by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
One of my three or four favorite holy days of the year: This is St. Nicholas’ Day. Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers because Nicholas is the patron saint of the poor. How strange that pawnbrokers, who “service” the poor by making leveraged loans usually for desperate situations. This is how we take advantage of the poor. Here’s another one: Ol’ St. Nick is the patron saint of sailors – uh, er, rather pirates! “Sailors” stole his remains from the Holy Lands about one thousand years ago and carried them off to Italy. I’ve always thought the shopping mall Santa should have been a pirate… you know, complete with scraggly beard, dirty horizontal black and white striped shirt, peg-leg, eyepatch, parrot, saber –
“ArrR! Little girl, comes to Santy and make known ye wishes if ye may, er I’ll run me blade clean through yer scurvy hide, I will! Har Har Har!”
That’s more accurate, yes, I think so. That’d make the kids think twice about naughty and nice.
The real Bishop Nicholas one night secretly slipped three bags of gold in to three destitute girl’s stockings as they hung out to dry. These were probably young women, no dowry, so they could not be married, and so they were destined for prostitution in the 4th century – bound for the sex trade. Nicholas rescued them. (BTW The symbol for pawnbrokers is three gold bags.)
Nicholas followed Jesus and became nothing, became less – gave up his treasure for a more valuable treasure.
Today’s newspaper tells of yet another near tallest building going up in the world: The Shanghai Tower. China now has four of the world’s ten tallest buildings under construction. When the world wants to “show their arm of might” they build tall buildings and towers of Babel (they do this if they can’t find a polite war to wage some place far away). “Let’s make a name for ourselves,” the men of the world said to one another.
Meanwhile Nicholas quietly serves and saves, and slips into emptiness – like Jesus.
This is a clear case of “towers versus mangers.”
Ironic to me that Nicholas has become the patron saint of holiday commerce: Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, bottom-lines and profits – another financial tower of the affluent. Now I can go buy that wine glass aerator I really NEED. Nicholas measured success by giving, not building empires. This night 800,000 Chinese peasants will go to sleep, a silent night, a poor night… waiting for you and me and the rest of the world to be Nicholas to them.