“One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas” (The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry).▬
If you’re a past or present student of Redemption Lutheran School, then you probably know what this paragraph is from. Every year before Christmas break Mr. Sprengeler reads a short story to the school: “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.
It’s a short, simple story. It could be adapted into a nice little one act play, but it’ll never be a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s too pure. To simple. To humble for that.
(Click on either of the following links and you'll find "The Gift of the Magi": free audio download, free text version)It’s about a youthful couple, James and Della Young, that live in a shabby little rented apartment for $8 a week. Times are tight for the Youngs. Della has only one dollar and eighty-seven cents with which to buy her much loved husband a Christmas gift.
With all her thoughts on her husband, Della doesn’t seem to realize that he is in the same predicament. He loves his wife more than anything, but he has next to nothing with which to show his love, in the way of a gift.
In the end, both of them decide to sacrifice their most prized possessions in order to give each other Christmas presents. Della sells her beautiful auburn hair, which reaches nearly to the ground. Jim pawns his precious heirloom pocket-watch.
The raw beauty of the story is this: their self-sacrificing love for one another. Through the storyteller’s craft, we get to see this love in Della’s thoughts. But mostly, we see it in her actions.
Before the mirror she stands and makes the decision to cut her hair. She throws on her old brown coat and goes out quickly to do it. Standing before the hair buyer she says, “Give it to me quick”, and then her hair is gone and she has the money for Jim’s gift.
There’s an old cliché, “It’s the thought that counts”. And, like so many clichés, it’s true. Dollars and cents mean nothing when stacked up against self-sacrifice and thoughtful care.
On this Christmas day, I’d offer you one verse from the word of God. One verse to help us look down into the manger. One verse through which to see the gift that lies there in that hay stuffed feedbox.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9 NIV).
The Christ Child didn’t come to solve the world’s energy crisis. He didn’t come to teach us how to be nicer people. He didn’t come to solve the problem of hunger. He came to live for sinners. He came to suffer for sinners. He came to give his life so that our sins are erased from God’s ledger.
The Christ Child came that we might live through Him. Forgiven and radiant in this life. Sealed in holiness after this life. Forever. With God.
If you're a sinner like I am, then this gift is for you.