Yesterday’s critique of a secular Santa song does not diminish my respect for Nicholas of Myra (270-343), an early bishop known as Saint Nicholas. He was a mythical, bigger-than-life figure with a legendary love for children. His feast day is November 6.
Nicholas’ tomb in Myra (now Demre, Turkey) was a pilgrim destination. In 1087, a group of merchants in Bari, Italy, organized a prestige-motivated theft that moved his bones to Bari. He became Nicholas of Bari.
Today, Nicholas’ love for children is remembered in many ways. Red, the bishops’ color, is prominent. The artist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) created the modern American version of Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus.
The common thread in the many legends of Nicholas of Myra is his love for children, rooted in Jesus’ love. Agape love is sacrificial, self-giving love.
Love can be misunderstood, misused, or misplaced, as in Bari’s bone heist. Nicholas would be proud that his life is an icon of love and toward children, but he surely would chafe when it is exploited.
Love is a universally popular faith theme. But, to the extent that love is misappropriated, it becomes devalued. It’s in this sense that love can be an undervalued faith theme.