Thursday, December 6, 2012

KeepingAdvent: "St. Nicholas of Myra and the Three Bags of Gold"


Last night my 12 year old asked, “Is Santa Claus real?” She’s such an innocent in many ways. Like lots of kids, though, she knows the truth but wants to prolong the fantasy. 

“I believe there was a St. Nicholas,“ I answered, “and he and Santa Claus share the same spirit of giving.”

“St. Nicholas lived a long time ago in a place called Myra,” I told her, “and he helped some teenage girls and their father.”   I went on to explain that in ancient times and even in some cultures today, a father must give a potential husband a dowry with his daughter’s hand in marriage.  Because this father was very poor, he had no dowry to give and thus the teenage girls were doomed to life as prostitutes. (I avoided a feminist rant here, for the sake of the story.)

“Do you know what a prostitute is?” I asked.  She nodded, but I’m not sure she does.   

To help the father and to save the girls from a life more difficult than I can imagine, I told her, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold through the window of the father’s house three nights in a row for dowries for the three daughters.  Some stories say he dropped the bags down the chimney.  Thus the girls were granted a different future.

A different future . . . 

In this season of Advent, we pause, we wait, we listen. We become aware of the presence of God in the questions of a child, in the winter sky, in soft candle light, in words that we read and hear.   The scriptures speak of love again and again through the centuries by poets and prophets and historians and writers of letters and gospels who also paused, and waited, and listened and remind us again that we are and have always been greatly loved.   We may not find a bag of gold inside our windows, but the gifts from a generous spirit are with us each day and give us cause for great rejoicing.  

This Advent, may we pause consciously, and wait expectantly, and listen prayerfully to the words of the spirit around us and remember that we are greatly loved and always have been.  May we rise each morning with a prayer of thanks for whatever has been ‘dropped in our window’ and for the different future these gifts make possible.   And in a similar way, as part of an Advent practice, perhaps we can be like St. Nicholas, and give to the poor, perhaps secretly, and offer others a different future. 

Written by Wynn Cherry
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