by Thomas Prachar
You may be familiar with the short story “The Gift of the Magi,” written by American author William Sydney Porter in 1905. Or maybe you know him by his pen name, O. Henry. The story is a Christmas favourite that tells the poignant tale of a young married couple, Jim and Della Young, who want to buy each other the perfect Christmas gift. The problem: they don’t have a lot of money.
Jim used to make $30 a week, but now he brings home only $20. Della has scrimped and saved, but her savings look so measly: $1.87—“and sixty cents of it was in pennies.” What kind of Christmas gift could she buy for her husband with that paltry amount?
As Della contemplates her miserable situation, she is reduced to tears. While looking at her tear-stained face in a mirror, she considers what else she has of worth. As she carefully lets down her hair which reaches to her knees, inspiration comes and a plan is formulated. She quickly proceeds to a local shop where she sells her hair for $20. After shopping for two hours, she finds a platinum fob chain to replace the worn leather strap of Jim’s gold pocket watch (next to Della, his most prized possession), which was handed down to him from his father and grandfather. The chain is simple and elegant, and costs only $21.
As she returns home, Della is filled with excitement, but also with a little trepidation. Conscious of her new hair style, she prays, “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.” When Jim arrives home, he contemplates his wife in stunned silence. After a few moments, Jim takes Della in his arms. He then takes a package from his coat, tosses it onto the kitchen table, and says to Della, “I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”
She opens her Christmas gift to find a set of expensive, tortoise-shell combs she had longingly eyed in a local shop window. Of course, Jim paid for her gift by selling his beloved gold pocket watch.
O. Henry concludes his story with these words: “The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”
Our gracious, heavenly Father loved the people of our sinful world to such an extent that He gave the perfect Christmas gift in the person of His Son, Jesus who would save people from their sin, and thereby bring joy and peace to the people He loves. His love motivates us to love Him and the people around us by sharing gifts with others at Christmas. Sometimes that love can be a sacrificial love—it can look foolish in its extravagance—as we give our most precious possession in order to bring joy to someone we love. Like Jim and Della, it is the gift of love and not the material gift that matters most. It is the love of Christ working in us that shows us to be wise—wise as the Magi—as we share with others this Christmas the gift of His wonderful love.
Rev. Thomas Prachar is President of the Central District of Lutheran Church–Canada.