Tonight, I read once again that classic old Christmas short story, “The Gift of the Magi”. Written by O. Henry, who was, ironically, a convicted embezzler and an alcoholic, it remains, in my mind at least, one of the best stories of true love that I have read. Every year around this time, the cynics come out, clamoring of the foolishness rather than the wisdom of the two protagonists. In spite of the misanthropy of these detractors, I find amazing hope in the story, choosing to believe that it is a better thing to give up something we prize for someone we love, undeterred by the possibility that the result may be other than we would wish.
I grew up receiving an annual gift from my father, one which I was never happy to receive. You see, we didn’t celebrate Christmas at our house. Oh, my parents were Christians, but my dad had spent hours of research and had determined that because of the pagan roots of the original holiday celebrated at this time of year, and the fact that a number of the practices had been “borrowed” by the church as it replaced the pagan celebrations, he and his family would not be celebrating Christmas. To a young child growing up, it was not a happy situation. Since we attended a church which celebrated the day, we were surrounded by friends who expected us to enjoy the season. I guarantee you, we did not! Other children received presents galore. We didn’t. Other families spent the holiday with their extended family. We didn’t. Other people enjoyed Christmas caroling and times of fellowship afterward. We didn’t.
I’m not seeking sympathy, because the gift from my father was irreplaceable and given in love. To this day, I treasure and value it. His gift to his family was the courage to stand for his convictions. No matter how unpopular they were, he stood on those principles in which he had confidence. And they were unpopular. He was accused of not being a Christian by some, and outcast (at least for the month of December) by others. It was pretty unpopular from our point of view also, since we had to face the kids at school, either with explanations or lies. I’m ashamed to say that many times, my choice was the latter. It was easier for me to reply, “Oh, I just got clothes,” to the inevitable question of what I received for Christmas, than it was to explain why I didn’t get any presents from my family. But as I have matured, my admiration for the stance my father took, regardless of whether you view it as wrong or right, has grown immensely. He believed what he said and was willing to pay the price for it.
As an adult, I have not retained the viewpoint my father had regarding Christmas. While it’s a much larger conversation than I want to have here, let’s just say that I see many areas in life wherein we have utilized the tools available to us to do God’s work, in this case, a time of celebration in which we have the opportunity to spread the good news of God’s love. But the lesson of standing firm for what you believe is not lost on me, and my stubbornness nearly matches my father’s in a number of areas. If you don’t believe me, ask my children, or the Lovely Lady, or even the men with whom I’ve served in the leadership of my church.
What sort of gifts are you giving your children? It’s a sure bet that the lion’s share of the toys you buy will be forgotten long before your offspring reach majority. They’ll have dim memories of the expensive decorations and elaborate feasts. But, they will always remember the things that matter to you, the principles for which you are willing to stand firmly in your life. As you wrap all those other presents this week, take some time to think of the gifts you are giving which will last for a lifetime. Make sure they’re the things you want to be remembered for.
The O.Henry story is a great romantic tale which brings tears to the eyes and a short-term rush of sentimentalism, leading unfortunately to no real, or lasting, transformation. The stories of who we really are and what we really believe in, on the other hand–those are the stories that will shape lives for eternity.
Make sure your gift is a wise one…the true gift of the magi.
“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Reprinted (with editing) from a post entitled “Not Just Another Wise Guy”, first published 12/21/10.
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.