Today the church remembers Saint Nicholas of Myra (a.d. 342) who is the patron saint of sailors, children, and those in prison. It has been said that churches dedicated to Saint Nicholas were often built so they could serve as coastal landmarks for ships. As we are so close to the gulf, I can’t help but make the connection even if the dates don’t add up. Moreover, landmarks for ships often had some kind of beacon - and if there is any beacon in my life, it is the Spirit of Christ that resides in the hearts of our congregation.
One of my favorite stories of Saint Nicholas is not one where he is wearing a thick, red sash, drinking hot cocoa, cruising around in some holy time vortex to deliver presents to children. It actually takes place whilst sailors tried to maintain control of their vessel in the middle of a violent storm. Legend has it that the sailors were close enough to shore to just make out a church in the distance. They prayed to God and suddenly there appeared a ghostly figure in the vessel's rigging which helped them loose sail and square away line ultimately allowing them to survive the storm.
The appearance of the ghostly figure apparently did not frighten the sailors but brought a sense of relief and hope. That sense of hope brings to mind one of my favorite stories of this parish... so far. At the Reformation concert held in November, a woman sitting several pews in front of me turned round and smiled at some folks behind her. She had recently had some facial reconstructive surgery and was bandaged heavily. Instinctively, I think some folks balked at her appearance but the young child she made eye contact with didn’t. In fact, he smiled at her throughout the concert.
As the grand finale approached the woman reached for the child in front of her. He looked back at her sleepily with his chin snuggly affixed to his mom’s shoulder. Suddenly, she produced her bulletin which had been folded into the likeness of a ship, complete with a steam stack. You should have seen his eyes, they spoke of love - and her body language, nothing but tenderness. No storm battered us that day and I am aware that these stories are not complete analogs, however, these images in mind speak more to the love and tenderness of Christ than they do to nautical nostalgia. They speak to an adoration, I imagine, which led Saint Nicholas to give his life to Christ and through which I see love divine manifest in my beloved church by the sea.
Daily Reading: John 1:1-5
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.