It was Christmastime, and all the students through the school were scraping together their nickels and dimes and asking their parents for those prized dollar bills. The school’s Christmas store was open the week before holiday break for any student shoppers who might want to make any gift purchases. Items ranging from yo-yo’s to coffee mugs to earrings were set at really discounted prices for our elementary customers.
Each day my students bounded into our Kindergarten class with the bursting anticipation of buying mommy, grandma, auntie, or big brother a gift. But my students were poor. Their impoverished, inner-city families didn’t have much money to send with their kids for the Christmas store. Even so, their dimes somehow counted up, and just about every kid in the class was able to make a proud purchase.
But there was one little girl who came with empty pockets every day. And each day she would tell me, “Tomorrow I’m gonna bring money to buy my mommy a present from the Christmas store!” This young one lived in a homeless shelter with her mommy and siblings, and she seemed to forget her money every morning.
I knew her young mama. I was a mere twenty-two, fresh out of college, teaching kindergarten. Still, this single mother of five was younger than I. She looked worn down each day I saw her. She used her break from work to come pick her daughter up from school in the afternoons. She walked because she had no car. She worked two jobs because she had five mouths to feed, not counting her own.
On Friday, we reached the Christmas store’s finale, and all last-minute shoppers made their finishing purchases. That morning, this little girl came up to me at my desk with an excited declaration, “I brought money today to buy my mommy a present!” Her eyes and smile were beaming. She held her treasure in a small, gripped fist.
“Oh that’s so wonderful! Let me help you count your money,” I responded. She opened her hand to reveal three pennies. Her five-year-old mind hadn’t quite yet grasped the varying values of coins and bills, so to her, three pennies was a lot of money—because it was everything she had.
“Hmmm. You know what, I think I even have a few more coins here that we can throw in with that,” I said to her. I dug around in my wallet and found three quarters to add to her open hand. Her already huge smile grew bigger. She turned around, skipping toward the classroom door, then making her way down the hallway to the store.
Just a few minutes later, she returned, eager to show what her coins had bought. Walking up to my desk, she pulled out a small box, and opening it with abounding glee, revealed a small, shiny pink heart hanging from a thin silver chain necklace. It was the perfect present for mommy.
That sweet girl, impoverished as she was, gave a very rich gift still. Like the poor widow dropping her two coins into the treasury, she gave something simple and profound—everything. And she gave with all of her heart.
It seems the gifts that are the most costly come from the hands of the poorest givers.
This Christmas, I find myself staring again into a stable, blanketed with monotony of a narrative we’ve heard hundreds of times–and desperate for the awe of it all to rip through the casualness of an old story, through the stagnancy of my familiarity, and cause my heart to bleed out wonder again.
Our God who was rich, for our sakes became poor… so that we through His poverty might receive the richest of gifts.
High and lofty He was, but poor and lowly He came to us, a costly gift wrapped up, hidden in infant frame. He emptied Himself, embracing an offensive poverty, laying aside His privileges as God, taking on the form of a babe, and of a bondservant.
He could have come to us however He wished. He’s the Author, holding history’s pen. And how did He write Himself into the story? In present day, we could say he was born in the projects, in the ghetto, to the (seemingly) immoral teenage mother. He came as poor as He could come, nestled away in obscurity… so that the hungriest hearts would search for and find Him.
God gave with all of His heart. And Heaven’s richest treasure was given to us–delivered through a poor baby’s cries.
There’s an impoverished infant in a feeding trough. And it means eternal life… and I want my heart to move and weep and stagger.
(Photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography)