The last couple of years, I’ve printed out the stories that I’ve given at our Christmas Eve services here on the food blog.  We’re a little late this season, but here is the true story of Nicholas the Giver.

A long, long time ago, only about 2 or 3 hundred years after Jesus was born, a young boy lived in a town on the Mediterranean coast in a part of the world now called Turkey. When the story starts, Nicky is about seven or eight, and he was sitting in church one day when the people were talking about the Christmas story.

One of the grown-ups was reading from the part where some men travel from a long way off to come and see Jesus. These men were called the wise men and they brought gifts to present to Jesus. Well, little Nicky thought this was great. He asked his mother, “Who were those men?” And his mother didn’t know what to say. Nicky said, “What were their names?” And his mother and father said they didn’t know. They went to their pastor, and Nicky asked again: “What were the names of the men who gave those presents to Jesus?”

Their pastor told Nicky that nobody really knows who those men were. They just came and gave the presents to the baby and left. They never said who they were. “But why?” asked Nicky.  The pastor got out the Bible and he read the very beginning of the book of John to Nicky.

In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God. From the very beginning the Word was with God. And with this Word, God created all things. Nothing was made without the Word. Everything that was created received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone. The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.

…The true light that shines on everyone was coming into the world. The Word was in the world, but no one knew him, though God had made the world with his Word. …Yet some people accepted him and put their faith in him. So he gave them the right to be the children of God.

The pastor explained to Nicky that one of the reasons that God sent Jesus to provide a way for people to become God’s special children.

That was a wonderful message, and these kings, the wise men who brought gifts to Jesus knew that Jesus was great. They brought him presents to honor him, and to say thank-you to God for sending his son. Their names weren’t important, because Jesus was God’s special gift.

Well, Nicky thought this was really cool, and he decided that he wanted to be like those three kings. About four or five days later, Nicky was sitting by the street in front of his house watching the smaller kids play. All of the children were laughing and running—all except for little Anya.

Anya was only three, and she was crying by herself. Nicky went over to see what was wrong, and she only cried more. But he sat and watched, and noticed that all the other children had a toy, but Anya had none. Her family was too poor.

That night, Nicky asked his father to show him how to use the special carving knife to make things out of wood. With his dad’s help, Nicky made a small crude bird out of wood.  He carved Anya’s name into the bottom and he sneaked over to her house and left it by her door.

As the children came out to play the next day, Anya found the little toy. She asked all of the children who left it for her, but nobody knew (except for Nicky, and he didn’t say anything!). Nicky felt just like one of those kings who had come to leave a present for baby Jesus.

As Nicky grew up, every now and then, one of the poor children would find a carved bird, or maybe a rattle or set of blocks by their window. Nobody ever knew where those toys came from.

Things in Nicky’s town were very hard.  Although Nicky’s family was wealthy, there were many who were very poor.

Sometimes, after a person had sold everything he had and was still poor, that person would have to sell himself or herself and become a slave—just so they wouldn’t starve to death!

One night, when Nicky was grown, he was walking through his village and he heard a man crying. He went to the window of the man’s house, and he heard that the man was actually praying. When he listened, he heard the man telling God that he was so poor that he was going to have to sell himself or one of his three daughters as a slave, just to make sure they didn’t starve to death. Nicky was very sad when he heard this prayer, and he ran right home and found some money he had been saving. He went back to the window and he dropped his sack of gold money through the window.

When that purse went through the window, it hit a shelf and bounced into the man’s shoe. So the next morning, when the poor man and his three daughters were getting ready to go to the slave market, the started to put his shoes on and found the bag of gold, saving their family!

Well, Nicky grew older, and he kept reading the stories about Jesus. He never forgot that Jesus came to make it possible for us to become God’s children, and to make things right between us and God. Everywhere he went, he told people about the love of God.

When Nicky became a man, he decided that God wanted him to be a pastor and serve God in a church, where he could spend all of his time telling boys and girls, men and women about the love of God.

For the rest of his life, every time he got the chance Nicky used to walk through his neighborhood and listen for stories of people who were in trouble. He knew that God loves the poor, and that God doesn’t want anyone to have to do something terrible like selling themselves as a slave. And whenever he went out, he usually managed to leave something for the poor children—some treat, or a toy that he had made. And sometimes he hid the things in the shoes that the children had left sitting outside their doors.

Sometimes people saw what he was doing. They came and spoke to him about it. They asked him why he left presents for poor people and didn’t take any credit.

He always told them about the kings who came to leave presents for Jesus, and how nobody knew their names. He told them that he left presents for people so that they would remember that God loves them, and that God wants to be their friend. And when Nicky told the people that, some of them began to do the same thing. They went out and left presents for people and helped to take care of the poor, too.

Pastor Nicholas came to be known as a man who knew right from wrong. People respected his what he said. He stood for the poor and the oppressed.  He preached the good news about Jesus and how Jesus was the greatest gift of all.

And this went on for a long time, until Nicky became a very old man. He had become a very important man, called a Bishop, in his town that was called Myra. People came from all over because they knew that Bishop Nicholas could help them. And he did.

Well, one sad day in the wintertime, Bishop Nicky was so old and so tired that he finally died. All of his friends, rich and poor, were very sad. They wanted to think of a way to always remember him. So some of them got together and talked about it.

Somebody said, “We have to think of a way to say ‘Thank You’ to God for giving us someone as wonderful as Bishop Nicholas. What can we do that will show God how glad we are to have known him?”

One person said, “Remember how Nicholas used to tell us about the love of God? What if we built a big church and named it after him? Then everyone could know that God loves us.”

Someone else was remembering the way that Nicky used to worry about all the children who were sick, and she said, “What if instead of building a church, we built a big hospital, where sick people could get better?”

A few of Nicky’s other friends remembered how he had always tried to make people happy with the Joy of the Lord, and they suggested that they have a big party with lots of games and singing.

Well, they talked and talked, but finally they got the perfect idea for how to say “thank you” to God for Bishop Nicholas.

One of Nicky’s closest friends remembered the story of the kings who came to see Jesus and how they left without anyone knowing their names. So that’s what they did. All of Nicky’s friends got together and on the night before the celebration of Jesus’ birth, they went through the town and left gifts for the children.

And on Christmas day, the children in that neighborhood woke up and discovered that there were gifts for them. And because Nicky’s friends didn’t want anyone to know who left these gifts, whenever anyone asked about the presents, they always said, “Well, it must have been Bishop Nicholas—you know how much he loved children!” And ever since then, people have been leaving each other presents and remembering Nicky—

only now we call him Saint Nicholas.

Sometimes on Christmas people give each other little gifts of oranges. That seems a rather healthy alternative to what is usually found in our stockings.

But the tradition of oranges for Christmas dates back to the story of young Nicky. Do you remember how he dropped the bag of gold into the window? Ever since Bishop Nicholas died, people give each other oranges to remind themselves of the gold that Nicky gave to the poor.

The oranges reminds us of the story of Bishop Nicky.  But more importantly, let it remind you of a gift of Christmas much greater than gold.  While we were still slaves to sin, God sent his only son to purchase our freedom.  If we will repent and put our faith in Him, we to can become God’s children thanks to this gift.

Although we remember the manger on this night, it is the cross which was the ultimate destination of the Christ child.  By giving himself, Jesus became the punishment for our sinfulness and offers forgiveness for all who will come to Him.