is what a saint is — someone who loves Jesus so much that others see Jesus in them.
That is what each one of you is called to be. You are called to become more and more like Jesus every day of your life so that other people see a lot of Jesus in you..