Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nick and Social Justice

As I've become acclimated to the culture and customs of the Lutheran church (Becoming a Lutheran was my college rebellion - Daring, I know), I have learned about many traditions and stories I had never encountered before. One of these is the celebration of St. Nick's Day on December 6th, which just so happens to be today. The first time I ever heard about the traditions surrounding this day was when a friend of mine gave me a small stocking stuffed with candy during finals week in our freshman year of college. I had no idea that some cultures give stockings of candy on this day in lieu of, or in addition to, a stocking on Christmas Day. And, I had no idea that a tradition like this was centered not on Santa Claus, but on the historical Saint Nicholas.

Of course, I knew that St. Nick was a Bishop from Europe who secretly gave presents to children and helped children in need, but that was all I knew about him historically. It wasn't until a year ago today, when a professor at LSTC gave a sermon on the life and work of this legendary character that I began to realize just what, exactly, the story was all about.

Saint Nicholas was a slight bishop from Myra who lived during the 4th century and probably attended Christianity's very first ecumenical council in Nicea in 325AD. But, he is best known for the gifts he gave to a poor family in danger of losing everything. In the culture of Myra, women could not get married without giving a dowry, a large sum of money, to the groom, and this particular family had three sisters. Because the three sisters were so poor, they could not afford to get married, making them vulnerable to being sold into slavery or forced into prostitution. Nicholas save the family from that threat by generously providing dowry money for all three impoverished sisters. This was no simple gift; this was an act that saved three women from an almost certain life of slavery or prostitution. This was an act of love; this was social justice done in the name of God.

Today, women all over the world are still in need of people like St. Nicholas to free them from oppression and poverty. Charities and organization all over the world are working to end human trafficking, forced prostitution, and poverty. One of the many ways we can help is by donating to organizations like Heifer International or Lutheran World Relief, which provide resources for female farmers (who make up 80% of the world's farmers), undereducated women, and artisans to create sustainable, life-giving small businesses which can pull them out of their poverty. This kind of gift is one that can literally bring peace to the world.

Wouldn't it be amazing if, along with the candy we give our friends and children on St. Nick's Day, we would give to those in need and teach others, including our children, to do the same? To me, this is the legacy of Saint Nicholas, and it is what Jesus Christ has called us all to do.

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