The Very Law of Love

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).
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
John Bosco
3 years 10 months ago
The most Holy Trinity took the brush of revelation into their own hands to paint a picture of their unconditional love for us on the canvas of Calvary with pigments of pain and suffering. The picture they painted is more important than the pigments they used. They hoped that the publication of their unconditional love for us would give us a reason to make our escape from slavery under the yoke of pharaoh, through the hostile desert of godlessness, to freedom with them and their holy family in the promised land. Rational beings tend to flee the sourness of godlessness for the sweetness of paradise. They painted it themselves rather than delegate the job to others because they wanted us to have the definitive picture of the nature of God. They used pigments of pain and suffering rather than another medium because they wanted no ambiguity to obscure their message of unconditional love. We are creatures who suffer, the only language that survived the confounding of languages at Babel was the language of suffering and we have no trouble whatsoever understanding it. Jesus Christ is the good news of great joy. We tortured and killed the Son of God while He was human, alive, tender and vulnerable; yet, the most Holy Trinity love us nonetheless! Their unconditional love for us is the bait. To save yourselves, take the bait hook, line and sinker. Before you were born, God fell in love with you (Jeremiah 1:5) (Isaiah 49:15). Now, it is your turn. Fall in love with God.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A 14-year-old boy receives medical treatment at Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, after he was in injured during an attack on a mosque (AP Photo/Amr Nabil).
The pope described the attack as a “wanton act of brutality directed at innocent civilians gathered in prayer.”
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 24, 2017
“The Senate proposal is fundamentally flawed as written and requires amendment,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane in a Nov. 22 letter to senators.
Pope Francis greets people at the “Regional Hub,” a government-run processing center for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, in Bologna, Italy, Oct. 1. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)
Although he named no countries, Vatican observers believe he is referring especially to political leaders in several western and eastern European countries.
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 24, 2017
For Thanksgiving, we give you an inside look into what Jesuit basketball teams to watch out for this season.
Olga SeguraNovember 24, 2017