St. Nicholas of Myra
by John Beddingfield, Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York, New York
Thoughts for a homily preached on December 6, 2006
Lectionary readings for Wednesday in the First Week of Advent
The Gospel reading for Wednesday in the First Week of Advent is Matthew’s account of the feeding of the four thousand. The clearest and most direct point of this story tells us of Jesus' power to feed, his power over the ordinary laws of nature, and his love for his followers. It tells us of a Lord who nurtures, feeds and sustains. There is in this story a foretaste of the sacrament of Holy Communion, where all are fed. It is also a story about the mathematics of the kingdom of God, the miracle of multiplication as a few loaves and fishes are made into many by Christ.
Often the focus of this Gospel story is on Jesus, and rightly so. Or sometimes, it is about one or two of the disciples. But today I wonder what it must have been like to be among the crowd. Not to be up close, where you see and hear everything that is happening, but I wonder what it must have been like to have simply been a part of the crowd, perhaps way in the back, and yet, to have benefited from the miracle. It is John's account of this story that explains it was a young boy, spotted by Saint Andrew, who had the fish and the bread. But this boy remains anonymous. I would imagine to some in the crowd, the source of the feeding was anonymous. The food was simply enjoyed and shared and consumed.
Have you ever been the recipient of an anonymous act or an anonymous gift? Today is a good day for thinking about anonymous gifts and giving anonymously, as it is the feast of Saint Nicholas of Myra. It is this Nicholas who was the fourth century bishop whose life has morphed (for better or for worse) into modern conceptions of Saint Nick and Santa Claus. Though little is known about the actual Nicholas, one of the most famous stories told of him has to do with a family who had three daughters. As the young women grew up, it became known to Nicholas that the family had no money for dowries for the women to be properly married. The only options for them seemed to be abject poverty or prostitution. But Nicholas saved them from that predicament. He saved them by throwing a bag of gold through their window, anonymously. Some sources say he threw it into the chimney, and you can see where that has led in modern legends. But the point is that they didn’t know who had done this kindness for them. But it changes their lives. It made things better. And I bet it encouraged a mentality of generosity in those young women and all who knew them.
I wonder what we can do to encourage a culture of anonymous generosity. What would it be like if we were able to do things for other people without always looking for recognition or credit? What would it look like for us to go out of our way to remain hidden, but give to someone who is needy? What might it look like if we were to incorporate a bit of the spirit of this Saint Nicholas into our gift-giving?
Especially in this season, may we be gracious in our giving and in our receiving, that our hearts might be prepared to receive more fully the gift of God, Jesus Christ who has come in the flesh to be like us, to be among us, to be with us, to be for us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
From Blogging with Beddingfield: Sermons & Such from Times Square by John Beddingfield, Curate, Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Times Square, New York, New York. Used by permission.