The original “Old St. Nick” who inspired the tradition of Santa Claus… was a bishop of Myra in fourth-century Turkey (Christians around the world remember him on December 6). We know that he entrusted himself to Jesus early in his life, and when his folks died, he gave away all the inheritance to the poor.
Oh, and a neat little legend about the stockings we see everywhere. The origin of the big red stockings was from a story of St. Nicholas. Nicholas learned of three girls who were going to be sold into slavery by their father. He was so moved by their pain that he tossed three bags of gold through the window of the little girls’ home, to ransom their lives. The legend is that the money fell into their socks, which were drying by the fireplace.
So let us celebrate St. Nick today — the real St. Nick — as a lover of Jesus and of the poor. And as we see stockings hanging up this Christmas, let us remember those who still hang their clothes out to dry… and may we remember the 1.2 million children who are trafficked each year in the global sex trade. May we remember the children of Gaza, where over 6600 kids have been killed by the United States and the State of Israel over the past 60 days. Over a million people are now displaced, homeless, refugees in Gaza.
May their suffering move us to act, as Nicholas did. As we look at the faces of the suffering, we can see Jesus. In the words of Rev. Munther Isaac, “God is under the rubble.” Jesus is among the displaced, the grieving, those traumatized by war and poverty. God is with us, with them. What we do to the least of these we do unto Christ.
This Christmas, our hearts are broken by the fact that “peace on earth, good will toward men” isn’t a reality for millions of God’s children. We need only look at Gaza. But we don’t despair. We are part of a great tradition of radicals like St. Nicholas and Francis of Assisi, Fannie Lou Hamer and Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero and Daniel Berrigan who have prayed and worked for God’s dream to come fully on earth.
We remember that Christ came as a homeless refugee, a brown-skinned Palestinian refugee baby… born in a barn because there was no room in the inn. He was born in the midst of a genocide, as Herod ordered all the baby boys killed throughout the land.
And we recall how Christ has come again and again to us in the distressing disguise of the poor — immigrants and refugees fleeing poverty, persecution and war in our world.
This week we celebrate because we know that this King who is laid in a manger brings a kingdom that can take root anywhere — and we know that it will grow to fill the whole earth. The kingdoms of this world are indeed becoming the kingdom of our God.