December 12: St. Nicholas, Promoter of Justice
St. Nicholas was a real person who I think was awesome. Nicholas was born in the third century in Asia Minor. He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. He attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325 which defined Jesus as fully God and fully human (fun fact: he punched a guy named Arius in the face for his heresy of saying Jesus wasn’t God). Nicholas was greatly loved for his faith, compassion, and care, he is venerated in both East and West.
We should talk about Nicholas more.
I love Santa as much as the next guy, but Nicholas is a man I can strive to be like. Nicholas is a person of justice. Without witness and without reward he practiced justice.
The Hebrew word for “justice,” mishpat, occurs more than 200 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably or “to make right.” Justice is a relational term — people living in right relationship with God, one another, and the natural creation. Biblical justice means loving our neighbor as we love ourselves and is rooted in the character and nature of God. To do justice means to give people what they are due: whether punishment or protection or care.
The mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats the most vulnerable. The Bible names the most vulnerable over and over again as orphans, widows, refugees, and the poor. Any neglect shown to the needs of the vulnerable in society is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity but a violation of justice, of mishpat.
Nicholas cared for the vulnerable by making sure they had what they needed. He treated them equitably. He protected them, promoted their welfare, and helped them meet their needs. He treated them as beloved children of God, which they are. He used his own resources, his entire inheritance, to practice this justice, this love and care of God’s children.
Nicholas didn’t just use his money to help the vulnerable and provide them with what they needed. Nicholas saved young women from slavery, protected sailors, spared innocents from execution, provided grain in a famine, and rescued a kidnaped boy. These are all stories about the historical Nicholas. He lived the way of Jesus by proclaiming good news the poor, freedom for the oppressed, and release for the captive: literally.
St. Nicholas is a man worth studying and emulating for he was a person whose life mission was to proclaim God’s word, share God’s love, and promote God’s justice. He did so with his actions, his power, his resources, and with his life on the line. He did so without witness or reward but because it was what God required of him.
This Christmas, I invite you to study St. Nicholas and, like him, promote God’s justice. God and Nicholas loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to promote, or “do” justice.
In common calling,
December 4: God Breaks In
I’ve said many times that God’s message of hope throughout the Bible is the message that we need not fear. It’s easy to say, but harder to do. What can dispel the fears we have in our lives?
The light of the Advent candles reminds us what can cast out fear: hope, peace, joy and love. It is hard to focus on fear when we’re filled with joy. It is difficult to be at peace when you are experiencing fear. It is hard to love that which you fear. When fear consumes us, it can make us feel that all hope is lost.
It shouldn’t surprise us that angels so often greet us saying, “Be not afraid.” We live with and in fear most of our lives. We find fear so easily even in that which was intended for hope, love, peace and joy.
For Christians, Advent is the beginning of our liturgical year. It’s the four weeks leading up to the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We tend to jump right from Thanksgiving to Christmas (for that matters it seems most stores jump from Halloween to Christmas). We call December the season of Christmas, but really that doesn’t start until Christmas Day (the twelve days of Christmas). We are in the season of Advent and we should live into it because it helps us recognize what God has done and is doing through becoming incarnate in Jesus the Christ. God is breaking into the world.
Advent is a time of waiting and anticipating what Jesus’ arrival means. In part, it is the absence of Jesus during Advent that helps us understand why we celebrate when Christ comes as a light in the darkness. We only truly understand the gift of light when we’ve been in darkness. Sometimes we need to sit in absence and wait.
I know we love to rush into Christmas and sing the carols and put up the decorations, but could we try to live in the anticipation of God breaking into our world yet again? Can we sit with Advent and imagine what it may have been like for those who were waiting for hope to break in for the first time? Can we patiently pray for God to break into our own lives with hope, peace, joy, and love?
The message of Advent is that God breaks in. God breaks into our world not to punish us, but to save us. Throughout the Bible, there are stories of how God acts directly in people’s lives for salvation. Sometimes we long for those grand gestures, like the exodus through the Red Sea or an angel shutting the mouths of lions. Yet the promise of Advent is that God still breaks in. We need to know that hope is with us and can still break into our lives.
That’s why Advent is important. In anticipating the arrival of the baby who will be born in a manger, it teaches us to hope in the face of fears and to look for the ways God breaks into our lives.
In common calling,