(This Day’s Thought is pleased to bring you an excerpt from Eric Elder’s upcoming Christmas book, “Saint Nicholas: The Believer”)
A Spirit Of Generosity
Featuring a chapter from an upcoming Christmas book called, “Saint Nicholas: The Believer”
By Eric Elder
Some people believe in Santa Claus; some people don’t. But I don’t think the original Saint Nicholas–the one who was the inspiration for our modern-day Santa Claus–would care so much if you believed in him so long as you believed in the one in whom he believed: Jesus Christ.
For you see Saint Nicholas, the one who lived back in the 3rd century A.D, was a believer. The word “saint” means “believer,” so Saint Nicholas was “The Believer Nicholas.”
The word “saint” has been translated into many languages over the years, and “santa” is simply the Latin variation, hence the names of some of our cities here in the U.S., like Santa Anna, Santa Barbara and Santa Clara, each one of which were named after various believers, or saints: the believer Anna, the believer Barbara, the believer Clara, and so on.
When the Dutch came to America, they brought with them their variation of Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, from which we got the name Santa Claus.
I say all of this to introduce you to a special Christmas story that my wife and I are writing about the life of the real-life Saint Nicholas, the one who lived back in the 3rd century.
He was not only a man of great faith, but also a man of great generosity. So as Christmas approaches, the season we celebrate the greatest Gift of all, I thought I’d share with you a chapter from our story-in-progress to prepare you for this great time of giving and receiving.
The story picks up as Nicholas arrives by boat on the shores of the Holy Land to see with his own eyes the places where Jesus lived and died and performed so many miracles. Without further ado, here is chapter 7 of our upcoming book, “Saint Nicholas: The Believer”…
Nicholas’s arrival on the far shores of the Great Sea came sooner than he could have imagined. For so long he had wondered what it would be like to walk where Jesus walked, and now he was finally there.
Finding a boat to get there had been no problem, for his hometown was one of the main stopovers for ships traveling from Egypt to Rome. They carried people and cargo alike. Booking passage was as simple as showing that you had the money to pay, which Nicholas did.
But now that he had arrived, where would he go first? He wanted to see everything at once, but that was impossible. A tug at his sleeve provided the answer.
“You a Christian?” the small voice asked.
Nicholas looked down to see a boy not more than ten looking up at him. Two other children giggled nearby. To ask this question so directly, when it was dangerous in general to do so, showed that the boy was either a sincere follower of Christ, looking for a fellow believer, or it showed that he had ulterior motives in mind. From the giggles of his little friends nearby, a boy and a girl just a bit younger than the one who had spoken, Nicholas knew it was probably the latter.
“You a Christian?” the boy asked again. “I show you holy places?”
Ah, that’s it, thought Nicholas. Enough pilgrims had obviously come here over the years that even the youngest inhabitants knew the pilgrims would need a guide when they arrived. Looking over the three children again, Nicholas felt they would suit him just fine. Nicholas had a trusting heart, and while he wasn’t naive enough to think that trouble wouldn’t find him here, he also trusted that the God who had led him here would also provide the help he needed once he arrived. Even if these children were doing it just for the money, that was all right with Nicholas. Money he had. A map he didn’t. He would gladly hire them as his living maps to the holy places.
“Yes, and yes,” Nicholas answered. “I am indeed a Christian, and if you would like to take me, I would be very interested to see the holy places. I would love for your friends to come along with us, too. That way, if we meet any trouble, they can defend us all!”
The boy’s mouth dropped open and his friends giggled again. It wasn’t the answer he had expected at all, at least not so fast and not without a great deal of pestering on his part. Pilgrims who arrived were usually much more skeptical when they stepped off their boats, shooing away anyone who approached them– at least until they got their land legs back and their bearings straight. But the boy quickly recovered from his shock and immediately extended his right hand in front of him, palm upraised, with a slight bow of his head. It gave Nicholas the subtle impression as if to say that the boy was at Nicholas’s service–and a not so subtle impression that the boy was ready for something to be deposited in the open hand. Nicholas, seeing an opportunity to throw the boy off guard yet again, happily obliged.
He placed three of his smallest, but shiniest coins into the boy’s upraised palm and said, “My name is Nicholas. And I can see you’re a wise man. And if you’re able to keep your palm open even after I set these coins in it, you’ll be even wiser still. For he who clenches his fist tightly around what he receives will find it hard to receive more. But he who opens his hand freely to heaven–freely giving as he has freely received–will find that his Father in heaven will never hold back on giving him more.”
Nicholas motioned with his hand that he intended for the boy to share what he had received with his friends, who had come closer at the appearance of the coins. The boy obviously was the spokesman for the three, but still he faltered for a moment as to what to do. This man was so different from anyone else the boy had ever approached. With others, the boy was always trying, usually without success, to coax even one such coin from their pockets, but here he had been given three in his very first attempt! The fact that the coins weren’t given grudgingly, but happily, did indeed throw him off balance. He had never heard such a thought as the one about keeping his hands open like that. His instinct would have been to instantly clench his fist tight around the coins, not letting go until he got to the safest place he could find, and only then could he carefully inspect them and let their glimmers shine in his eyes. Yet he stood stock still, with his hand still outstretched and his palm facing upward. Almost against his own self-will, he found himself turning slightly and extending his hand to his friends.
Seizing the moment, the two others each quickly plucked a coin from his hand. Within an instant of realizing that they, too, were about to clench their firsts around the newly acquired treasure, they slowly opened their fingers as well, looking up at the newly arrived pilgrim with a sense of bewilderment. They were bewildered not just that he had given them the coins, but that they were still standing there with their palms open, surprising even themselves that they were willing to follow this man’s peculiar advice.
The sight of it all made Nicholas burst out in a gracious laugh. He was delighted by their response and he quickly deposited two more of his smallest coins into each of their hands, now tripling their astonishment. It wasn’t the amount of the gifts that had astonished them, for they had seen bigger tips from wealthier pilgrims, but it was the generous and cheerful spirit that accompanied the gifts that gave them such a surprise.
The whole incident took place in less than a minute, but it set Nicholas and his new friends into such a state that each of them looked forward to the journey ahead.
“Now, you’d better close your hands again, because a wise man–or woman–” he nodded to the little girl, “also takes care of what they have been given so that it doesn’t get lost or stolen.”
Then, turning to walk toward the city, Nicholas said, “How about you let me get some rest tonight, and then, first thing in the morning, you can start showing me those holy places?”
In the magical moments that had just taken place, it seemed to the three children, and even to Nicholas himself, as if they had already found their first “holy place.”
(To be continued…next week!)
My friends, as Christmas approaches, I want to pray with you that your hands would be open to both give and receive all that God has for you in the days ahead. There is so much blessing that God wants to pour out on you. Yet if your heart and your hands are closed off to Him, or closed so tight around what you’ve already been given, it will be hard to receive any more.
I also want to encourage you to let the “spirit of generosity” flow through you into the lives of others this Christmas season. God has been speaking for generations about being “openhanded,” saying to the Israelites way back in Deuteronomy:
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
Jesus continued with this theme of openhandedness, sending His disciples out on their mission of preaching and teaching and healing with the words:
“Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b).
As you go into the world this Christmas, remember that so many people are like “dead men walking.” They’re breathing, but not really living. They need the breathe of God to resurrect their dying lives so they can live the abundant life that God wants them to live.
If you’ve received God’s gift of abundant and eternal life, please consider sharing that gift with others this holiday season. People don’t need Jesus just because they might die tomorrow. They need Jesus because they might live tomorrow!
Next week, I’ll share another chapter with you from our new story about Saint Nicholas. In the mean time, keep your hands–and your hearts–open to all that God has in store for you!
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for giving us Your life so freely, and with it, so many other gifts as well. Help us to remember to use those gifts to bless others, breathing Your life into theirs. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. I’m starting a new prayer team this month for our ministry for anyone interested in praying for our ministry here at The Ranch in the days ahead. I’ve posted this month’s prayer letter on our website and would love for you to read it and pray with us. If you’d like to join our prayer team and receive these updates every month or so in the future, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be glad to add you to the list. Your prayers really do make a difference, and know that we deeply appreciate it.
Read Our December Prayer Letter
P.P.S. For those who would like to make a special year-end donation to our ministry, I’d love to send you a new CD we’ve just finished producing called, “Tenderly.” It features the soft and soothing sounds of the grand piano, played “tenderly” by Marilyn Byrnes. The music is sure to lift your spirits, not just at Christmastime, but throughout the year. Songs include: The Prayer, Greensleeves, What’s New, Tenderly, Over the Rainbow, The Wind Beneath My Wings, Get Here, I Can Read Your Mind (the Love Theme from Superman), I’ll Only Love You, Canon de Noel, The Way We Were, Somewhere (from West Side Story), and Faithful. Again, I’d be glad to send you a copy of the music, either on CD or as downloadable MP3’s, for a donation of any size to our ministry.
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