20201206 Pastor’s Page
December 6, 2020
Growing up in a devout and traditional Lutheran house, the saints were never part of my piety. We didn’t tell their stories, observe their days, or—heaven forbid!—pray to them. We inherited the Reformation suspicion of everything that didn’t seem core to Christian belief of practice. It was sola fides, sola scriptura, sola gratia (faith, scripture, and grace alone) for us. Because of the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace alone (and not by any merit of our own) we resisted the idea that some people might have lived especially exemplary lives in their walk with God. Finally, we recognized that—bibically speaking—all followers of Jesus are saints.
But I wonder if, for all our care with correct doctrine, we lost something special along the way.
For the fact is that throughout history there have been people renowned for their holiness. Whether they are officially recognized by a church body or not, we all recognize that some people have lived especially exemplary lives of faith. Even looking around us in our own generation we can perceive that some people show us more clearly the light of God by the way they live their lives. We can benefit by telling the stories of these models of the godly life, being inspired to emulate their example. Holding up some people for special recognition on particular days can help us to regularly celebrate their lives.
Contemporary generations of Lutherans have begun to recover some of the riches of tradition around the saints. While still resisting the terminology of “saint” (which is fine), Evangelical Lutheran Worship contains a calendar of Lesser Festivals and Commemorations. December is a particularly rich month as we remember John of Damascus, theologian and hymnwriter (Dec 4), Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (Saint Nicholas, Dec 6), Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, hymnwriter and theologian (Dec 7), Lucy, martyr (Dec 13), and Katharina von Bora Luther, renewer of the church (Dec 20).
I have especially come to love Nicholas, one of the most popular saints in the world, around whom there are many rich stories and traditions. You can read a lot about him at the comprehensive website, www.stnicholascenter.org. Ultimately there is very little historically known about him other than that he was a bishop during a tumultuous time in the church (late 3rd and early 4th centuries). But in story and legend he is known as a model of generosity and compassion to the poor, especially children. He is one of many figures of his time who took very seriously Jesus’ command to “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” For this reason so many of our Christmas traditions of giving are associated with his name.
I hope you will have an opportunity to explore the website mentioned above, and some of the excerpts in this mailing to discover the riches of tradition around the name of Nicholas. I hope his example will be a model to you of generous giving in this and every season.
Lord God, you have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses. Grant that we, encouraged by the example of your servant Nicholas, may persevere in the course that is set before us and, at the last, share in your eternal joy with all the saints in light, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Photo by Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash