By the time you read this article, Christmas will nearly be here. If you haven't already purchased all your gifts for under the tree, you are probably in deep trouble. You should spend the time remaining thinking of a plausible excuse for not completing your Christmas shopping on time. While this experience might be embarrassing for you, you have probably learned an important lesson: plan ahead for next year. If you want to give a perfect gift to a loved one, you need advanced planning.

As a part of your preparations for gift-giving next year, allow me to tell you a true story about the Bishop of Myra. Myra is located in the part of Turkey that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea toward the island of Rhodes. Early in the 4th century, the Bishop of Myra and his people suffered persecution under the Roman Emperor, Diocletian. However, with the advent of the new emperor, Constantine, and his Edict of Milan, the bishop and his flock escaped any further oppression. For the remainder of his life, he busied himself by caring for his flock-especially young people.

One day, news was brought to the bishop concerning a father of three young girls. Because of the family's poverty, the father faced the awful choice of seeing his family starve or of selling his girls into a life of prostitution. Moved by the father's financial plight, the Bishop of Myra went to the father and secretly provided the money necessary to safeguard the girls from sexual exploitation.

The good bishop did not limit his concern to those girls. All poor children around Myra received, at the beginning of each December, gifts from the bishop. That day, December 6th, became his feast day. The Bishop of Myra's given name was Nicholas. We know him today as St. Nicholas or by his corrupted English name, Santa Claus.

During the weeks leading up to this Christmas, we often heard people upset with the emphasis placed upon Santa Claus. The popular slogan was to put Christ back into Christmas-inferring that Santa Claus should be deleted from Christmas. The Christ-child is God's message of love to all the world, and that message should never be forgotten. However, in response to receiving God's love, we need to reflect that light of love to a world often devoid of that love. One person who personified this divine love was St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. Instead of ostracizing Santa Claus from Christmas, we need to remember his life and mirror it in our own.

Look around the world in which you reside. There are many who need more than another tie or household appliance this Christmas. These people quietly cry out in despair for help. If you look, you'll find them. Instead of waiting nearly an entire year to shop for the perfect gift, why not give the perfect gift of love to someone that truly needs it.

We need to become Santa Clauses to others-not merely buying our children and grandchildren Barbie Dolls and Mortal Kombat games. We need to help where we can. You won't have to look far-need is all around us. We can become bishops of Dixon or wherever we live and help free people from various forms of hopelessness.

Before you write this off as just a nice Christmas article, imagine for a moment the joy that Nicholas felt when he saw those three girls growing up in Myra. What joy he must have felt knowing that he protected them from a life of prostitution.

Or, imagine that you were one of those young women. How would you feel knowing that someone rescued you from a horrible life of abuse and gave you a new life? What overwhelming feelings of joy and relief would you feel deep inside?

Either way, we need to take upon ourselves the role of being Santa Claus to others-not just for the month of December but for all of the months of the New Year. You can play a vital part of putting Santa Claus back into Christmas where he truly belongs.

If you become Santa Claus for others, you will be blessed in return with a most merry and joyous Christmas and New Year. Merry Christmas to one and all.

This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph.