Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fruit Worthy of Repentance

This morning I’d like to tell you a story of two wealthy men whose lives came together in an extraordinary way.

Nicky and Philip were both wealthy men though they came into their means differently.
Nicky was one of those who all of us dream about. He was born into a very wealthy family and never knew want. But unlike the kind of “rich kids” we read about or hear about in “the Lives of the Rich and Famous,” Nicky was taught from an early age that one is to be generous to others, especially those in need. Nicky’s family had great wealth and yet he was not spoiled by that wealth. Unfortunately at an early age, his mother and father tragically died leaving all of their wealth to him.

Instead of squandering his wealth, Nicky decided to travel oversees to seek his education at one of the most prestigious universities of his day. And (I’ll let you in on a secret) that since this was a time before air travel, his travel was by ship. On one of his voyages he is said to have saved the life of a sailor who fell from the ship's rigging in a storm. When he arrived home (at semester break) Nicky and the other sailors decided to go to church together to give thanks to God – for you see along with a heart for the needy, Nicky’s parents were also Christians and passed their faith along to him as well. When Nicky entered the church he found that the priest had recently died – and the people (after hearing of Nicky’s heroism) decided that HE should be their new pastor! And so humbly, Nicky took the job.

Philip on the other hand, wasn’t as blessed as Nicky. Born into a poor family, Philip had to work hard for his wealth – and did so. Hard work had its rewards. As a local merchant, more and more success came his way. In time Philip, who was also a Christian, married and he and his wife had three beautiful daughters. But sadly, in giving birth to the third daughter, the mother died in child-birth leaving Philip to care for his three daughters and to raise them as best he could. And so he did.

In time the girls grew of age and hoped to be married. Now it also happened in those days the only way daughters were able to marry was to have a “dowry” – the bigger the better – the bigger dowry (usually) meant a better husband (at least in terms of providing for them). The problem was Philip’s business experienced a “recession” – in fact, in one storm all of Philip’s merchandise was lost at sea. He lost everything. Life began to be very hard for Philip and his daughters. But Philip was also a Christian – yet even so, some very difficult choices lay before him.

Without a dowry for even one of his daughters – Philip knew there were two options for unmarried women in those days: Prostitution & Slavery. Without a dowry his daughters would go without husbands (who would want them?) Prostitution was unthinkable – slavery would at least mean they’d be cared for. What’s a father to do? What would you or I do? But as a Christian in a Church, others soon heard about Philip’s plight too – including their priest Fr. Nicky.

Nicky resolved that this situation was totally unacceptable and resolved to help. Taking from his own resources and in the dead of night, Fr. Nicky tossed a bag of gold through Philips window – one each night for each of the three daughters. Legend has it that each bag of gold fell into the girls shoes by the fireplace where they were drying. For three nights it was the same thing: a bag of gold landing in their shoes.

It didn’t take long for Philip to realize what was going on – and on the third night – Philip caught Nicky red-handed! Their meeting was not unlike one of the stories of Jesus’ healings where Jesus said, “Don’t tell anyone.” Nicky made just such a plea. But Philip was so overjoyed by Nicky’s generosity that he went and told everybody. Eventually, Nicky’s generosity became so well known – when the time came it was he who became the next bishop – and we all know of him now as Saint Nicholas Bishop of Myra!

Now, perhaps you guessed early on that “Nicky” was really St. Nicholas – and perhaps I’ve taken a few too many liberties in telling his story. But that’s Okay.

Much of Nicholas’ life is surrounded by legend – but this much is certain: He really was Bishop of Myra in the early Fourth Century – and he was known throughout Europe – even years after his death – as a man of exceedingly great generosity!

Few people remember that Nicholas was tortured for his faith under Emperor Diocletian – or that he defended the Christian Faith against Arianism at the first Council of Nicaea. But Nicholas IS remembered – and celebrated for one virtue alone: His generosity! (If you want to be remembered in this world and the next – generosity will guarantee it.)

In medieval England, people heard of and remembered him as “Good ol’ Saint Nick.” When the Dutch came to America they brought with them their traditions of “Sinter Klaus” – from which (if you say it fast enough) became “Santa Claus.” – THAT is the truth.

We all have an opportunity to bear witness to the truth about Santa Claus this time of year. Saint Nicholas is certainly still alive and real – for we believe in the Communion of Saints! Each year his witness of generosity shines among Christians and non-Christians alike. When asked, “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” my answer is always YES!

  • Santa Clause – or more accurately St. Nicholas – is a real person – and he is alive in the Lord.

  • His spirit continues on – he is not a myth nor is it unchristian to foster his tradition in the Church. He was a Bishop of the Church who suffered for his faith!
    And in all fairness, I think that St. Nick is probably as bothered by what the marketplace has done with his image.

  • And certainly, Nicholas was one who lived out what John preached nearly 300 years before Nicholas we born: Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

Many people of different walks of life asked John the same question: What should we do?
Nicholas’ answer was to live a life that put to use the gifts he had available for God’s purposes – AND his answer is simply the same for each of us!

  • Whoever has, must share with those who has not.
  • Those who deal in finances must do so honestly.
  • Those entrusted with power must use their power appropriately.

Can any one of us imagine what “traditions” might just spring up if we began to live this way? I dare say, St. Nicholas would not have been able to do so in his life – nor can we. Yet the time is coming when Jesus returns – He will know the good (and the bad) we have done. For in truth we are “sorely hindered by our sins” YET all the more His “bountiful mercy and grace” speedily come to our aid! The greatest mystery and fear of the Christian life is discovering that we have been forgiven – and why have we not done more in our lives to live that out?

That is indeed the meaning of “fruit worthy of repentance” that both John AND Jesus called us to. Will we listen? And will we act? When we do it will not be because of our power – it will be because of HIS.

God IS coming to us – even at this very moment – May His power be stirred among us.


Several sources were used in creating my “story” of St. Nicholas. The story is my own however the details and facts came from the Church’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts and online sources, particularly The Story of Saint Nicholas as told by Victor Hoagland, C.P. found at