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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Gift of the Magi

The short story The Gift of the Magi by O Henry focuses on a young, struggling couple. They are destitute. They have nothing. It is Christmas and they both desperately want to give a gift to each other. The only difficulty is that they have no money to buy gifts. But they each do have a prized possession. Jim has a gold watch that had been passed down from his grandfather to his father and now to him. Della has long luxuriant hair, reaching down to below her knees. In desperation, Della sells her beautiful hair and buys an ornate watch chain for Jim’s watch. Jim, in the meantime, sells his watch in order to buy a set of tortoise shell combs for Della’s beautiful long hair. Each, out of love for each other, sacrifices their most prized possession to buy a gift. O Henry concludes that of all who give gifts they are the wisest, for theirs was a sacrificial gift brought about in love.

It is Christmastime. We celebrate with presents the tradition started by the three wise men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. Theirs was also a sacrificial gift. They sacrificed the time, the cost of their expensive gifts, and the expense of a long journey to Bethlehem and back. They expected nothing in return. It is often not so true with us. Our thoughts of sacrificial giving may only last until we get the January credit card statement. Then we regret our “sacrificial giving”. Unfortunately, our motive in gift giving can become tainted by the desire to receive gifts in return. We can become bent out of shape if the gift we receive is perceived to be of lesser value than the one given. In the hustle and bustle of the season we can easily lose the perspective of what Christmas is truly about.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We sing of the holy infant, tender and mild who lies asleep on the hay. The pictures of the nativity scene are serene and beautiful. But the real story is not so picturesque. Do we see in his birth the supreme sacrifice of all time? Jesus, the Lord of glory, sacrificed his power and position in Heaven to be born, not in a grand palace among royalty, but in a lowly, filthy stable. He was perceived by many to be an illegitimate child. Only shepherds, the riffraff and outcasts of society, heralded his birth. The Apostle Paul says that Jesus emptied himself of his equality with God. He was willing to give up his status. On that first Christmas He became human and lived among us.

In the Christmas story we see God’s great sacrificial gift to us. He willingly sent his son to earth, knowing full well that his birth would eventually lead him to the cross. God had no regrets. It is the supreme act of love. The apostle John, reflecting on this love, states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV) Jesus came, lived among us, and then died for our sins in order that we could have a renewed relationship with God. As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us reflect on the sacrificial love of God, who sent his Son into our world. Let us remember the love of Jesus, who willingly sacrificed himself for us by dying on the cross. Let us remember the great gift God has given to us.

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