“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mark 1:3b)
Advent 2 always shines the spotlight on that most dynamic and eccentric of Biblical figures, John the Baptist. Here he is, eating bugs and yelling in the wilderness for everyone to repent. He’s Jesus’ advance man, the necessary warm-up act to the Savior of the world. God knew that John was necessary because most of us wouldn’t know a good thing if we slipped and fell in it. The love, forgiveness, and sacrifice we see in Jesus Christ probably wouldn’t make any sense to us if we hadn’t first been told to be on the lookout for it.
This year, Advent 2 falls on December 6, historically the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas. Boy. If there ever was a saint for us to look to, this would be the guy. Unfortunately, we just don’t know a whole heck of a lot about the real, historic Saint Nick. Nevertheless, I hypothesize (and I do so love hypothesizing) that he must’ve made a pretty big impression on the folks of the 4th century since they told so many tales and legends about him. He became the Bishop of Myra, a town on the coast of what today is Turkey, just around the time Christianity was becoming a legal and official religion in the Roman Empire. After three hundred years of persecution, it was finally a pretty good time to be a Christian. The downside, alas, was that folks weren’t entirely sure of what being a Christian really meant.
The legends tell us that Nicholas got the main idea that Christianity was about love and charity. This fellow was known for his humongous generosity. He inherited money from his folks, the legends say, and gave it all away to the poor. There’s a famous story of how he rescued an impoverished nobleman who had no money to dower his three daughters. If daddy couldn’t come up with the cash to marry these girls off, it looked as if they were going to have to learn to pole dance. Nicholas is said to have snuck by the bankrupt father’s house one night and chucked a bag of gold through a window to dower the oldest girl. When daughter #2 came of age, he did the same thing. The father, overwhelmed by these acts of anonymous generosity, stayed awake to watch for his mysterious benefactor when it came time to hitch daughter #3. He caught the bishop in the act, and the legend of Nicholas leaving gifts in the night morphed into the way we celebrate him with our kids and grandkids today.
But what’s really important about Nicholas the bishop is that he was listed as being one of the bishops present at the Council of Nicaea, the convention which gave us the Nicaean Creed. The basic function of this dogmatic statement is to teach us about the triune nature of God, a doctrine which was in rather hot dispute in Nicholas’ day. The question Christians had was how do we understand God? How do we understand the person of Jesus Christ? The Council gave us the three-fold experience of God, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It’s stood the test of time, and I have to say, it works for me.
Being a Christian is more than just wearing a cross around your neck and going to church at Christmastime. The living faith is seeing God in Creation, God in the Holy Spirit present in my life and in yours, and God in the loving gift of Jesus Christ—a child born in poverty who came to give himself as a gift on the cross for all of us.
In our Gospel lesson (Mark 1:1-8) John the Baptist is calling us to prepare a way for Jesus. I’d like to suggest that you start preparing that way this week by looking at the Nicaean Creed and meditating on what the Holy Trinity means to you. It’s really important that we, as Christians, are able to know and articulate what our faith means. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s an awful lot of “us versus them” dialogue going on in American these days. I sometimes wonder if those doing all the shouting actually know what they’re shouting about. They may know what they’re against, but do they know what they’re for?
Start preparing the way for Christ in your hearts this week. Look at the Creed, and look for the presence of God in your life. I think it will lead you to a place of gratitude and generosity as it did Nicholas. This will be a very different Advent and Christmas season for all of us, but the meaning of it never changes.
Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll tell you about another popular Yuletide saint, Saint Lucy.