a christmas altar with pointsettias

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5

She gently placed a ragtag bouquet of roots, stringy straw grass, and withering wildflowers at the foot of the wood cross outside her community’s church. This was her humble Christmas Eve offering to God. Other churchgoers and curious onlookers pitied her. Many called her “poor pepita,” but her given name was Maria.

A sweet Mexican girl, frail and skinny, Maria had gone to bed hungry far too often. She was the youngest of five sisters, and her clothes were well-worn hand-me-downs. Her clothes were unfashionable, but Maria took care of them, learning early in life to give thanks for each new day and every simple gift.

You see, Maria was rescued from a house fire as a toddler, but not before receiving severe burns on her hands and face that would leave lifelong scars. As a result, though her fair, dainty sisters enjoyed much attention, Maria was an outcast. Her scars often made others uncomfortable.

These life experiences could have made her bitter, but instead Maria was remarkably full of gratitude. She lived in constant communion with God and reflected a gracious, Christlike nature. Each morning she prayed that God would shine through her. And so Maria’s Christmas offering, though it seemed like a useless bundle of weeds to others, was especially treasured by God.

On Christmas morning something miraculous happened. At the very place Maria presented her offering, a gorgeous flower with radiant red leaves sprung up from the ground, bursting with Christmas cheer! The townspeople were awestruck, for God had taken Maria’s humble offering and transformed it into the most beautiful plant they had ever seen. Today we call this Christmassy plant the “poinsettia.” It adorns countless churches and homes each Christmas season.

Maria’s story reminds us that God looks into our hearts. Though she came from a humble background, experienced tremendous hardship, and was not fashionable or blessed in the eyes of others, the gratitude and grace that filled Maria’s heart made it possible for God to shine through her and work wonders. May we remember Maria’s Christlike example each time we admire the beauty of a poinsettia.

Aaron Miller

©2018 Trinity United Methodist Church