From Wikipedia – “In his most famous exploit, Nicholas aided a poor man who had three daughters, but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Even if they did not, unmarried maidens in those days [4th Century, in modern-day Turkey] would have been assumed as being a prostitute. Hearing of the girls’ plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.
One version of the story has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throwing the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man’s plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.“ (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas)
St. Nickolas is indeed the historical figure who prefigures our American Santa Claus. The name comes to us through the dutch commemoration of St. Nickolas – “Sinterklaas.” It is lovely to remember that the generosity of gift-giving at this time of year has a long history, and we should continue that tradition in consideration of those near us and what thoughtful item will bring them joy. Today, December 6th, is indeed St. Nickolas Day and, if you haven’t already, you may want to share a gift with someone as an act of love.
There is a sharper edge to St. Nicholas’ story, though, that we should not miss. His gift giving to the three daughters had a distinct purpose. He was not giving to make friends but to give those three girls a new chance. He was not giving to show off his riches, but he was opening a new door for them. He saw their predicament, he used what he had, and he sought to give them a new start. His gift of a dowry was their opportunity to escape prostitution and move into a safer life. These days, we call this kind of work “social justice.” It resonates deeply with the life and work of Jesus.
There remains a need in Edmonton for people to help girls caught in prostitution move into a safer life. I know of E4C that does this overtly, and other individuals and organizations that share in the work. Let us give thanks for everybody who works to ensure that every woman’s body in Edmonton be treated with respect, and let us pray that all who feel bound to sell themselves find a new door to life.
Your calling and context might draw you into different shapes of work, but we are drawn to each follow the pattern of St. Nickolas: he saw their predicament, he used what he had, he sought to give them a new start. Nickolas saw, in particular, the predicament of people caught in an unjust system who could not exit that system themselves. He was creative and shrewd and his actions made a real difference.
Bless you in the shapes of social justice that you engage in, may we give thanks together for St. Nickolas who has been to us such an example of generosity and compassion.