In ninth grade, we read “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. In case you’re not familiar with the story, let me give you a short synopsis. Jim and Della are a young, married couple with very little to their name. The story begins with Della agonizing over the $1.87 she has saved for Jim. She makes a quick decision to sell her hair and is able to buy Jim a gold chain for his prized pocket watch. The irony enters with Jim as he returns home from work to see Della without her beautifully, long hair. He had sold his pocket watch to buy combs for her hair, and thus, both gifts are rendered useless.
O. Henry has something to say about that, though, and he closes out the story with his own words of narration. He says,
Our Christmas Eve service tonight was centered on irony. The theme was carried throughout the night as we looked at all the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. It is ironic that the birth was foretold to a simple, peasant girl. It is ironic that the baby was born in a dirty stable. It is ironic that the angels announced the birth to outcasts of the town. It is ironic that the Magi weren’t even Jewish.
The magi were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus. They invented the art of giving Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were wise ones. And here I have told you the story of two young people who most unwisely gave for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days, let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two were the wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
That’s not the irony that stood out to me though. I was reminded multiple times throughout the service that the birth of Jesus actually happened. An angel really appeared to Mary. She and Joseph literally couldn’t find room in any inns. Barn animals actually surrounded Jesus in his first moments on Earth. The shepherds and the Magi are not just characters in fictional tales. They are purposeful people in God’s story.
It seems a silly epiphany to have. Of course the birth of Jesus is real. I just don’t remember the last time I really stopped to think about it, and to me, that seems especially ironic.
O. Henry says Jim and Della are the wisest. They loved the other more than their most prized possessions. Because of the sacrifices they made, O. Henry likens them to the Magi. My prized possession is time, and I know that I don’t sacrifice that as willingly as Jim and Della. The irony is that I’m not willing to give up something for the One who gave up everything for me.
And so, this Christmas I find myself especially thankful for that silent night so long ago. For a night that actually exists in history and paved the way for the future. I am thankful to be reminded of the irony of it all and the reality it plays in my life on a daily basis.