According to St. Peter “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” But in the meantime let us celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas!

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 119:1-24 (Morning)
Psalms 12, 13, 14 (Evening)
Amos 3:12, 4:5
2 Peter 3: 1-10
Matthew 21: 23-32
 


According to St. Peter “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” But in the meantime let us celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas!

Nicholas of Myra, was a 4th century bishop in what is now Turkey. He is the inspiration for Santa Claus (Little Saint Nick) owing to widely spread and wildly varying tales of his generosity and miraculous powers, many of which involve threes. In the most famous, he is said to have anonymously gifted the dowries of three sisters, each one receiving a bag of gold coins, so that she might honorably marry instead of becoming a prostitute. He is also said to have brought back to life three boys who had been decapitated by an evil restaurateur who was pickling their corpses with the intention of serving his unsuspecting guests “corned kid.”

Even the body of St. Nicholas ended up in three places. A third of him ended up in Venice, where at least partly because he saved the three boys from the briny vat, he is revered as the patron saint of saltwater sailors. A third of him is in the city of Bari, Italy, the birthplace of the Italian pawnbroker industry, where the three bags of gold were morphed into the three balls on signs indicating a pawnbroker’s shop. (The Irish improbably claim that the remaining third is buried in Thomastown, County Kilkenny for no particular reason except for perhaps the promotion of the pilgrimage trade.)

These trios still have a resonance in gift-giving to children in the Netherlands and Germany on St. Nicholas Day. As a child living in the meanest of American foster homes, I often received three round gold-foil-wrapped gifts (reminiscent of the pawnbroker balls and the three resurrected boys) from my non-English speaking German Uncle Jakob who would travel on the bus for 50 miles to deliver them to me in person on St. Nicholas Day. They were always two tangerines and one of those “chocolate oranges” that came wrapped in foil and that you smashed hard on a table top and they broke into perfect segments. To this day, the smell of tangerines and chocolate oranges is the smell of generosity.

We should take our memories of times as children when we experienced the generosity of others, perhaps done under the inspiration of St. Nicholas (or Santa Claus) and be particularly generous to the poor and especially so to their children. Tangerines are undoubtedly healthier for everyone but those chocolate oranges may still work minor miracles within the hearts of love-starved kids.
 


Written by Tony Stankus, an Episcopalian for less than a year.

Tony is a Distinguished Professor and Librarian at the University of Arkansas. He says he joined St. Paul’s at age 66 because he could no longer resist the surpassing joy of its liturgies and the radiant warmth of its priests and people.

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