One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
Many of us read the short story in school, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” Della and Jim live in a “furnished flat at $8 per week.” Her husband’s meager income has recently been reduced, but Della loves him so. She wants to give him something at Christmas, because love seeks to show itself. The very law of love is to go out of self.
Della’s solution is inspired.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
Della wouldn’t dream of selling Jim’s gold watch, but she decides to sacrifice her beautiful hair. She sells it to a wig maker for twenty dollars. “Give it to me quick,” said Della.
Love seeks to show itself. The very law of love is to go out of self. That’s the mystery we celebrate at Christmas.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you (Is 62:5)
The God who created humanity goes out of self in love for us. God becomes a man. Of course God is never compelled to do anything. God wasn’t lacking in love, or its expression, before we were created. The Father expresses himself perfectly in begetting the Son, and they are bound together in a love that is their equal, which we call the Holy Spirit. Yet to love us the Eternal Son of the Father is born among us as a poor babe in Bethlehem.
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word (Heb 1: 2-3)
Love seeks to show itself. The very law of love is to go out of self. That law would have been met in Christ’s Incarnation alone. He is the perfect expression of the Father’s love for us. Yet often, in the desire to show itself, love forgets itself. That is why Bethlehem will lead to Calvary. To save us from sin, love surrenders the self upon a cross. “The grace of God has appeared, saving all” (Tit 2-11).
“You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”
Indeed she is still Jim’s dear bride, to whom he presents his own gift, the expression of his love. Within the brown paper,
lay the Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
O’Henry concludes his story, “here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.”
And here I end my own.
For behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord (Lk 2: 10-11).