Tuesday, December 21, 2010

the perfect gift.

            What would you choose as an international symbol for the word Christmas?
            I would pick a star, like the one that led the Wise Men to Jesus.

            “In whom (Christ) are hid all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge.”
            -based on Colossians 2:3
            Gifts, presents, treasures. Get them or give them. Want them, wait for them, wonder about them, or worry about them. Gifts seem to be what Christmas is all about.
            At the beginning of this century, William Sydney Porter wrote a story about Christmas presents. He called it “The Gift of the Magi.” Just as he did for all his stories, he wrote it using the name of “O. Henry.” “The Gift of the Magi” is one of the most popular of all Christmas stories, and it begins this way: “One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.”
            O. Henry’s story is about Della, the woman who had the one dollar and eighty-seven cents. It was all of her Christmas money, all she had been able to save to buy a present for her husband, Jim. Jim’s salary was twenty dollars a week. Even in those days, that wasn’t enough to have extra for gifts. Della had saved her pennies one by one out of the grocery money. When Christmas Eve came, with only one dollar and eighty-seven cents put aside to buy something for Jim, she wanted to cry. She couldn’t buy something wonderful with just those few coins.

            Then Della remembered her treasure. It was one of the two treasures in that poor little family. Della’s was her long, brown, beautiful hair. Jim’s treasure was a gold watch that had come down to him from his father and grandfather.
            O. Henry wrote that Della and Jim were so proud of Jim’s watch that they were sure that it was better than any of King Solomon’s riches. And they loved her hair so much that they felt like the Queen of Sheba would have been jealous of it.
            But because Della loved Jim more than she loved her hair, she sold it to a lady who made fancy wigs. Della got twenty dollars for her hair, enough to buy the perfect gift for Jim – a long, lovely silver-white chain to hold and show off his precious watch. Jim, too, had found the perfect gift for Della. O. Henry’s story ends with Jim giving Della her Christmas present – a set of jeweled combs to hold up her long hair. Della had admired the combs in a shop window, but she didn’t expect to own them someday. They were such expensive combs that Jim had needed to sell his watch to buy them for Della.
            So Della had her hair ornaments but not the hair to put them in, and Jim had a lovely chain, but no watch to hang on it. Della and Jim, wrote O. Henry, were “two foolish children…who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.” But, he continued, “of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.”
            At Christmastime we hear a lot about gifts of love and about using our hearts and our treasures wisely in order to find the right Christmas spirit. Perhaps that is why O. Henry’s story is so popular. We admire Della’s and Jim’s sacrifices. We know that the love they had for each other was more valuable than the expensive Christmas presents that they had bought. We realize that presents can get old and boring, clothes wear out, and gadgets break, but love is the gift that really satisfies. Almost everyone wants to experience such peace and love at Christmas.
            But sometimes there is a difference between what we know and what we feel. We would like to have Della and Jim’s wise Christmas spirit, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem possible. Relatives or friends might drive us crazy. There are times when we don’t feel loving or lovable. There are times of sadness, even at Christmas. At times like these, the talk about the true meaning of Christmas seems a little bit unrealistic. At such times, the presents gleaming bright and beautiful for us under the Christmas tree seem more attractive than the troublesome people or events that come our way.
            At Christmas and all year round, we need more than good intentions and happy thoughts. We need God’s help. We need God’s presence. We need wisdom to live rightly and to love rightly. The beginning of the Bible’s book of Proverbs tells us that God’s wisdom brings life, joy, peace, safety, justice, righteousness, and faithfulness. His wisdom is the gift we all need, the gift we all want. It is the most perfect of Christmas gifts.
            In Christ we find the wisdom that we long for. His treasures alone bring real meaning to our Christmases and to our lives.
            -The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader by Donna W. Payne and Fran Lenzo


  1. I've always loved this tale by O. Henry and have an ancient, beautifully illustrated copy of it. Lucky me! Bless us all, that we may give wise and wonderful gifts to those we love.