St. Ambrose Day

Contributing Writer
Pastor Mark Swanson
First Lutheran Church

Wednesday, December 7, is St. Ambrose Day. I’m sure you have it marked on your calendar, right next to the note reminding you that December 7 is Pearl Harbor Day and your spouse’s birthday and the day of your dental appointment. If you do, you are likely in very select company. I can’t say I’ve ever pulled out my red pen and made a note to myself that St. Ambrose Day is around the corner. I heard of Ambrose, we read some of his work at seminary, but I’ve never had a sleepless night wondering if I missed his saint day. Then I started planning for midweek Advent services, which are now underway at my congregation. I looked over my worship planning calendar and there, in the middle of the block for December 7, is ST. AMBROSE, in italics, as if to tell me that any pastor worth their salt should know that December 7 is St. Ambrose Day. Mortified that I have spent all these years in ministry, and never said a special prayer on St. Ambrose Day, spurred me into action. I pored through all my books on the saints and surfed the internet for all the information I could find on Ambrose. He was quite a guy. I wish I could have known him personally. Unfortunately, he lived in the 4th-century and died in the year 397, during the waning days of the Roman Empire.

When Ambrose was thirty-three years old, he was named the governor of a Roman province, with headquarters in the city of Milan (now in present-day Italy). While serving as governor, he skillfully settled disputes among various Christian groups, which immediately won him accolades from all sides and nominations for bishop. Trouble was, Ambrose wasn’t even baptized, he wasn’t even Christian, yet. That little inconvenience didn’t stop people who knew talent when they saw it, so on December 7, in the year 373, Ambrose was baptized, ordained a priest, and consecrated a bishop, all on the same day (and I think preaching twice on a Sunday is stressful). Ambrose took his call very seriously, preaching with power and great conviction, and leading many to faith (including baptizing Augustine, who would become one of the greatest saints of the Church).

In a day and age when we laud and glorify all sorts of shady and disreputable characters, idolizing and fawning over sports and move stars, pop singers and politicians, who think more highly of themselves than they ought (see Romans 12:3), Ambrose is like a breath of fresh air. He had every opportunity to live as a high-falutin leader, but he chose to live like an ordinary member of the congregation, without any special privilege whatsoever. And the people loved him. They knew he was one of them. Ambrose didn’t have to step down off a pedestal, because he refused to get up there in the first place. And what makes Ambrose even more likeable is that he called the people who were in power to accountability. He spoke out for justice and righteousness; the holy, God-fearing kind of righteousness, that casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly, the kind of justice that seeks to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

The more I read about Ambrose, the more I wondered why he doesn’t get more publicity. If he were alive today and someone heard about him, he would be on a late-night TV show before the end of the week. He just gets an italicized block on my clergy calendar. I’m glad I noticed. We will be remembering Ambrose this Wednesday at my congregation. No, this isn’t an advertising gimmick to come and join us in worship, although you are more than welcome. Rather, I think our Lord lifts up saints like Ambrose for us to emulate and remember, so that our faith may be strengthened when we see what grace they received and how they were sustained by faith.

Ambrose has left a lasting legacy: he wrote many hymns, preached countless sermons, encouraged devotion to Mary, and is the patron saint of everyone from beekeepers (because of the sweetness of his eloquent speech) to bakers of honey bread and the entire French Army. Ambrose’s open-minded flexibility even gave us the now familiar phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

In a world that never stops looking for a hero to follow and an idol to grab our attention, Ambrose is a character worth emulating, a person to admire. I would like to have known him. We will remember him this week and give thanks for the great grace he received, and pray that we might “do as Ambrose did.”

For more inspiration and insights from past columns, please visit and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.