The Advent Saint

As we enter into the season of Advent, I want to share a story that a friend of mine recently told me.  It seems that back in the second half of the 3rd Century a child was born to very devout, Christian parents in Patara, an important port on the Mediterranean Sea in Asia Minor (now in modern Turkey).  This boy was named Nicholas, after his uncle who was a priest and served the abbot of a nearby monastery.  

Sadly, Nicholas’ parents died of the plague when he was a teenager.  He went to live with his Uncle Nicholas and the other monks of the monastery.  When his parents died, however, they left him a large inheritance of money.

Here’s where the story gets interesting.  In that same city there was a rich man who fell on hard times.  Now poor, he had three daughters who were old enough to be married.  In those days a young woman’s family had to have something of value – a dowry – to offer prospective bridegrooms.  The larger the dowry, the better the chance a young woman would find a good husband.  Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry.  Without any money, this poor man’s daughters would most likely be sold into slavery, or worse.

Word of the family’s trouble reached Nicholas.  Using part of the money received from his parents, he secretly went to the family’s home at night.  He tossed a bag of gold through an open window and it landed in a stocking left before the fire to dry.  You can imagine the joy that next the morning when the bag of gold was discovered!  The first daughter was soon married.
Not long after, another bag of gold mysteriously appeared and the second daughter was married.  The father, now very curious to know who the secret gift-giver was, kept watch during the night.
A third bag of gold landed inside the house and the watchful father leaped up and caught the fleeing donor.  “Ah, Nicholas, it is you!” cried the father.  “You have saved my daughters from certain disaster.”
Embarrassed and not wishing to be known, Nicholas begged the man to keep his identity a secret.  He said, “You must thank God alone for providing these gifts in answer to your prayers for deliverance.”

Later this young monk would be consecrated as a Bishop of Myra.    Bishop Nicholas lived his life in service to God.  He was a protector of the poor and helpless, an advocate of justice for people in need, and a defender of the Christian faith.

He was so beloved that long before the Roman Catholic Church started the process of declaring saints in the late 10th century, Bishop Nicholas was known as Saint Nicholas.  He died on December 6, 343, a day now known around the world as St. Nicholas Day.  Many children in Europe, especially Holland, leave carrots and hay their shoes for the saint’s horse the night of December 5, hoping he will exchange them for small gifts.

Nicholas is the Advent saint who shows us that while waiting for Jesus’ birth, we are called to be gift givers, showing generosity to those in need.  In the spirit of St. Nicholas, may we quietly go about doing helpful things for people in need and for those we love this Advent season.

Wishing you hope, peace, joy and love this Advent season.