By Rev. Karen Fitz La Barge
There once was a man who was poor in coin, but rich with the gift of three daughters. As the years went on with the man barely making enough to feed and clothe his family, he knew the usual way of things was for his daughters to find husbands and marry. But unfortunately, the custom at the time was to provide your daughter with a dowry to both entice a prospective groom and to provide some sort of financial security for the new couple. Without a vineyard or an orchard or even a cow to give away as a dowry, the poor man knew that the unfortunate financial future of his girls was for them to either be sold as slaves or to turn to prostitution, futures that would break any man’s heart for the daughters that he loved. Fortunately, the good bishop of Myra heard about this sad situation, and one night, he went for a walk past the poor man’s house. The bishop suddenly paused and then he threw a bag of gold coins through a window. The gold landed in a stocking that had been washed and hung up to dry. In the morning, the girl found the very generous but anonymous gift in her sock and she was overjoyed. Her father was relieved at this turn of fortune and soon his daughter was happily married. With worry, the father looked at his two remaining daughters, wondering what their fates would be. But the poor man needed not to fret. Twice more, generous dowries of gold found their way through the open window to land in the girl’s shoes or stockings. While Bishop Nicholas never revealed that it was he who had provided the secret gifts, the people reasoned out that he was the only suspect with the knowledge, the means and the temperament to do such a generous thing.
Nicholas was born around 270 AD in Patara in Asia Minor, now the southern coast of Turkey. His parents were wealthy Christians, but they died in an epidemic while Nicholas was very young. Raised by his uncle who was an Abbot, Nicholas, even though he had inherited his parent’s vast wealth, tried to live out his faith by helping the poor. He was a just young monk when he was elected to become the Bishop of Myra. Ancient documents tell us that Nicholas participated in the historic council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and there are records of his significant role in unifying the theology of the early church. Nicholas was a Bishop who was very involved in the lives of the people. He was instrumental in commuting the sentences of people in jail and also in defending the falsely accused. He especially delighted in being generous anonymously.
After his death, the Catholic Church declared him a Saint and established December 6th as his feast day. For centuries around the world, children would put out their shoes on the night December 5th hoping for gifts and sweets to be placed in their shoes in memory of St. Nicholas generosity.
This Christmas season, instead of focusing on what we are going to GET for Christmas, we instead should focus on what we are going to GIVE. Instead of just buying luxuries for our families, will we help our neighbors who need even basic life necessities? Because Jesus Christ came to this earth as a baby and generously gave up everything for us, we too are called this Christmas to generously give. May our perspective change this season as we each ask ourselves, “What did you GIVE this Christmas?”