They lived in a very sparsely furnished flat in New York City, barely able to pay their $8.00 a month rent. $1.87 was all Della had left to buy a Christmas present for her husband Jim. It seemed that a gift worthy of all of her love was going to require a great sacrifice -- selling her most treasured possession, her long, lustrous hair that fell to her knees. So, Della sold her hair for $20.00 to Madame Sofornie, a nearby hairdresser. After searching around the city, Della found a platinum chain for Jim’s prized pocket watch. $21.00 dollars, with 0.87 left. Della was satisfied. She had found the perfect gift for Jim. For Della, Jim made a sacrifice no less great.
Jim came home from work on Christmas Eve and looked at Della. He stared, not sure what to say. Fearful that Jim might not find her beautiful anymore, Della admitted that she sold her hair to buy him a present. But before she could give Jim the gift, he pulled a package out of his overcoat. Inside, Della found a costly pair of decorative hair combs that she’d so long admired -- useless now that her hair was short. Hiding her tears, Della held out the chain she bought for Jim. He flopped down into the old sofa and put his head in his hands. He told Della that he sold his pocket watch, a gift from his father, to get the money to buy her ornamental hair combs.
Jim and Della are left with gifts that neither one can use. At first, they feel despair. Then they enfold, embrace, and realize how far they were willing to go to show their love for each other. Their love is actually priceless: devotion, sacrifice. That love is more precious than any gift bought in a fine store! They relish that love in each other’s arms.
O. Henry, the author of this story, The Gift of the Magi, ends by comparing Della and Jim’s sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi. The Magi were wise men who brought wise gifts to the manger: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These three gifts had spiritual meaning: Gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (like incense) a symbol of deity or God, and myrrh (like embalming oil) a symbol of mortal death. The three gifts gained medieval interpretation as prophetic emblems of Jesus’ identity: gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing prayer, and myrrh symbolizing suffering.
God’s gifts in Jesus: King. God. Human.
Emblems of identity: Virtue. Prayer. Suffering.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth –
and we beheld His glory.”
Our eternal God, the Creator, became vulnerable human flesh and dwelt among us to redeem the lost and hurting. Our Creator loved His creation so much that He came down and moved into our neighborhood so we might know and accept Him.
Love came down at Christmas. God is love, and He asks us to love one another as He loves us. I pray that Godly love for each other will rule our hearts this Christmas, so that our gifts for each other are pure, like Della and James, and wise, like the three Magi, and perfect, like God sending Jesus, so that we may behold His glory.
How wonderful to love so deeply; how glorious to be loved so much!
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