Lay Away Santas and a Glimpse of God's Economy

In the midst of news stories that sadden and weaken our knees, that draw us to pray and protest and to cry out for justice, I am also realizing that we seldom hear the quiet, surprising stories of generosity. So today, I want to tell one. The justice we meet in Scripture is not removed, unconcerned, aloof: it is justice like a mighty river, justice that demands us to forgive debts, care for widows and orphans and outcasts, to hear that the Lord is coming, and His justice is powerful, concerned, and immediate. The Lord who is coming, His justice is generous, and full.

So today, here is a story about generosity.

A few days ago, a mystery woman in Bellingham, Massachusetts, went to a Toys R Us and paid off more than 150 layaway accounts of people working on paying off their bills. “That means the woman paid for about $20,000 worth of merchandise on more than 150 accounts,” the story reported.

One customer who received a call from the Toys R Us only had $9 when she went shopping, and when the account was paid, she said, “I almost wanted to cry. It was only $50, but to me that’s a lot of money, and that someone would go and do that gave me chills.”

The holidays, we tend to say, make people more generous. Last week a man in New York gave money to children to spend in the local Walmart, and last year a man in Florida paid more than $20,000 to clear layaway accounts at a WalMart in Florida.

Though we don’t hear about it in the news, these acts of kindness aren’t isolated. Toys R Us saw nearly 600 layaway accounts cleared in 2013, the Boston Globe reported.

It’s funny - a lot of the reporters and news coverage of these kinds of stories refer to them as “random acts of kindness” or a surprising epidemic of generosity that comes on at the holidays. We’re surprised, maybe because few of us feel we have the kind of resources that could foot a five-figure bill to clear a store’s layaway accounts. Or perhaps because the holidays make generosity more visible, in the flurry of giving and parties. We notice the generosity, and we (like me, writing this right now) start to weep, remembering how generous and how kind human beings are and can be.

We call them “random,” and come December 27, I wonder how we will remember the generosity we noticed on the news before Christmas.

We call them “random” because they seem so counter to the economy, the culture, the way we proceed through most of our lives.

We call them random, but I don’t think they are.

I think they are the economy of God suddenly noticed again. I think they are the evidence, the surprising, sometimes sporadic, sometimes overwhelming, evidence that we are not merely members of a culture or economy where generosity is a surprise. We are also members of an economy where generosity is the currency, where to give more than you have is the expectation, where the limits on us are the shape and size of our imagination when it comes to giving, not our wallets or our Christmas spirit.

I don’t think such generosity is random. I don’t think such kindness should surprise us. We are faulty participants in the economy of God, yet it breaks through in us without our even noticing sometimes. For justice is bound up with generosity, for kindness is bound up with love, with spending more than we can, with a Kingdom that is coming that changes everything, forever.

And witnessing such kindness, such quiet, hopeful generosity, should remind us, should whisper to our hearts, that we bear the image of the One who is generous beyond our believing. Of the One who loves beyond our believing. Beyond our classifications of random or sporadic or surprising or holiday-limited.

We are bearers of that image.

Let us show it forth.

-Hilary Yancey is a Ph.D. student in philosophy at Baylor University, where she hopes to focus her studies in bioethics and the philosophy of the human person. You can find Hilary writing about everyday life and faith at her blog: chatting on Twitter and Instagram at @hilaryyancey.