I want to say, first of all that it is all the work of the Holy Spirit. Whatever has happened, whatever legends have been generated, all the credit must be given to the Holy Spirit. The gifts, the spirit of joy and generosity – I cannot take credit for any of them. But I thank God that I was blessed to receive a portion of the gifts that the Holy Spirit so generously pours out on all of us.
You may not quiet recognize me. I’m not exactly dressed in the clothes that later legends have put me in. But my name is Nicholas – St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, as I have come to be known. I was born over 1700 years ago in a town on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in the land you know as Turkey. Like Hannah in the Old Testament, my mother had long prayed for a child – and after many years, God granted her prayers. From her I learned at very young age to joy of prayer, of fasting, of singing hymns, and of hearing scripture read. But my mother and father both died when I was still a boy. The plague was a danger for everyone in that time — so many people living so close together. But my parents taught me care for the sick, even when it meant becoming sick yourself. That is how my parents died. They went to the homes of those who were sick, to take care of them. And because of the care that my parents gave, some of those whom they nursed survived – though many, many died from the plague. I suppose if they had done like many of the unbelievers in our town, and shut themselves away from those who were sick, they might not have become sick themselves. But Jesus told us to care for the sick and for the dying, for the poor and the homeless, for all who suffer in this world; and so, that is what my parents did. It did not matter that they too should die as they served those in need; because they knew that Jesus had died, and that he rose to life again, so that we might trust that such a resurrection waits for each of us on the other side of death.
When I was still a young man, I happened to be in the city of Myra one day – it was only a short distance from my home. It turned out that the church in Myra was choosing a Bishop for their city that day. I just happened to be walking into the church, because it was my habit to always find the church in any town I happened to visit, to go there for prayer. The church was quiet when I came inside, so I went to a seat and knelt to pray. When I had finished my prayer and stood to leave, there were several priests gathered at the entrance. They stopped me, and because my being there must have been a sign that they had prayed about, they asked me to be their bishop. When signs like that fall into place, I guess you don’t say “no,” and so I became Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.
But let me get back to what I started with – the gifts of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul said that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I suppose it was mostly a spirit of generosity that fell on me. I always tried to help people in need. But there was one family in our town that received a special benefit from my generosity. I guess I maybe have a soft place in my heart for young people. It was the plight of three daughters of a poor man that filled my heart. They were a poor family with very few resources. And I got to be concerned about what was going to happen to these three girls. In order to find husbands for his daughters, the father needed to come up with a dowry for each of them—a rather expensive proposition. But what was he to do? He had no money saved, and often lived from day to day. I leaned from the oldest daughter, one day, what the father was considering. The terrible practice of our day was for the poor to sometimes sell their children into slavery. As slaves they would be provided for, and the father, in this case, could make a bit of money from the sale. But what was I to do? I wanted to just give the father the money for the dowry, but I knew that would not work. If I gave him the money he would regard it as a loan, and would not want to take on that kind of debt. So late one night, when all the candles were extinguished, I walked to the man’s house. I had a bag of gold coins with me that would amount to a comfortable dowry, and I threw it into the window. Now it happened that the eldest daughter had washed her stockings, and hung them by the hearth to dry. I wasn’t aiming for the stockings – I just made sure I got the sack of gold through the window – but the sack of gold landed right inside her stocking. The next morning, when she came to take her stockings from the hearth, she noticed something in the toe, and emptying the stocking, she found the gold. The father made inquiry, but could not identify where the gold came from, and he took it as a sign and used the gold to provide a dowry for his daughter. He never learned my secret, and with the other daughters came of age, they too find sacks of gold beside the hearth – I never managed to get in a stocking again, but one of the bags landed in a shoe.
That is the stuff that legends are made from. But, as I say, it was all the Holy Spirit, and I simply honored that that spirit of generosity has gotten connected with my name. And it’s also fitting that that generosity should end up getting connected with Christmas. My death – my entering into the eternal home prepared for me – happening on December 6th has had a way of connecting me with Christmas. And certainly the spirit of generosity is deeply a part of the Christmas Spirit, because at Christmas God showed the greatest generosity possible, coming to live among us so that we might live with God forever.
Now, I know legends can turn stories into things you can hardly recognize. Somehow, even my name has been transformed. St. Nicholas has somehow become Santa Claus, and instead of a miter, I wear a rather different kind of hat. And I know that my name and reputation sometimes get used for encouraging a kind of Christmas buying spree. But none of that should take away form the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a Spirit of Generosity that seeks to capture us at Christmas – a spirit that has a warm heart for the children, and a spirit that seeks to do good for all those in need. Merry Christmas! God bless us, every one.