Supporting laos ministry ...

the Christian ministry of the whole people of God.

“... those less fortunate than ourselves ...”

This week please forgive a condensed version of a piece for Roots on generosity to the poor.

Read about Nicholas, Bishop of Myra circa 320CE, including the shift to ‘Santa Claus’.  Although it is hard to separate history from legend, it seems clear that Nicholas was a gift-giver and protector of the weak and vulnerable.  One curious reminder is the ‘brass monkey’, one of Nicholas’ signs, used by the pawnbroker who provides a service to the poor.  In some countries, gifts are exchanged on St Nicholas’ Day - December 6th - with the advantage that Christmas is left free of materialistic clutter.  And, as the stnicholascenter web site says, “Understanding St Nicholas as the original holiday gift-giver also helps shift focus to giving rather than getting, compassion rather than consumption, need rather than greed.”

Benjamin Britten's cantata St Nicolas tells the story of his life.  The penultimate section is a tribute, including:

"He fought to fold us in
from mortal sin.
O! He was prodigal of love!
A spendthrift in devotion to us all
and blessed as he caressed.
We keep his memory alive
in legends that our children
and their children's children
treasure still."

Stephen, the first Christian martyr is remembered on December 26th.  Appointed to wait at tables, selected because “he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), he was commissioned by prayer and the laying on of hands for this ministry to the poor.  From his speech in Acts 7, the scriptural and theological knowledge of this ‘waiter’ was remarkable.  Can the quality of the resources your church devotes to serving the poor bear scrutiny?

And then there's Wenceslas, martyred in his 20s, yet immortalised in the carol set “on the feast of Stephen …”  Born around 900CE in Bohemia, the words tells us of his practical concern for “yonder poor man” and equally for his page who struggled to keep up.  The last verse summarises:

In his master's steps he trod / where the snow lay dinted;
heat was in the very sod / which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor / Shall yourselves find blessing.

So, remember the poor: sacrificial generosity is part of the Christian's calling - “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).  Remember how Nicholas always seemed to have enough, no matter how much he gave.  Think of Stephen's short lifetime of service, of Wenceslas’ concern for others at the expense of his comfort and dignity, and give a thought this Boxing Day to those who have served you all year.

As we sing: “love came down at Christmas”, let's incarnate it for the poor, and for those for whom Christmas is purely a family, material or midwinter celebration.

Wishing you a very happy Christ-mass and a rich and fulfilling 2005,

Peter Nicholls


The first  ‘Supporting laos ministry’ after Christmas will tell you about the eLearning events offered in January and February.  How will you develop your Christian maturity in 2005?

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