Saint Nicholas Presentation: Second Sunday of Advent
by Eric K. Carr
Saint Nicholas gave the homily at the Second Sunday of Advent's intergenerational Eucharist, Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Tucson, Arizona
St. Nicholas at Grace St. Paul's, Tucson, Arizona
You know I just love coming to Grace St. Paul's every Advent to talk to all of you about my life and how important it was to me to follow Jesus' teachings about taking care of people and preparing the way for his kingdom. In today's Gospel reading, John the Baptist also takes care of people and prepares the way. He listened to God when God told him that he was to tell people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Messiah is another way we talk about Jesus. John helped people prepare for the birth of Jesus by making them clean inside through baptism. Do you all help take care of each other?
The season of Advent is the time we again prepare for the birth of Jesus. We are waiting during this season. One of the things it is good to do while were waiting and preparing each year for the glorious birth of the baby, is to think about how we can help others. That's what I'm here for! I'm going to talk to you about what I did to help others. Maybe my stories will inspire you to help someone else during this special time called Advent.
Did you know that true story of Santa Claus begins with me, Nicolas of Myra! I am the patron saint of children and sailors, and today, I'm going to tell you about some of the things I did for children, kids like you!
Now I know some of you are thinking, oh man, not another kid's service! Look, I'm 1744 years old. Methuselah's got nothing on me, and you guys are all a bunch of kids in my book! So quit squirming and listen up!
I was born during the third century (that's a very long time ago!) in the village of Patara, which is now on the southern coast of Turkey. My wealthy parents raised me to be a devout Christian. They were both good people and I was so sad when they died when I was still young. But what they taught me stuck and I felt it was very important to obey Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor." I wanted to use my whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. Let me tell you some of my stories.
Once, I knew a poor man with three daughters. You know in those days, it was not like today. Back then a young woman's father had to offer his daughter's prospective husband something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. It's terrible, but without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry, and therefore she would be unable to support herself or live freely. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. I just couldn't let that happen!
So, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home, providing the needed dowries. Who do you think left those bags of gold? Yes, me! Each time, I tossed the bags through an open window. I'm letting you in on the secret, but at the time no one knew who did it. Now, I'm told that the gold landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.
Did you leave your shoes outside for me to fill? Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. It's been a long time and frankly, I really can't remember whether I left coins or balls of gold. It doesn't matter. What matters is those girls were not sold into slavery! But the story of the gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, is why I leave oranges in your shoes every year. Wait and see! They'll be outside after the service for anyone who left their shoes there!
There's another story about me. It's about three students, traveling on their way to study in Athens. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, hiding their bodies in a large pickling tub. Isn't that terrible! Well, as it happened, I was traveling along the same route and stopped at this very inn. I was exhausted, walking miles that day! I went to bed early, but I didn't have a restful sleep. I kept having nightmares about these three boys. The dreams were so vivid that I got up in the middle of the night and summoned the innkeeper. He told me what happened. What an evil man! So the rest of the night, I prayed to God that the three boys were restored to life and wholeness. God granted my prayer and these three boys went home to their families. Let me tell you, they were very happy! Usually, this is the story people tell when they say that I am the patron saint of children.
But, you know what! There's another story about children. This one happened after I died. One year, the good townspeople of Myra were celebrating on the eve of my feast day. They were celebrating just like we are today! But in the middle of their celebrating, a band of pirates came into town. They stole treasures from the Church that was named after me! As they were leaving town, they kidnapped a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached a year later, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy for her. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. I appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup.
I love that story!
So, can you tell me what all these stories have in common? That's right! They are all about helping someone else. I had a lot of wealth, and I could have built a kingdom for myself, but instead I used my inheritance to build more for the kingdom of God. That's what generosity is, it's helping people! It's building something bigger than yourself! And maybe you aren't a wealthy orphan like me, but when all of you work together, you can accomplish the same kinds of things!
Sometimes, it is very easy to get excited about Christmas. There are lots of gifts and food and family and friends, and that can also be a type of generosity. It's fun, isn't it? But what is the day really about? Why do we do all this celebrating? We're remembering the amazing birth of a little baby who changed the world, and who grew up to inspire billions of people to live by his example and in his amazing generosity. John the Baptist was preparing the world for him, and I spent my life taking his message—and living his message—everywhere!Right now, in Advent, we are again preparing and waiting to celebrate Jesus' miraculous birth. John the Baptist, in our Gospel story today, helped people prepare by baptizing them in Jesus' name. He even baptized Jesus! Think how you can prepare. It's not really by buying presents or getting presents or decorating Christmas trees, is it? That's fun, but there's something more. Think about the more. The reason I did all the things I did was because of Jesus. What can you do to be a little more like that baby who changed the world? Amen.