Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Sackful of Joy, and St. Nicholas(es) Too

The Season of Light:
The Second Sunday of Advent
The Feast of St. Nicholas, 4th Century Bishop

The Word:
Baruch 5:1-9 (Jerusalem - God will show your splendor)
Psalm 126:1-6 (The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy)
Philippians 1:4-11 (Show yourselves sinless and without blame in the day of Christ)
Luke 3:1-6 (All shall see the salvation of God)

First, I have to beg forgiveness. I was hoping - and in a way promised - that I'd post a daily reflection this season, and they'd be fresh; not repostings of what I wrote a year ago. Sadly, that's just not going to happen. I'm much busier this year than last, and I don't have nearly the same amount of 'idle' time. It is only right to mention, however, that some of that previously idle time has been spent in daily personal and private prayer and reflection - specifically, the Divine Office (also known as the Liturgy of the Hours). Most of the rest have been spent in work-related projects - my employer is going through an elaborate systems conversion, and I'm part of the implementation team.

But this Season of Light has not gone without moments of joy, and a surprise or two.

I finally managed to get my car in for some much needed repair - tonight it's sporting two new tires which will do their best to assure me they won't go nearly flat every fourth day. (That is a blessed relief, but it is still a joy!)

Because of all the timing constraints, we elected to keep the decorating simple this year. Our decorations are stored in a locked room in our apartment building, and it requires getting someone from our leasing office with enough time to unlock the room twice (once to pull out the storage bins, and another to put them back - and this is done at both the beginning and the end of the season). My dear wife has a few collectible holiday pieces - some of the village miniature houses and some international Santas. When it's decided to display them, it's a trick to get them all up. So we bought some poinsettias and some lights at Home Depot's "Black Friday" sale (the only concession to that day's madness), and that was that.

Because of the time involved to get the tires installed today, I had planned to take the family to an earlier dinner at a buffet restaurant in our area, and then visit one of the more spectacular neighborhood holiday light displays nearby.

On our way there, as we still had a little time, we stopped at a thrift store in the area. There are usually some inexpensive pieces of bric-a-brac for augmenting the decor. Actually, I didn't expect to find much. But my son's suggestion and my wife's eyes spotted a windfall - a cluster of those International Santas (many of which are not in her collection) at a mere pittance. I couldn't say no to this. Supposedly an old Italian tradition dictates that on St Nicholas' feast day you should gift your sweetheart (Nicholas is the patron of brides and children, amongst other things), so the find was quite fortuitous.

Oh - the buffet was still quite crowded, even some 45 minutes later. Somewhere in our collective minds we get the idea that this type of restaurant is a good value at roughly $10 per person. Considering the choices and how we manage to stuff ourselves, I am not so sure. We spent the same amount at a nice (and not busy) sit-down restaurant and felt just as full without the umpteen trips to the dessert bar. We saw some other light displays. Maybe they won't win any awards, maybe they're not 'extreme'; but they remind us of what is ahead.

God didn't come to Earth where one might have expected him or wanted to find him. And while there was fanfare from a choir of angels, and a light from a star in the sky brighter than observers of the time had ever seen, much of that went unnoticed by the general townsfolk in Bethlehem.

I'm not sure how the Fourth Century bishop of what is now Turkey would react to his having become the archetype of our modern Santa Claus. Certainly in his own lifetime he demonstrated the many traits that have been made legend to this day. His joy came in being able to give of himself to others, something all the various legends behind the many international faces of Sinterklaas, Pere Noel, and Jolly Old St. Nick is meant to remind us.

Our eyes are blinded by the holiness you bear -
The bishop's robe, the mitre and the cross of gold obscure the simple man within the saint.
Strip off your glory, Nicholas, and speak!

Across the tremendous bridge of sixteen hundred years
I come to stand in worship with you
As I stood among my faithful congregation long ago.
All who knelt beside me then are gone.
Their names are dust, their tombs are grass and clay,
Yet still their shining seed of faith survives in you!
It weathers time, it springs again in you!
With you it stands like forest oak
Or withers with the grasses underfoot.
Preserve the living faith for which your ancestors fought!
For faith was won by centuries of sacrifice
And many martyrs died, that you might worship God.

Help us, Lord! to find the hidden road
That leads from love to greater Love,
From faith to greater Faith.
Strengthen us, O Lord!
Screw up our strength to serve Thee with simplicity.

---Opening to Benjamin Britten's cantata "St. Nicolas", Op. 42 (1948)
libretto by Eric Crozier

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