Today, December 6th, is the Optional Memorial of St. Nicholas. We don’t know much about him. During our present season of Advent, the memorial of saints aren’t given as much attention. However, this year I feel inspired to use what we do know about St. Nicholas as I offer this homily.
So, what do we know about St. Nicholas? He was a bishop in the fourth century in Myra in Lycia, part of Asia Minor (in modern day Turkey). We hear stories of his generosity. He came from a family of means and used that to help others. One story tells us that he anonymously provided money for the dowries for three daughters of a poor man so that they would not be forced into prostitution (see https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-nicholas).
From the stories of St. Nicholas’ generosity, in some places the tradition of giving gifts on this day developed. From translations and mispronunciation of his name, the stories developed into the modern notion of Santa Claus.
I wonder what St. Nicholas would think of the way we celebrate Christmas today?
Certainly, he would want us to celebrate Christmas as the birth of our savior, but what would he think of the stores beginning Christmas displays as early as October? I think he would probably not approve of the commercialization of Christmas.
However, that does not mean he would reject Christmas gift giving in general. I think St. Nicholas would be pleased seeing our Giving Tree. He would be pleased with the generosity shown in the Box of Joy drive we do. St. Nicholas would be pleased with the generosity to those in need. He would just want us to keep the focus in the right place. Christmas involves material giving but it is not about the material. Christmas is about Jesus. Here I will mention a song that inspires me with the true spirit of Christmas. It is “Where’s the Line to See Jesus?” You can see the official video by Becky Kelley at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OExXItDyWEY.
For some people Christmas is about receiving gifts. There is nothing wrong with receiving gifts. We can enjoy watching children receive their gifts with the joy. However, the true spirit of Christmas lies not in receiving but in giving. Think of Jesus’ giving spirit as you look at Jesus on the Cross. He gave his life because He loves you (see John 15:13).
Advent is a season to reflect on the coming of Jesus. His first coming happened at the first Christmas. His Second Coming will be at the end of the ages. However, we do not have to wait until the Second Coming to have Jesus in our lives. Jesus wants to come into our lives now. This is sometimes called the Third Coming. Jesus comes into our hearts with a generous and giving love. We are called to respond by our generosity to others.