A friend of mine, also the pastor of a local church, was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army, staffing a kettle outside a grocery store in his community.
His congregation, like ours, has joined with them to help people who are struggling. We often have a small group, and sometimes even carolers. That night my friend was all alone.
As he rang, he noticed a couple of young boys, probably brothers, were also outside the store, with their own small display. They were selling little bundles of mistletoe, which they had obviously gathered and assembled on their own for 50 cents each.
The boys were poor, and poorly dressed for the freezing temperatures. Ragged around the edges, it seemed to him that they obviously needed the money.
They kept eyeing him, and he remembers thinking “I wonder if any of the money going into this kettle will end up helping them?” It motivated him to think that it might.
Some of the people who put money in the kettle also bought a bundle of mistletoe.
Others walked past one or both. But near the end of the time my friend was stationed there, one of the brothers came over to where he was standing, reached into his own money bag and put several quarters into the Salvation Army kettle.
He said “We want to help too.”
My friend was stunned.
Here he had been thinking of them as recipients of his and others’ charitable efforts. He hoped that they might benefit from the generosity of those placing coins and bills in the kettle. It never occurred to him that these two boys would even have the desire, much less the ability, to contribute something, themselves.
I still remember the first time I gave something to another person that I had purchased for them.
It was a small ceramic bird on a branch, which I bought for my mother.
I bought it at the local five and dime, but at the time I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
It was Christmas time, and I was five years old. I still remember the sidewalks glittering in the glow of the lights inside.
When she opened it on Christmas morning, I could tell that my gift was the source of real joy. She would have known how long it took me to save up, given my allowance at the time. She also knew that I could have spent it on any number of other things, as I usually did.
But I don’t remember any of those other things. I remember that bird, which rested on top of her piano through the rest of my growing up years. It fell once, and broke on the floor. But it was lovingly repaired and returned to its proper place.
It has been said that it is “more blessed to give than to receive.”
Those words are attributed to Jesus by the writer of the book of Acts, though we have no record of when he said them.
It does sound like the kind of thing he would have said. And we know that it is true. The look of joy on another’s face brings us an even deeper joy, knowing that our act of generosity has touched them.
This is a season for generosity and giving.
Whether we bring a gift to a local toy drive, make a year-end contribution to a favorite charity, or put two of our last few dollars into a red kettle, there is something about this time of the year that stirs our hearts toward others.
As the year draws to a close, don’t fight it!
Let yourself receive the gifts of joy and hope that come from giving to others. You’ll be in good company.
Jonathan Chute is Senior Pastor at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, which worships each Sunday at 8:30 and 10 a.m., and 5:30 p.m. He was educated at Harvard University (A.B.), and Pacific School of Religion (M.Div.). He lives with his wife, Dr. Thyra Endicott, in Palos Verdes Estates. Jonathan can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org