Memorial of St. Nicholas

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” English Traditional, c. 16th century (select verses)

God rest ye merry, gentlemen / Let nothing you dismay

Remember, Christ, our Saviour / Was born on Christmas day

To save us all from Satan’s power / When we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy, / Comfort and joy / O tidings of comfort and joy!

 

From God our Heavenly Father / A blessed Angel came;

And unto certain Shepherds / Brought tidings of the same:

How that in Bethlehem was born / The Son of God by Name.

O tidings of comfort and joy, / Comfort and joy / O tidings of comfort and joy!

 

“Fear not then,” said the Angel, / “Let nothing you affright,

This day is born a Saviour / Of a pure Virgin bright,

To free all those who trust in Him / From Satan’s power and might.”

O tidings of comfort and joy, / Comfort and joy / O tidings of comfort and joy!

 

If we look into the history of St. Nicholas, we will discover very quickly two things: he was not the rotund, jolly man we see in Coca-Cola ads (though I’ve no doubt he was a joyful person), and he never would have imagined becoming the dominant symbol of Christmas. Today’s Gospel reminds us of what Christmas is all about: the Good Shepherd came to Earth to gather His sheep, “To save us all from Satan’s power / When we were gone astray.”

Growing up we hear all manner of stories about Santa Claus and his supernatural abilities, how he keeps a list of every child and checks off whether they are naughty or nice. Their behavior throughout the year—and especially, it seems, in the few weeks leading up to Christmas itself—determines the quality of their reward. We may smile at such youthful thinking, but in the light of our Gospel, perhaps this tradition has something to it. All through the Sunday’s of Advent we are told to be watchful and alert for the coming of the Lord; if you knew when He would return, how would you live differently? Would it be similar to the child anticipating Christmas, with a concerted effort to live as good a life as possible, in the hope that your reward would be correspondingly richer? Advent is our time to do spiritually what children do behaviorally: to live in constant anticipation of Christ’s arrival. “Remember, Christ, our Saviour / Was born on Christmas day,” and remembering this, remember that He will come again, to gather His flock, not losing a single one of those His Father has given Him.

When we go astray in sin, when we wander from our Shepherd’s care, we find ourselves in a harsh spiritual wilderness, where the Enemy is dominant. But our Gospel reminds us that Jesus is not a watchman, high upon His wall, waiting to spot us returning in the distance: He is a shepherd who goes after the lost sheep. The moment we turn around, He is there; it is He who has called your name, causing you to turn in the first place. Go to Him, and remember the words of the angel in our carol today: “Fear not then, / Let nothing you affright.”

December 6th, 2016