#otdimjh December 6 Father Christmas (Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus) and the Jews

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Bah! Humbug! What has Father Christmas to do with being Jewish, or being a Jewish believer in Yeshua? Well, today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas, and throughout history we have had a love-hate relationship of fascination, fear and friendship with this 3rd century saint, who became in popular imagination the Sinterklaas (Dutch) and Santa of today.

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St. Nicholas is the Saint better known as “Santa Claus” (Sinterklaas in the Dutch whence “Santa Claus” comes). His image in America has been mixed up with a lot of traits and imagery from sources as disparate as the poetry of Clement Moore, pagan Norse mythology, and American advertising. In real life, though, St. Nicholas was a beloved and wonderful Bishop of Myra (in modern-day Turkey). He was born in Asia Minor in A.D. 260 and orphaned at an early age.st2
As a young man, he made a pilgrimage to Palestine and Egypt, becoming a Bishop upon his return. He was imprisoned during the persecutions of Diocletian, but was released after Constantine came to rule. According to legend, he was present at the Council of Nicaea and became so incensed at Arius — the heretical Bishop whose denial of the two natures of Christ spread through the Church — that he slapped him across the face. He intervened twice in cases in which innocent men were accused of crimes they did not commit, once appearing to Constantine and the local prefect in a dream, encouraging them to do the right thing in their regard.

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Many stories about his life indicate his kindness and reveal miracles. The Golden Legend, written in A.D. 1275 by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, tells us how St. Nicholas saved sailors from a tempest:

It is read in a chronicle that, the blessed Nicholas was at the Council of Nice; and on a day, as a ship with mariners were in perishing on the sea, they prayed and required devoutly Nicholas, servant of God, saying: If those things that we have heard of thee said be true, prove them now.

And anon a man appeared in his likeness, and said: Lo! see ye me not? ye called me, and then he began to help them in their exploit of the sea, and anon the tempest ceased.

And when they were come to his church, they knew him without any man to show him to them, and yet they had never seen him. And then they thanked God and him of their deliverance. And he bade them to attribute it to the mercy of God, and to their belief, and nothing to his merits. 

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The Golden Legend also gives us the story of a Jewish man who was robbed, and how St. Nicholas used the event imitate Christ, thereby not only bringing the Jewish man to Christ, but causing the thieves to repent:

Another Jew saw the virtuous miracles of St. Nicholas, and did do make an image of the saint, and set it in his house, and commanded him that he should keep well his house when he went out, and that he should keep well all his goods, saying to him: Nicholas, lo! here be all my goods, I charge thee to keep them, and if thou keep them not well, I shall avenge me on thee in beating and tormenting thee.

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And on a time, when the Jew was out, thieves came and robbed all his goods, and left, unborne away, only the image. And when the Jew came home he found him robbed of all his goods. He areasoned the image saying these words: Sir Nicholas, I had set you in my house for to keep my goods from thieves, wherefore have ye not kept them? Ye shall receive sorrow and torments, and shall have pain for the thieves. I shall avenge my loss, and subdue my madness in beating thee.

And then took the Jew the image, and beat it, and tormented it cruelly. Then happed a great marvel, for when the thieves departed the goods, the holy saint, like as he had been in his array, appeared to the thieves, and said to them: Wherefore have I been beaten so cruelly for you and have so many torments? See how my body is hewed and broken; see how that the red blood runneth down by my body; go ye fast and restore it again, or else the ire of God Almighty shall make you as to be one out of his wit, and that all men shall know your felony, and that each of you shall be hanged.

And they said: Who art thou that sayest to us such things? And he said to them: I am Nicholas the servant of Jesu Christ, whom the Jew hath so cruelly beaten for his goods that ye bare away.

Then they were afeard, and came to the Jew, and heard what he had done to the image, and they told him the miracle, and delivered to him again all his goods. And thus came the thieves to the way of truth, and the Jew to the way of Jesu Christ.

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Some Messianic Jews have little time for Santa, and see him as a great distortion and distraction from the message of Yeshua, and as part of the ‘Christmas’ industry which has nothing to do with the true meaning of the Messiah. See Jonathan Cahn’s teaching here.

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But others, such as this Orthodox Jewish attorney in New York , dress up as Santa to take presents to the families of those fireman who lost their lives in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre.

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Prayer: Whatever our views on Santa today, we thank you for the opportunity to share in the common love and generosity of this season. Thank you for the life and legend of this ancient man of God, around whom so much popular mystique and commercialization has grown up. May the real reason for the season be the knowledge of God’s love for Israel and the nations through the coming of Yeshua, and in His name we pray that we too may have that love and generosity to all that you have for us. Amen.

Sources:

http://www.fisheaters.com/customsadvent3.html

http://forward.com/articles/167577/when-santa-at-the-mall-is-jewish/?p=all

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy7fb7tQepQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXJJ9b7ncRo

http://www.kveller.com/parent/home-and-community/jews-who-did-christmas.shtml

http://saints.sqpn.com/the-golden-legend-the-life-of-saint-nicholas/

From The Golden Legend:

There was a man that had borrowed of a Jew a sum of money, and sware upon the altar of Saint Nicholas that he would render and pay it again as soon as he might, and gave none other pledge. And this man held this money so long, that the Jew demanded and asked his money, and he said that he had paid him. Then the Jew made him to come tofore the law in judgment, and the oath was given to the debtor. And he brought with him an hollow staff, in which he had put the money in gold, and he leant upon the staff. And when he should make his oath and swear, he delivered his staff to the Jew to keep and hold whilst he should swear, and then sware that he had delivered to him more than he ought to him. And when he had made the oath, he demanded his staff again of the Jew, and he nothing knowing of his malice delivered it to him. Then this deceiver went his way, and anon after, him list sore to sleep, and laid him in the way, and a cart with four wheels came with great force and slew him, and brake the staff with gold that it spread abroad. And when the Jew heard this, he came thither sore moved, and saw the fraud, and many said to him that he should take to him the gold; and he refused it, saying, But if he that was dead were not raised again to life by the merits of Saint Nicholas, he would not receive it, and if he came again to life, he would receive baptism and become Christian. Then he that was dead arose, and the Jew was christened.

Another Jew saw the virtuous miracles of Saint Nicholas, and did do make an image of the saint, and set it in his house, and commanded him that he should keep well his house when he went out, and that he should keep well all his goods, saying to him: Nicholas, lo! here be all my goods, I charge thee to keep them, and if thou keep them not well, I shall avenge me on thee in beating and tormenting thee. And on a time, when the Jew was out, thieves came and robbed all his goods, and left, unborne away, only the image. And when the Jew came home he found him robbed of all his goods. He areasoned the image saying these words: Sir Nicholas, I had set you in my house for to keep my goods from thieves, wherefore have ye not kept them? Ye shall receive sorrow and torments, and shall have pain for the thieves. I shall avenge my loss, and refrain my woodness in beating thee. And then took the Jew the image, and beat it, and tormented it cruelly. Then happed a great marvel, for when the thieves departed the goods, the holy saint, like as he had been in his array, appeared to the thieves, and said to them: Wherefore have I been beaten so cruelly for you and have so many torments? See how my body is hewed and broken; see how that the red blood runneth down by my body; go ye fast and restore it again, or else the ire of God Almighty shall make you as to be one out of his wit, and that all men shall know your felony, and that each of you shall be hanged. And they said: Who art thou that sayest to us such things? And he said to them: I am Nicholas the servant of Jesu Christ, whom the Jew hath so cruelly beaten for his goods that ye bare away. Then they were afeard, and came to the Jew, and heard what he had done to the image, and they told him the miracle, and delivered to him again all his goods. And thus came the thieves to the way of truth, and the Jew to the way of Jesu Christ.

http://saintwiki.com/index.php?title=The_Golden_Legend

About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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