At its best, Christmas is about giving to all ads showing a concern for others. Though Christmas has become a popular Christmas tradition of gift exchange of and the willful opportunity to exercise generosity, it is important to remember the Saint Nikolaos, also called Nikolaos of Myra. Nikolaos of Myra was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra.
When he was young, Nikolaos sought the holy by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus walked, he sought to more deeply experience Jesus’ life, passion, and resurrection. He obeyed Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nikolaos used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra.
Bishop Nikolaos became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, saving sailors by calming seas and protecting children. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Basically, St. Nikolaos helped regular families facing a familiar crisis’ to which all relate.
In Buddhism, we express similar loving-kindness or metta, a quality that expresses a selfless concern for others. Loving-kindness is often illustrated by the following image: as a mother loves her child, so we too should we love for all living beings, without exception.
The nativity scene upon which the Christmas tradition focuses, displays the affection of a mother for her child – the Jesus-child who was, himself, to grow up to become a teacher of love and compassion. As James C. Harrington recently wrote, it’s important to remember the real manger:
“According to Christian tradition, Mary and Joseph ended up in a small, stinking lean-to cattle stable, with hay mixed with manure, a far cry from the clean, hand-crafted mangers displayed by the churches and the pious nowadays. Jesus was born in a meager shelter for his young, homeless, traveling parents, rejected by the townspeople.
So, when we stand back and look at the reality that the nativity writers wanted to convey, it was starkly different from the Macy’s parade, soft Christmas carols in candlelight or a gaggle of consumer items stacked under the tree in the front room.”
It’s important to remember there are many who’s life’s manger is differently than depicted. The hard truth is that for many, our own manger is full of fatigue. It smells; is complicated by addictions, is beaten down by depression; filled by doubt, unemployment and has both anger and love. Still, awash in all its untidiness, our mangers are filled with hope and compassion.
Yet we are all called to be compassionate, as is our creator.
In an expression of compassion, God answered the anguished cry of humanity by making “the problem of evil” His own. In Christian tradition, God Almighty became Immanuel, “God with us.” He lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, died as we die, yet without sin. And He, being the God-man, overcame the power of death in order to give us eternal life.
Christ came for compassion. Nikolaos of Myra was a man of compassion. Each lived their love. And Buddhists recognize and honor the compassion of love.
This compassion or karuna acknowledges one’s own happiness and material well-being while recognizing there are others who are unhappy and suffering. God became man. Thus, from a Buddhist perspective, in our heart’s we can acknowledge suffering. All of us have a profound sense duty to be St. Nickolas-like – a duty that makes goodwill ‘our own;’ to own it and in essence to share the burden.
That’s the real Christmas message. Own this compassion in your life.