One of the most cherished stories of this season is O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” It is the story of young Jim and Della. Newly wed and desperately poor, they nevertheless want to give each other an especially desired gift. Each is willing to sacrifice a particularly prized possession to do so: Jim, the gold watch that belonged to his Father; Della, her glorious cascade of hair. As it turns out, Jim buys Della beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims. But without her tresses the coveted combs lose their purpose and cannot be worn as an adornment. Della, as her gift, buys Jim a platinum fob chain, simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone. But without the watch, Jim’s gift has no purpose and cannot be an adornment either.
The gifts Jim and Della chose cost more than either had bargained for, but in giving to each other, they received more than they had thought possible. It was their love that really counted, expressed in the generosity of their gifts to each other. Love, expressed through sacrifice, was the essence of their gifts. Although unwisely sacrificing the greatest treasurers of their house, these two were wise. As O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) writes, “Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”
At Christmas, when gifts are given and received throughout the world, it is the love exchanged through thoughtfulness and sacrifice that is especially dear to us. As is often said, we wish that the spirit of Christmas could last all year. But it is not the gift that is of primary importance. It is the love exchanged.
Love was not invented on the first Christmas, but in a special sense the love that we share at this season did come down at Christmas. While love has always been a human emotion, love, in its deepest meaning, was born at Christmas. As a carol states, “Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas: star and angels gave the sign.”
The first Christmas was special because in the birth of Jesus divine love was focused for us in a fashion never more clearly perceived. Love came down to the “cradled in straw” so that even the quivering child might have a companion of promise. Love in its emotion would be seen in Jesus’ care for his disciples and his mother. Love in its inclusiveness would be demonstrated when a woman taken in adultery was forgiven and when a penitent thief was offered the gift of heaven. Love in its sacrificial nature would never more clearly be seen than in a crucifixion on Calvary. No treasure, however costly, was too great a gift for the Christ Child to give – not even his life. It was in the full offering of himself that he wished to fulfill God’s message to us.
And what was that message?
It was the message that love is what life is meant to be about. “God is Love,” and it is in the living out of that love in our everyday lives that we find joy, purpose, and hope for this life and the life to come. (1 John 4:8)
Christmas, therefore, is a time for thanksgiving. It is a time to give thanks for love. It is a time to give thanks for the love we share with each other and for the gift of God in Christ. It is a time to give thanks for love which allows us to be forgiven and restored when relationships fail. We celebrate good times, when love is felt; and we celebrate the good news that love can continue after love is lost.
If love is the gift you wish to give this Christmas, rejoice that you have that gift to give. If love is the gift you wish to receive, open your heart to new possibilities. Place yourself at the cradle of the Christ Child and think of all that his gift of love is meant to be. Think of his gentleness. Think of his courage. Think of the generosity of his love. Think of the hope that he gives to all who will receive it.