(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch”)
On Bended Knee
Featuring an excerpt from the upcoming book, “Saint Nicholas: The Believer”
By Eric Elder
Back in the 1970’s, a catalog company called Miles Kimball created a figurine that depicted a modern-looking Santa Claus, kneeling and worshipping the baby Jesus in the manger. Some people adore this image, while others loathe it, thinking that it’s sacrilegious to mix Santa with Jesus.
But the truth is that the image of Saint Nick bending his knee to worship Jesus is closer to reality than most people might think. Not that Santa Claus was really there in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, but the real-life Saint Nicholas, upon whom our modern-day Santa is based, really did go to Bethlehem during his lifetime, back in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries after Christ‘s birth. Nicholas’ visit to Bethlehem was one of the highlights of his life and a touchstone for his faith. (By the way, and not to confuse you with more Christmas stories, but a “touchstone” in the Bible was called an “ebeneezer,” which served as a physical reminder of a place where God did something memorable in someone’s life. Hence the name of another famous Christmas character, Ebeneezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens‘ story, A Christmas Carol.)
The reason I’m giving you this historical background about the life of Saint Nicholas is because I’d like to share with you another chapter of a new Christmas book my wife and I are writing based on the life of the original Saint Nicholas. I hope it encourages you to take some time this holiday season to “bend your knee” to the same Lord and Savior to whom Nicholas bent his.
The story picks up as Nicholas first arrives at the place of Christ’s birth, a dug-out cave in the side of a hill in Bethlehem that was once used as a stable for animals. Nicholas has been brought to this place by three young children who make their living by guiding pilgrims in the Holy Land to the Christian holy places.
With that introduction, here’s chapter 12 of our book-in-progress called, “Saint Nicholas: The Believer.”
Night had almost fallen when the four travelers finally arrived at their destination. The young boy Dmetri had led the others through the city of Bethlehem until they reached the spot where generations of pilgrims had previously come to pay homage to their Lord at the place where He was born. It was a small cave, cut into the hillside, where animals could have been easily kept from wandering off.
There were no signs to mark the spot. There were no monuments or buildings to indicate that this was the place where the Creator of the universe had unveiled His plan for its salvation. It was still dangerous anywhere in the Roman Empire to tell others you were a Christian, even though laws against it were so far only sporadically enforced.
But that didn’t stop those who were true Christ followers from coming to honor the One in whom they had put their trust. Although Christ Himself taught His followers that they were to respect their earthly rulers, both Caesar and the Christians knew what the Christians would do if they were forced to chose between bending their knee in worship of Caesar, or bending their knee in worship of Christ. So the standoff between the Christians and the Roman Empire continued.
The only indication that this was indeed a holy site was the well-worn path up the hill that made its way into and out of the cave. Tens of thousands of pilgrims had already made the trek to this site in the previous 250 years since Jesus had died. It was well-known to the believers in Bethlehem as the place of Christ’s birth, for it had been shown to pilgrims from one generation to the next going back to the days of Christ Himself.
As Dmetri led the other three along the path, Nicholas laughed, a bit to himself, and a bit out loud. The others turned to see what caused such an emotion. Nicholas had even surprised himself! Here he was, finally at the place where he had wanted to come for so long, and he was laughing.
In response to their inquisitive looks, Nicholas said, “I was just thinking of the wise men who came to Bethlehem to see Jesus. They could have walked up this very hill. How regal they must have looked, riding on their camels and bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. For a moment, I pictured myself as one of those kings, dressed in splendor and riding high atop a camel myself. Then I stepped in some sheep dung on the path. The smell brought me back to the reality I’m nothing at all like those kings who visited Jesus!”
“But,” said Ruthie, “didn’t you tell us that the angels spoke to the shepherds first about the baby Jesus, and that they were the first ones to visit Him after He was born? So smelling like sheep dung may not make you like a king, but it makes you even more like those who God brought to the manger first!”
“Well said, Ruthie,” Nicholas replied. “You’re absolutely right.”
Ruthie smiled at her insight. Then her face produced another thoughtful look. “But maybe we should still be like the wise men, and bring a gift with us before we go in. But what could we bring?” The thought seemed to overtake her, as if she was truly concerned that they had nothing to give to the King of all kings. He wasn’t there, of course, to even receive any gifts, but still, she had been captivated by the stories that Nicholas had been telling them about Jesus along the road. She felt she should bring Him some kind of gift.
“Look!” she said, pointing to a place on the hill a short distance away. She darted off the path. Within a few minutes she had returned with four small, delicate, golden flowers, one for each of them. “They look like gold to me!”
She smiled from ear to ear now, giving the other three their gifts that they could bring to Jesus. Nicholas smiled, too, thinking to himself, What difference does it make really whether it’s gold from a mine or gold from a flower, when everything we have comes from Him anyway?
With their gifts in hand, they reached the entrance to the cave and stepped in.
Nothing could have prepared Nicholas for the strong emotion that overtook him as he entered the cave.
On the ground in front of him was a makeshift wooden manger, the type of feeding trough for animals that Jesus could have been lain in on the night of his birth. The manger had apparently been placed in the cave as a simple reminder of what had taken place on that spot. But as simple as it was, the affect on Nicholas was profound. His emotions welled-up inside him and he began to weep. What started as a trickle soon turned into a flood.
One minute he had been laughing about sheep dung and watching Ruthie pick flowers on the hill, and the next minute, he found himself on his knees, weeping uncontrollably at the thought of what had taken place on this very spot.
He thought about all that he had ever heard about Jesus: how He had healed the sick, walked on water, and raised the dead. He thought about the words of life that Jesus had spoken while here on earth, words that still echoed all these years later, yet had the weight of authority as if spoken by the very Author of life itself. He thought about his own parents who had devoted their lives to serving this man called Jesus, and who had given up their lives in doing so, just as Jesus had given up His life for them and for us all.
The thoughts so flooded his mind that Nicholas couldn’t help but sob with deep, heartfelt tears. The tears seemed to come from within his very soul. Nicholas also felt another stirring deep within his soul, a stirring like he had never felt in his life. It was a sensation that seemed to call for some kind of response, some kind of action on his part, but what? It was a feeling that was totally unfamiliar, yet it seemed unmistakably clear that there was some step he was now supposed to take, as if a door were opening in front of him that he knew he should walk through, but how?
As if in answer to his question, Nicholas remembered the golden flower in his hand. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do. And he wanted more than anything to do it.
He took the flower and laid it gently in the wooden manger. It wasn’t just a golden flower anymore. It was a symbol of his very life, offered up in service to his King.
Nicholas knelt there for several minutes, engulfed in this experience that he knew, even then, would affect him for the rest of his life. He was oblivious to everything else that was going on around him. All he knew was that he wanted to serve this King, this Man who was fully human in every sense of the word, yet clearly divine at the same time, the very essence of God Himself.
Nicholas had no idea how long he held this position. It could have been minutes. It could have been hours. All he knew was that he wanted to stay in this position for the rest of his life–humbled before God and worshipping His presence. From that moment on, whether he stood up and ran or slowed down and walked, sat down and rested or laid down to sleep, he wanted to do everything on bended knee, with a heart that was bent towards serving his king.
As if slowly waking up from a dream, Nicholas began to notice his surroundings again. He saw Dmetri and Samuel kneeling on his right, and Ruthie doing the same on his left. Having watched Nicholas slip down to his knees, they had followed suit. Now they looked at each other, and at Nicholas and the manger in front of them.
The waves of emotion that had washed over Nicholas were now washing over them as well. They couldn’t help but imagine what he was experiencing, knowing how devoted a follower he was of Jesus, and what it had cost his parents to follow Him. Each of the children, in their own way, began to feel the same love and devotion well up in their own hearts.
They had watched Nicholas lay his flower in the manger, and now they wanted to do the same thing. If Jesus had meant so much to Nicholas, then they wanted to follow Him as well. They had never in their lives experienced the kind of love that Nicholas had shown to them in the past three days. Yet they also realized that the love that Nicholas showed them didn’t come from Nicholas alone, but from the God whom Nicholas served. If this was the effect that Jesus had on His followers, they thought, then they wanted to follow Him, too.
On bended knees, each of the three children lay their golden flowers in the manger, too, and with the flowers, their hearts.
If Nicholas had any doubts about his faith prior to this, they were all washed away now. Nicholas had become, in the truest sense of the word, a Believer.
And within minutes of giving his whole heart and life to Christ, he was already inspiring others to do the same.
Although this story is fictionalized to show what it might have been like when the real-life Saint Nicholas first visited Bethlehem, the truth is that Nicholas was so touched by his visit to the Holy Land that he decided to stay for several more years. He took up residence just a few miles away from the place where Jesus was born. Nicholas then returned to the Turkish city of Myra on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea where he lived out the rest of his life as the Bishop of Myra.
Nicholas was already such an important figure in the life of the church during his lifetime that when Emperor Constantine’s mother eventually visited the Holy Land, she not only had a church built over the spot where Jesus was born, but also over the spot where Nicholas had lived. Both locations still have churches standing on them today: the Church of the Nativity, where Christ was born, and the Church of Saint Nicholas, where the believer Nicholas lived.
When I visited Bethlehem in 2009, I, too, was incredibly moved when I saw the spot where Jesus was born. Even though the church that stands there today had been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries, it remains the undisputed location that was first shown to Constantine’s mother in the 4th century as the birthplace of Christ, and likely was shown to the pilgrims before that for the years between His lifetime and hers.
Knowing that the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, first touched ground within walking distance of this spot was awe-inspiring to me, too. It caused me to bend my knee in humble adoration, for no one has impacted my life on earth more than Jesus, and no one will impact my life eternally more than Him. My desire to bend down and touch the ground was not out of reverence for the “spot” on the ground where He was born, but for Who He is and all that He means to me in my life.
Just like Nicholas, my life has been so impacted by Christ that I’ve dedicated the rest of it to serving Him, too, with my whole heart and in whatever way I can. One day, the Bible says, every knee shall bow in the presence of Christ.
“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
and gave Him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
As for me, I’d rather not wait for that day. I’d rather do it now, bending my knee to Him, willingly and wholeheartedly, with the rest of my days still ahead of me to serve Him. I know that He loves me and will always guide me, direct me, and lead me in ways that are absolutely the best for me–regardless of how they might look to me at the time. Faith like this is not blind. It’s faith in the One whom I have already seen in my heart and who has already done so much for me, dying on my behalf, and giving me a new life in return.
As Christmas comes this week, I’d like to encourage you to take a few minutes, even right now, to “bend your knee” to this King of kings, this Lord of lords, who has come to earth and has given up His life for you. Take some time to worship and adore Him. Offer Him the gift of your life this Christmas, completely and wholeheartedly surrendered to Him. Like Nicholas of old and many other believers both past and present, let’s come to Him this Christmas to worship and adore Him. In the words of the famous Christmas song:
“O come all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for coming to earth as a Man, and giving Your life to us in the form of Jesus. Thank You for the model He was to show us how to live our lives, and the sacrifice He made so we could live forever. Help us to worship Him this Christmas season in a special way, on bended knee and with hearts that are bent towards You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. I’ve posted a special version of “O Come All Ye Faithful” on our website called simply “Faithful.” The song is from our new CD that we’ve helped record and produce called “Tenderly,” featuring thirteen songs played “tenderly” on the grand piano by Marilyn Byrnes, some of which have a hint of Christmas, and others of which will simply provide you with a quiet sanctuary in the midst of life. If you’d like to get the whole CD, whether on CD or as downloadable MP3’s, I’d be glad to send you a copy, anywhere in the world, for a donation of any size to our ministry this month. Use the links below to listen to the song “Faithful” or to make a donation and get the CD.
Listen to the song, “Faithful”
Make a Donation and Get a CD
To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:
The Ranch Giftshop
To find us on Facebook, please visit:
The Ranch on FaceBook
To invite Eric to speak to your group of any size, whether by Skype or in person, please visit:
Invite your friends! We’d love to have them study along with us—and you! Just forward this email and encourage them to sign up for themselves at the link below.
Subscribe to This Day’s Thought