Two lessons on true generosity from the life of St. Nicholas
You know of a man named Nicholas. Father Christmas, he is called. Or, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle or ‘Weihnachtsmann.’ In Japanese, his name is ‘Hoteiosho,’ which means “priest who gives gifts.” In the West, his name has become synonymous with gift giving during the Christmas season. In the United States, as early as November, we see Santa Claus actors, jolly and plump, sitting on big red thrones, sitting patiently as children tell their secret Christmas wishes. Many of us remember that rotund and rosy cheeked Santa, throwing back an ice, cold Coca Cola, reminding us that if we drink Coke, we too will be rosy and happy.
Yet, before commercialism morphed Saint Nicholas into that supernatural conductor of 8 tiny reindeer, he was known as a holy and kind man. He was a devout believer in Jesus and a staunch defender of the Christian faith even during the persecutions of Diocletian. Some say he even worked miracles in the name of Christ.
So, what can a man who lived over 1700 years ago teach us about true generosity? I studied into the life of St. Nicholas’s to find out.
The first lesson I learned came from this fact: St. Nicholas gave anonymously. One historical account says that Nicholas dropped bags of coins inside the windows of poor people living in his small village. He always made his drops at night so that he wouldn’t be discovered. Nicholas operated out of humility, not wanting to be recognized for his good deeds. Rather, he allowed himself to become an instrument of God’s provision. I can learn a thing or two about humility from St. Nicholas.
For example, time is that one luxury-gift that I have to offer. So, here is how it might go in my kitchen sometimes:
“Honey, did you see how bad those dishes were last night? It took me over an hour to scrub all the pots and load all the nasty dishes in by myself. Then, I had to wipe the counters and take out the stinky trash.” This is the spoken part. The unspoken part: “You did good marrying me, a self-sacrificing woman who cooks and cleans for you, and takes care of your children while you get to manage your own time!”
Now, applying the St. Nicholas rule of humility: “Honey, how was your day? I’ve got the kitchen ready so that we can sit down for a few minutes and catch up over a glass of tea.”
The first scenario felt like justice. Yes!! But, in the end, my rant was just a big banner saying: Look at me. I’m great.
In the second scenario, I offered my time but didn’t draw attention to my giving it. Instead, the act of serving provided a quiet and calm environment for us to restore after a long day. Not drawing attention to ourselves is an act of generosity that we can learn from this godly man.
The second lesson comes from this fact: St. Nicholas didn’t have strings attached when he gave to others. He gave without reservation and he gave out of his abundance. Another historical account tells that St.Nicholas was born into a wealthy family. He inherited a large sum of money from his parents and gave that money freely to those in need. It is said that he gave away his entire inheritance to the poor.
I’m going to assume that St. Nicholas didn’t say, “I’m going to let you borrow my mower, if you let your son work in my yard for the day.” He also didn’t check the credentials of the folks he gave his money to. He just gave and he didn’t expect to get a single thing in return. Now, that is the mark of a truly generous person. Giving is its own reward!
So, how can I apply these admonitions with my friends and family? I can invite people over for dinner that I know will never invite me in return. I can be patient with my kids when they make mistakes. I can give a couple of bills to the person in the Walmart parking lot who is trying to scam me into thinking she’s pregnant with twins and due to give birth at any moment. God can work through me too, if I allow Him to do it.
So, in this season of Advent, as we prepare for the birth of our Savior, let’s look to St. Nicholas to teach us how to be truly generous with our time and our money and ourselves. Generosity doesn’t have to be this thing we serve down at the soup kitchen. Generosity can be the thing we offer right here in our homes and neighborhoods, blessing our family and neighbors with our time and our love, letting go of that desire to be recognized and reciprocated.