Well, did you all put your shoes outside your door for St. Nicholas to fill? I was going to do that, but I have such big feet, I didn’t want Fr. Ted to trip over them and fall down the stairs! St. Nicholas day was never a big feast in my family, but I had a friend in seminary who used to dress up as St. Nicholas and give candy canes to everyone in the refectory at lunch. Now that took guts! Especially when he brought one to the Rector of the seminary who informed him that impersonating a bishop could disqualify one from receiving Holy Orders!
But I have to admit that the legend of St. Nicholas – and that’s pretty much all we have is a legend, by the way – is compelling in a romantic sort of way. And just because it’s a legend doesn’t mean there isn’t truth to be found in it. One of the great stories about St. Nicholas is that he once helped a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters. St. Nicholas helped him by tossing a bag of gold through the man’s window on three different occasions, enabling the man not to give his daughters up to prostitution to provide the dowry. St. Nicholas’s generosity was thus legendary, and evolved into the belief about Santa Claus, which itself is a turn of the Dutch name for St. Nicholas.
Today’s Gospel encourages us to build our spiritual houses on the rock foundation of Jesus Christ. Those who hear the word and act on it, Jesus tells us, will enter the kingdom of heaven. The obligation of generosity and compassion to others was one that Jesus proclaimed with his very life, and one that he expects his followers to embrace. On this St. Nicholas day, it might be beautiful to reach out in hope and generosity to someone who least expects it. Because that’s just the way our Lord reaches out to us.