December 6 is the feast of St. Nicholas, bishop of Smyrna, certainly one of the most popular saints celebrated in our Church, as well as in the Eastern Church. He is beloved by everyone, even those who are not members of any formal church, who look behind the mask of the commercial Santa Claus, and see the reality of the man behind the legends.
And there are so many legends! Most of us know the story of how he saved three poor girls by throwing gold coins through the window of their father’s home so that they would have a dowry and could marry. Less well known are the stories of his saving sailors in a storm through prayer, and restoring murdered children to life. These stories, and many more, can be found here: http://www.netplaces.com/saints/holiday-saints/st-nicholas-c-271350.htm. If you have never celebrated with your family, or you would like to celebrate in a new way, http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/celebrate-at-home/ is a wonderful resource for celebrations at home, church and school.
What Nicholas did is important. His loving actions modeled Christ for the people of his time and place as well as for all who remember him. But even more important than what he did, is who Nicholas was in his heart. Nicholas was before all else, a man of prayer and of God. In all he did, Nicholas attempted to reflect his relationship with Christ and so bring others to Him. We need to remember that if we are to truly honor his legacy.
He did not give toys and sweets only to good little boys and girls. He gave to the needy what they needed to survive. I’m not saying we should not give toys and candy to our children today, but that we should couple the treats with acts of charity. Nicholas loved children, and so do we. Perhaps there are children in your neighborhood who have no one to give them little gifts today. Is it possible to share your celebration with them?
This feast of St Nicholas comes at the beginning of Advent, when we are looking forward to Christmas and the birth of our King in a stable in Bethlehem. As we reflect on the life of St Nicholas, and how he placed Christ first in everything, we should take the time to reflect on our own lives as well. Have I put Christ first in everything, maybe not perfectly, but have I tried and done the best I could? In what areas am I listening to Him well? In what areas to I need His grace and mercy for forgiveness and healing? In what areas am I being tried and need double doses of the gift of fortitude?
Let us honor this great saint, lover of Christ, and celebrate his life. Let us all attempt in the coming weeks to follow in his giving footsteps.