That Saint Nicholas was a Christmas Ninja seems to me almost a matter of record. As a church leader he would have known Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
In his most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Even if they did not, unmarried maidens in those days would have been assumed as being a prostitute. Hearing of the girls' plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.
One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throwing the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.
Have you tried as an individual to give secretly? Successful secret giving requires extraordinary finesse, especially in giving to acquaintances. Lying is not an option, though misdirection might be ok. "Me? Give you that? Oh, look over there, is that a flying reindeer?" Even when successfully anonymous—giving through the church helps----the Christmas ninja risks the poison of pride. That is one reason why Jesus said we should forget our own giving.
Giving that just throws money at problems can lead to more problems. The highest quality of giving involves not just dollars, but engages the giver's heart, soul, mind, and strength. "They gave in a way we did not expect: They first gave themselves to the Lord and to us. This is what God wants." Such top level giving can rarely be entirely secretive. Sometimes the Christmas ninja must work in the light.
Speaking of lights, I enjoy the pretty lights of Christmas time. Jesus suggests that for lights we should set ourselves on fire.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
So, give, but before giving, check your ninja tools. Gratitude to God? Check. Compassion? Check. Humility? Check. Discernment?
I can rarely if ever claim to have mastered discernment. Discernment depends upon prayer and practice.
Human kindness can influence people to appreciate God’s kindness. Not every seed of kindness will sprout immediately or even grow at all. But no sowing means no harvest.
I do feel uncomfortable when the seed grows out sideways instead of up, when my giving causes someone to say, “Oh, you’re a good person.” I feel clumsy and un-ninja-like. I feel as though I stumbled in front of a guy as he tried to take a picture of his girlfriend. There is danger in shushing applause, “Don’t thank me, thank God!” People stop being thankful!
The art of deflecting praise squarely to God instead of into the shrubbery is a ninja art. This subtle skill of deflection requires practice and pondering. For starters, don’t crush gratitude. However shortsightedly it begins, allow thankfulness room to grow. As a Christmas ninja, exploit the element of surprise: go the second mile, turn the other cheek. Give of your time. Give especially of the ears rather than of the mouth. Give cheerfully. Does someone compliment you? “Thanks, your words are encouraging,” awesomely gives them participation in what you are doing. Create a context of appreciating God, so by your example people in the same way thank God.These are among the ways of the Christmas ninja.
Christmas is about giving —giving to people, yes, but originally and by all rights Christmas is about giving gratitude to God. Maybe recipients won't glorify God, but givers can give gratefully, remembering the King's words, "Anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me." and "Freely you have received, freely give."
Charlie Brown’s sister Sally is not entirely wrong in claiming, “Christmas is about getting, getting all you can get." Absolutely, Christmas is about getting--getting kindness from God:
Christ gave each one of us the special gift of grace, showing how generous he is. That is why it says in the Scriptures,
When he went up to the heights,
he led a parade of captives,
and he gave gifts to people.'
When it says, 'He went up,' what does it mean? It means that he first came down to the earth. So Jesus came down, and he is the same One who went up above all the heaven. Christ did that to fill everything with his presence. And Christ gave gifts to people—he made some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to go and tell the Good News, and some to have the work of caring for and teaching God’s people. Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, to make the body of Christ stronger.