a blog post from Melody Schwarting, Children’s Sunday School Coordinator
St Nicholas’s secret distribution of gifts has captured our imaginations for nearly 1,700 years. Nicholas lived in the late 200s to the mid 300s ACE. His hometown, Myra (now Demre in Turkey) was in the Roman Empire in his lifetime. After he took holy orders, Nicholas gave his personal wealth to families in need, providing freedom for women facing slavery and protecting local businesses from collapse. During a period of famine, he performed miracles that fed his city. He also calmed a storm at sea. These stories are legends, though they are older than apocryphal stories like Nicholas slapping the heretic Arius at the council of Nicaea.
What little we know about the real Nicholas is embellished by a vibrant tradition around his feast day, December 6, that quickly grew around the world. Celebrations reliably involved an element of secret gift-giving to the poor and celebration of children, whose patron saint is Nicholas. Nicholas is also the patron saint of archers, brewers, merchants, pawnbrokers, repentant thieves, travelers, students, and unmarried people, depending on where (and when) you are.
As depicted in All Souls’ St Nicholas pageant, Nicholas lived a life of mission, giving his wealth to the poor and sacrificially serving his hometown. He reminds us that missional living begins at home, caring for neighbors and bettering our communities. Yet, how did all these stories of generosity become associated with this humble, gentle bishop? Perhaps, these stories were first told by those he blessed, people who were so overwhelmed by his gifts that they had to tell the world how receiving grace feels. When gratitude leads to storytelling, the Holy Spirit is at work.
At this time of year, it is easy to focus on our own wants and granting the wishes of those closest to us. Nicholas encourages us to go beyond comfort, to share our wealth with those in need, and to sacrificially serve others. Shoveling a neighbor’s driveway, giving warm socks and mittens to a local shelter, and giving without expecting anything (even thanks) in return is a way to continue the good work of St Nicholas. At Christmastide, we remember the gift of Jesus, and Nicholas inspires us to give freely in love, as Jesus gave himself to us.
A Collect for St Nicholas
Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.