So is it Advent or is it Christmas?
Are we preparing for Christmas or are we celebrating Christmas? It can be confusing. The church who kind of inventing Christmas says it’s advent. We are waiting. We are preparing. It is not Christmas.
But the world where we spend most of our time is telling us something else. The world is screaming CHRISTMAS at us full blast. It’s confusing.
And the message of what we should be doing to prepare and celebrate Christmas is confusing as well. The commercial world in the media, which we spend most of our time is screaming at us BUY BUY BUY. Christmas is about STUFF.
If you aren’t ready for Christmas it’s because you don’t have enough STUFF! Here we have some stuff you can buy!
But there is a counter movement that is pushing back against that message.
There’s a movement to recover advent from the commercialism of Christmas.
But sometimes I think that message is a little legalistic and dare I say scroogeish? It says don’t buy anything! It’s not about present. Don’t buy presents. Give it all to charity.
Now I’m all for generous giving during the holidays or any days. But no presents? Don’t buy anything?
Not even a few pretty decorations?
That just doesn’t sound right to me.
Surely there is another way.
How can we find our way through the craziness of this season back to the real reason for the season? Where can we look for the star which will lead us to Bethlehem and the child born to a poor couple in a stable?
Well today I’d like to suggest we can find our way with a couple of people who are the epitome of Christmas.
Santa Lucia and Santa Clause.
I’m sure everyone knows about Santa Clause. And those from Scandinavian backgrounds know about Santa Lucia.
All the stories and traditions surrounding these two go back to real people. Real people who were followers of Christ and who sacrificed a lot to celebrate and worship the babe in the manger.
Santa Lucia or Lucy lived in Sicily in the late third century. She was a follower of this new strange sect called Christians.
Christians were suspect because they did not worship the old gods of Rome.
In fact sometimes they were called atheists because they did not believe in the gods and insisted there was only one God.
Lucy lived in a time when it was dangerous to be a Christian.
When Lucy went to the market nobody said “Merry Christmas”.
Lucy was from a wealthy family and her family had arranged for her to marry a man from another wealthy family in order to solidify their fortunes. But Lucy wanted to dedicate her life to Christ. She did not want to marry.
She wanted to live a life of prayer and care for the poor.
Lucy was known and loved by the poor whom she would help. She would often go out at night and walk through the dark Roman tunnels wearing a wreath of candles on her head to light her way to bring food to the poor in her city.
When her mother fell very ill Lucy spent day and night praying for her recovery and when her mother recovered Lucy was so grateful she sold her dowry and gave all the money from that to feed the poor.
Her fiancée was not happy about this.
He’d had enough of this Christian nonsense and her putting off of the marriage. He reported her to the officials as a Christian.
Now what they would do back then if you were accused of being a Christian was to test your loyalty. You would be asked to burn a sacrifice to gods for the sake of the Emperor who was thought to be a god.
See the Romans didn’t care if you worshiped Christ, as long as you worshiped the gods who they thought protected the emperor.
Not to sacrifice for the sake of the emperor was considered treason, punishable by death.
But of course Christians would not sacrifice for any other gods and so Lucy refused. She was sent to a house to entertain men.
It was said this was the idea of her fiancée, who thought it would be a good punishment for a woman who did not want to marry. Lucy went to the house but refused to have anything to do with the men who paid for her to be with them.
They tried to torture her with fire to get her to give in but she refused and finally she was killed with the sword. Some stories tell of her eyes being put out and she is often shown in art holding her eyes on a platter.
She died on December 13.
Lucia means light and her day fell on what was the shortest day in Northern Europe so people would remember her as they turned from the long dark of winter to shorter days and she became associated with Christmas and light in this way. Also there is a story of a terrible famine in Sweden. Just as it looked as though everyone would starve a ship appeared and Santa Lucia, adored in her wreath of candles and a white gown appeared to feed the people the way she would feed the poor in Rome.
And that is why to this day little Scandinavian girls wear candles and sing of light and joy.
But always remember behind this was a young woman whose love for the Christ Child motivated her to risk everything to help the poor and gave her courage to face down her persecutors.
A few years before Lucy was killed a young man’s wealthy parents died in an epidemic. His name was Nicolas and he too was motivated by Christ to give away most of his fortune to care for the poor.
This is the story told about him:
One day Nicolas heard about a poor man with three daughters. In those days the only way a woman could marry was if she had a dowry to give the man’s family. The man with the daughters was too poor to give his daughters and if they could not marry, they could only look forward to an unsavory future.
When the eldest daughter was of an age to marry she woke up one morning to find a ball of gold insider her stockings that she had left over the fireplace to dry. She didn’t know where it had come from but it provided a dowry for her to marry well.
A few years later the same thing happened to the second daughter. When the youngest daughter came of age her father stayed up at night to see who it was helping his daughter and was surprised to find it was Nicolas, who refused all thanks and told him only to thank God.
Nicolas was eventually elected bishop and he too was arrested for refusing to sacrifice to the roman gods and he spent many years in prison.
Behind Santa Clause there is St. Nicolas who protected children and helped the poor. And who risked his life for his faith.
I think these two saints with their fun Christmas traditions can help us find our way through Advent, we don’t need to be scrooges but we don’t need to let the season make us crazy either.
These two saints lived in a time when no one dared say Merry Christmas and it didn’t seem to ruin Christmas for them.
They remind us that Christmas is about giving.
It is about being a little on the outside of the rest of the world. We don’t show our faith by whether or not we say “Merry Christmas” but in our generosity and love and kindness to others. Amen.