NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, December 24th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The real story of good ole’ St. Nick. And I don’t mean you, Nick, even though you can be very jolly!
EICHER: Yeah, we have a St. Nicholas story as told by William Bennett. He’s the former secretary of education under President Reagan and a longtime radio host.
He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. And one of his books is titled The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas.
Now, the book originally came out in 2009, but last month, he released an updated version of it.
REICHARD: He did. And we thought that would make this a perfect time to remind you of a little church history. Bishop Nicholas of Myra died about 1,700 years ago—the date, December 6th, in the year 345 A.D.
As you might guess, he was known for his generosity.
But we probably wouldn’t remember him, if someone hadn’t caught him in the act of giving. Here’s Bill Bennett with the story.
BILL BENNETT: Nicholas’ parents taught him early that Christians served God by serving the less fortunate. Churches organized care for the poor and the sick.
At times it was dangerous to be a Christian. The Roman Empire, though vast and mighty, faced desperate problems. When officials needed scapegoats to take the brunt of public frustrations, it was all too easy to single out Christians who refused to worship the old gods of Rome and sacrifice to the emperor. If being a Christian brought occasional scorn or danger, it also brought immeasurable rewards.
As Nicholas grew, his faith grew.
Then something happened that must have tested his faith. A plague swept through Lycia, passing from town to town, cutting down whole families, striking rich and poor alike. Nicholas’ parents were among the dead. Slowly, bewilderment and despair gave way to acceptance. He asked God for strength and discovered that it came to him.
As he healed, he resolved to train for the priesthood. As a first step, he made up his mind to give away his possessions, including the inheritance left to him by his parents. This decision gave rise to the most beloved story about Nicholas.
In Petara, there lived a family that had fallen on hard times. They had once been wealthy, but misfortunes had overtaken them. And now they were so poor they had barely enough to live on. The man had three daughters of marriageable age, but their chances of finding husbands were grim as the father could offer no dowries.
In those days, a young woman needed a dowry to attract an offer of marriage. As their financial situation grew desperate, the father realized that the only way to ensure the survival of his children was to sell them into servitude. At least that way they would have enough to eat.
Well, when news of the family’s plight reached Nicholas, he at once set about thinking of a way to help them. He remembered Jesus’ teaching that when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your alms may be in secret.
That night he put several gold coins into a small bag and started out for the home of the father and his three daughters. Inside the house, the family was sleeping. Nicholas crept up to a window, reached through, and dropped the bag of gold. Some say that it landed in a shoe. Others, in a stocking that had been left hanging to dry.
The next morning, the family discovered the bag of gold. Weeping with joy and astonishment, they fell to their knees to thank God for the generous gift. Not only did they have the money to live on for some time, there was enough to provide a generous dowry for the oldest daughter and she was soon married.
When Nicholas saw how much happiness his secret gift had caused, he decided the second daughter must have a dowry, too. So he went to the house at night, as before, and dropped a second bag through the window.
The next morning brought more tears of joy and astonishment, and more thanks to God for the miraculous gift. The second daughter soon had her dowry and she, too, was married. The father dared hope that his third daughter would also receive a gift that would allow her to marry, but now he was determined to find out who the earthly angel was who had saved them.
Night after night he stayed up, waiting and watching. Finally, late one night, a bag of gold came flying in through the window. The man rushed out of the house, ran after the shadowy figure that was hurrying away, and caught it by the cloak. When he recognized Nicholas, he fell on his knees and began to kiss the hands that had helped his family so graciously.
Nicholas asked him to stand up and told him to thank God instead. He begged the father not to tell anyone the secret of who had left the gold. Despite his longing for anonymity, Nicholas’ act of generosity set him on the path to becoming the world’s most famous giver of gifts.