Good Works

In The Gift of the Magi (which is conveniently linked here and is a wonderfully short story), O. Henry says that “of all who give gifts these two [characters] were the wisest.” This is almost immediately after talking about the characters as “two foolish children.” So what is it that makes them both foolish and wise?

If you are not familiar with this wonderful short story, I won’t spoil it for you. Although the story is over a hundred years old, I am sensitive to the idea of spoilers in the works of writers such as Henry who employ so much irony. But without spilling the plot, what is both foolish and wise about the young couple in the story is their love. Love is what makes them sacrifice for each other. To make a sacrifice for someone you love seems thoroughly noble and right, but it is also foolish. It is foolish because the person who loves you doesn’t want you to deprive yourself of anything for his sake. Putting yourself out for the sake of somebody who wants nothing more than your happiness is foolish. And beautiful.

In truth, any gift, big or small is a good gift if it is given in love. The cliche “it’s the thought that counts” is not quite right. It is not the “thought” but the love that counts. Martin Luther wrote in A Treatise on Good Works that it is love and the belief in that love that makes men and women do things together “with joyful, peaceful, confident hearts.” And that applies to all of their interactions great and small, including giving gifts. It is only when they doubt themselves or their love that they attach especial significance to how great a work or gift is. “Where there is doubt, search is made for what is best; then a distinction of works is imagined whereby a man may win favor; and yet he goes about it with a heavy heart.”

So, as you do your frantic last minute Christmas shopping, believe in yourself and in your love for the people for whom you are shopping. It is the love that matters and the love makes all gifts special. Or give cash, everybody likes cash.

Beer of the Week: Pilsner Urquell – My Secret Santa at work got me a “Premium Beer Collection” 12-pack. The pack included three each of Pilsner Urquell, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Lite, and Icehouse. “Premium” is a subjective concept, but the gift definitely came from the heart and I am positively thrilled, even with the Icehouse. Pilsner Urquell is actually a personal favorite of mine. The name means “Pilsner from the original source.” This beer is the original golden lager. After so many cheap Korean beers with almost no color to them, this beautiful glass of beer excited me. But it didn’t have the strong smell of noble hops that I expected. Neither did it have the crisp hoppy finish. I don’t know if it is because they came from a can or they changed the formula to better suit this market, but this particular brew is not the original; it’s an IMPOSTOR! Even so, I really enjoyed it. Without the strong hop flavor of the original, this beer showed a very pleasant depth of malty sweetness that was satisfying despite it’s simplicity.

Reading of the Week: A Treatise on Good Works by Martin Luther – The question of whether heaven is attained through faith and works or faith alone is one of the principle issues that drove the Reformation. Luther argued that for a man with faith all works are good works, so there is no need to seek out and perform special works for salvation. Taking a strong anti-utilitarian stand, he also asserts that all acts (no matter how “useful” or “good” they may seem) done without faith or in doubt “are not good works, and are all lost.”

Question of the Week: If you get any gifts for Christmas that are given in love, you should count yourself lucky. But is it even luckier if you are able to give a gift, however small or simple, in love?

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