What Can We Offer This Christmas?


On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:11

Yesterday I read an article listing the ten best Christmas gifts for writers.  Pens and markers, Starbucks gift cards, back and neck massage — all good. This brought to mind the story of Harper Lee and an article that she wrote for McCall’s magazine in 1961 describing her best Christmas gift. She was staying with her friends in New York for the holidays. Christmas morning she was surprised by their gift to her. In a simple envelope on a slip of paper was written:

“You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”

The family providing the gift was not wealthy; they were raising young children. With their gift they gave a young writer hope and encouragement. Who can measure the impact on hearts around the world of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Harper Lee reflects on the gift:

“Outside, snow was falling, an odd event for a New York Christmas. I went to the window, stunned by the day’s miracle. Christmas trees blurred softly across the street, and firelight made the children’s shadows dance on the wall beside me. A full, fair chance for a new life. Not given me by an act of generosity, but by an act of love.”

What can we offer this Christmas?

Our best gifts are given not as acts of generosity but as acts of love. Take time to reflect on your giving this season:

Look at each person on your Christmas list and ask yourself: What do they need that only I can give? Maybe it is not a new tie or a gift card. It might be the gift of an affirming note or your time.

Look at your community and ask yourself: What do they need that only I can give? It might not be a check. It might be your prayers or the time to touch one person well.

Look at the world and ask yourself: What do they need that only I can provide? Maybe the words you write today will change the hearts of the world like Harper Lee’s words did.

Finally, look up at God and ask yourself: What does He need that only I can provide? He doesn’t need what we have materially. It’s all His anyway. But what about our love? Our worship? And our sacrifice?

Our prayer for us all this Christmas is that our gifts be given “not by an act of generosity, but by an act of love.”

Merry Christmas, The Writing Sisters

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. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest.

They are the magi.

– O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi

4 Replies to “What Can We Offer This Christmas?”

    1. Thanks Dana! We love this story too. It’s nice to remember the goodness of the gift of love – especially when it seems everyone is focused on material gifts. Thanks for the gift of your kind words.

  1. Betsy and Laurie, I had not known about Harper Lee’s gift of love that she received from the New York family that made it possible for her to write To Kill a Mockingbird. (I learned more about it on Wikipedia by doing a search for Harper Lee and finding a link to Michael Brown and his wife Joy Williams Brown, Harper Lee’s benefactors.) Your forthcoming book, The Shepherd’s Song, sounds wonderful.

    And I just had a thought come to me, prompted by your question, “What does he (God) need that only I can provide?” I will be thinking about that, but I am recalling the time I was participating in a prayer group, and prayed aloud about “our little band of sheep that you shepherd here at 79th and Holmes,” some of whom baa more loudly than others.” That produced a snicker from a man in the group. He is in heaven now and on occasion I have wondered if God and he have recalled that moment of humor in the total scheme of things (and I am not meaning to be boastful, only helpful).

    1. Barbara, thanks for your story! We have always loved To Kill A Mockingbird, and the story of this gift to Harper Lee touched us and made us start thinking about gifts. It makes us consider what is important to us and to God. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

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