It’s that time of year again when a lot of us stand all bundled up,ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. Today is my shift and I’m not happy about it. I know I’m going to be cold and bored and have to listen to that ever-ringing bell the whole time. And I’m the one doing the ringing.
I’m irritated with myself for giving away even a bit of my time when I’m so busy being in charge of the church Christmas party AND making sure all the Christmas gifts are collected for the needy families AND getting ready for a three week trip to spend Christmas with children and grandchildren. I’m too busy for this. I’m not feeling any Christmas spirit this year. Just overwhelmed and overcommitted. This isn’t helping.
But I promised I’d do it, so I show up.
I know it’s for a good cause. Almost all the money stays in the community where it’s raised. Last year a couple of people folded up big bills and put them in the pot as they shared with me how the Salvation Army once helped them when they were down and out. This town is filled with the down and out. Other than teaching,government and medical jobs, there’s not much work here – mostly seasonal and part-time, low-wage stuff. The people going in to the store reflect our rural poverty.
I’m stationed right in the entrance of our small town grocery store where people have to pass me. It could be deliberate or it could just be that it’s the only place left to stand. The entrance is jammed with soda machines, carts, a bench where people sit to give away puppies, and a mechanical motorcycle that rips and roars out a wild ride for any child lucky enough to have it paid for by a parent with time and money.
But there aren’t any of those folks around today. All the parents are saying no to the mechanical motorcycle ride. “No – no time. No – no money. We need it for Christmas.” But they do give to me. Or have their children give to me, handing them a few coins and directing them to drop the coins into the red kettle. I smile and thank the children; then give the bell an extra shake for a lesson well taught.
Almost everyone gives a little. The occasional dollar is given but mostly the pot is just a spare change dumping center. One man even says, “This is great. I’ve been looking for a place to get rid of this stuff all day,” as he empties his pockets of change into the pot – the change left from the dollars being spent on food and gifts to celebrate the Savior’s birth. I give a sigh of relief as I notice my shift is about up and I can get back to getting ready for Christmas myself. In the meantime, I entertain myself by ringing the bell to the beat of Christmas Carols. “Joy to the world…” dum..dum.. da dum.. da dum dum dum.” It helps a little bit.
Only a few minutes are left when a young girl in a too small coat that was in style about ten years ago comes dashing out of the store. I recognize that pinched look of poverty. One of the ones we’re collecting gifts for probably – well, that’d be about half the town. She heads right to the motorcycle.
Ah-ha! A lucky one at last. I’m not only excited for her I’m excited for me! Something to overcome my boredom and forget how cold I am. I’ll be watching a rip-roaring motorcyle ride and a laughing child.
Just as she starts to climb on the bouncy motorcycle ride she hears my bell and turns to look.
“What’s this,” she asks. I tell her. She opens her hand. “This is all I have,” she says and drops the quarter for her motorcycle ride into the pot.
I go completely still as I consider her quick and total generosity. This is Christmas says my heart. This is Christmas. This moment as if I’m standing by the alms pot with the Savior whispering quietly to my spirit those words he said so long ago, “For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had….” Mark 12: 44
My service is no longer a sacrifice; now it’s a priceless gift.
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