The Gift of the Magi

The Gift of the Magi is a short story written by O. Henry in 1905 about true gift-giving, sacrificial and unconditional giving. It is a lesson for us all brought to us by way of the most poor and obscure teachers.  The conclusion to this short story sums up everything this Advent series of reflections have to say on the value of the most pauperized charity valiantly trying to meet the needs of its neighbors. For the final post the Advent series, here is O. Henry’s timeless commentary on philanthropy:

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And 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. 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. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Fear in the Face of Advent

This space is Tanushree’s, but occasionally I chime in. Advent is in the News tab above and chronicled below at the bottom of this blog along with this and this blog where we curate fundraising and PR news and best practices. Thanks for being here.

Fear in the Face of Advent

We need not pretend fear does not exist. For anyone with a conscience, Advent is not only glad tidings. What is drawing near wants to lay claim to us. Love is a tangible reality.

In the evening of life you shall be judged on love.  - John of the Cross

If we begin in our work out of love and devotion, what place can fear have? Fear reminds us that we are fallible and vulnerable, that the success of our work depends on elements beyond our control, that our egos are pushy to the end. Things fall apart, but fear need not control or define us. Fear can serve as a healthy reminder. Fear keeps us human.

Amid the gloaming of post-WWI, Yates wrote the bleak, prophetic (of WWII) poem, Second Coming, Bethlehem revisited by a slouching rough beast.

Amid the reality of WWII, Philip van Doren Stern wrote the bright shining short story The Greatest Gift, which became the basis for the beloved movie It’s a Wonderful Life. This story begins with the thought of suicide, but ends with joy triumphant and shared.

There can be two responses to fear. One choice can make us unbelieving, slavish, inhuman, and manageable by the fascists with “passionate intensity” that led the world into WWII. The other response can manage fear, reject its rule, reduce its threats to faint appearances that fade still further in the radiance of faith and love.

It is often enough remarked that “fear not” is mentioned 365 times in the Bible, one trumpet call for each day. Despite everything, even if at times the falcon cannot hear the falconerthings fall apart, the centre cannot hold – we are loved and we are free.

George Bailey’s joyful rebuke to Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life is one answer to fear and also an eloquent rebuke to those who complain there are too many small incompetent charities:

Just a minute… just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why, in the 25 years since he and his brother, Uncle Billy, started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You… you said… what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!

Here’s another answer to fear as described by William Butler Yates in his Second Coming:

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?