Monday, December 23, 2013

the gift of the littlest magi

"It is better to give than to receive."

This is the season for platitudes.  And that particular one is usually spouted by more hopeful recipients than gracious givers.

And I am not certain where I fall in that equation.  Or, at least, I was not certain this week.

For me, it was a week of tradition.  There are two events that usually excite my passion for the season of salvation here in my little fishing village by the sea.

The first was our church's distribution of despenas to local families with special economic needs.

Despensas are practical gifts at any time of the year.  Bags filled with basic staples to feed a family for several days.  Bread of life in a plastic bag.

I have written frequently about one of Mexico's astounding economic achievements -- the creation of a constantly-growing middle class.  By some measures, constituting up to 60% of the Mexican population.

But that still leaves at least 40% in poverty.  Some in desperate straits because of injuries, birth defects, or social circumstances.

The desperate are the target for our gift of food bags.  It is also the target clientele of the Mexican governmental agency that provides services to the poor -- Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF).

Our church partners with DIF when we deliver the despensas.  The theory is that the DIF agent knows the needs of her community.  And that has proven to be true in practice.

This year I came away from our distribution with a certain sense of unease.  And I was not certain why.  But I have an idea.

As the group was delivering a food bag to a family with a disabled child, women from the surrounding modest houses started trickling, then streaming, up the street to our vehicles.  Each pleading for a bag.  Each seeming as needy as the next.

The episode haunted me.  So much need.  And we had so few hands and so few bags.  The words echo.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you made me your guest,
I needed clothes and you provided them,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.
I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!
Matthew 25
Especially, at this season where we celebrate the coming of the Messiah.

And that brought me to the second event.  On Saturday afternoon I headed off to the posasda at the Indian School in Pinal Villa.

You can find plenty of well-written explanations online of the Mexican posada tradition -- I highly recommend Al Lanier's description over at Rancho Santa Clara

Here is the "Posada for Dummies" version.  Children re-enact Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem.  Door after door is closed to them until they come to the final door that is opened to them and the attendant shepherds, wise men, angels. sheep, stars, and various hangers on who stream through the door to something a bit more luxurious than a stable.

In the case of the migrant worker children at the Indian school, they get a celebration that is about as far away from their daily lives as possible.

Filled with music.


A young clown.


And gifts of clothing, shoes, and toys.

For me, the night was a blessing -- because it put my week into perspective.  I have absolutely no control over the poverty in which most of the world lives.  But I do have a choice in offering some joy -- even if it is for just a moment for these children or the families who received the food bags.  For people who can find happiness within their circumstances.

The children at the Indian school are on the bottom rung of the Mexican social ladder.  Their futures are not bright.

But, for one shining moment, all of that simply did not matter.  They were Mary and Joseph asking for just a bit of shelter from the travails offered by the world.

And that they received.  With joy, exuberance, and the type of rapture that we all would like to capture at this Christmas season.

I also learned something about myself.  I realized that giving is a way of softening my own heart to make me more aware, more open to the needs of others.  The hungry.  The thirsty.  The stranger.  The naked.  The sick.  The prisoner.

"It is better to give than receive" may be a platitude.  But it is also a guide for our hearts and hands.

This is turning out to be a Christmas filled with blessings from unusual quarters.  And that is plenty of Christmas miracle for me to rest in now. 

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