Book Store Hope

Dec. 11, 2023

“But why am I so favored….” Luke 1:43

“I’d like to buy that book for you.”

A startled, surprised look creased the woman’s face. The offer…unexpected. The announcement…surprising.

When‘s the last time a complete stranger tapped your shoulder—as you’re about to pay the cashier—and said, “Let me pay!” I can’t recall it happening to me. It’s rare.

“Oh no,” replied the woman, fishing her purse for a credit card. “Really. That’s okay. Thanks. I got this.”

“Please,” persisted the Good Samaritan, “I’m trying to pay it forward.”

“Forward? Really?” retorted the now slightly embarrassed woman, passing her MasterCard to the cashier. “Trust me, I’ve got enough to cover it.”

But the giver continued. Not in a belligerent way. Certainly intentional. Then, words I’ve not forgotten.

“I’m practicing being un-greedy,” confessed the woman standing between me and the woman at the cashier. “ Accepting my gift will help me.  I’m really working at it.”  

At that, the book-buying woman relented, smiled, swallowed her pride, accepted unexpected generosity and whispered, “Thank you. Really kind of you. Good luck on your journey.” Our bewildered cashier returned the uncharged MasterCard.

Un-greedy. Never heard the word used before in a sentence. Don’t believe its in Webster’s dictionary. Never considered it could be turned into a “practice” like yoga or Pilates. Who knew there are book shopping, conscientious people prowling around Saturday mornings looking for innocent victims to receive their benevolence? Being amazed never gets old.

But her intentional practice is what I admired. This was not a one-off, make me feel good, random-act-of-kindness (still wonderful—especially if I had been checking out at the cashier ahead of her). This was deeper work. She was on a training mission to “un-greedify” herself, intent on creating new patterns of behavior. When we “un” the miserly parts of our lives, space opens to unleash better things into the world.

So why does a brief event, like this, catch my attention? Surely it’s not recklessly spending $18.43. I can do that. No, I think it’s the counterintuitive, surprising, slightly awkward, brave behavior of a random person breaking social norms and showing generous favor to a complete stranger.

As I re-read events leading up to the birth of Jesus this Advent season, I’m stuck by the counterintuitive, courageous behavior of so many characters we tend to normalize. 

Mary risks it all when she says yes to God. Joseph refuses to divorce Mary, despite the intense social pressure. Shepherds abandon their economic livelihood to become vocal witnesses to this miraculous birth. The Magi risk their lives by disobeying a tyrannical king Herod. John the Baptist relinquishes his career to prepare the way for one more important…..All these characters surrender self interest for God’s interests. God’s story flourishes.

Christmas is much more than a historical event. Christmas launches a really big story into the world that continues reverberating love to this day. It’s God’s living story, daily inviting our participation through the releasing of our smaller story. It can start now…..even in a bookstore on a Saturday morning.