The popular Christmas story, “The Gift of the Magi,” was written by  William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), using the pseudonym, “O’ Henry.”  The plotline of O’Henry’s Christmas story has captivated readers around the globe: 

A young couple was deeply in love, but financially poor. Each sacrificed precious possessions to raise money to give a gift to the other.  The husband sold an heirloom pocket watch o buy his wife a set of combs and pins for her hair (In the late 1800’s, such things were made of tortoise shell, pearl, or ivory. They were very expensive and greatly desired).  The wife—whose lovely hair was her pride and joy— had her long hair cut and sold the hair to buy her husband a gold chain for his treasured watch.

Selfless love is certainly demonstrated in the actions of O’Henry’s characters. But the story has a deeper meaning when it’s understood to reflect the ultimate act of sacrificial love on which O’Henry’s based his story. 

God’s Story

O’Henry’s story of sacrificial love reminds us of the sacrficial love of God. Let’s consider the prophecies of Isaiah and the historical accounts of the Gospels, and then compare God’s story to O’Henry’s story.

The book of Isaiah points to the coming Savior in a number of key passages. Isaiah prophecied of the One who would someday be, “led like a Lamb to slaughter” (53:7), and “by Whose stripes we are healed (Is. 53:5, I Peter 2:24).  Writing around 750 BC, Isaiah amazingly portrayed scenes from the Savior’s time on earth that would be fulfilled and later written about in the Gospel accounts.

  • He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, c.f. Lk. 1:34).
  • The Messiah would be God incarnate (Isaiah 9:6, c.f.  Mark 14:61-61 and John 10:30-33). 
  • He would be beaten beyond recognition, even before being put to death on the Cross (Isaiah 52:14, c.f.  Matthew 27:26-31).

O’Henry’s Story

The parallel in O’Henry’s story is clearly seen. The husband and wife had such great love for each other, that they sacrificed their treasured posession to purchase a gift that would bring the other joy. This certainly reflects God the Father’s love.  He cherishes His unique and only Son, Jesus. Yet, “it pleased the Father to bruise Him” (to sacrifice Him) Isaiah 53:10.  Why? Because of His great love for us and so that we might receive joy!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)  

Both the story of O’Henry and the greatest story ever told (God’s story of redemption) are stories of great sacrifice that led to abundant joy for the recipients of the gifts!

The Differences in the Two Stories?

While the similarities in the stories are interesting, the differences between them are most significant. 

  1. O’Henry’s story is one of fiction. The story of Jesus is true.  In fact, it’s much more than a story. It’s a historical account of that which really happened. The God of all creation, in His love and mercy, sent His Son Jesus to live the life we could never live and die the death that should be ours.
  2. O’Henry’s story is one of sacrificing material possessions. In God’s story the blood of Jesus was shed. Greater than giving up a prized possession, Jesus gave up His life so we can live!
  3. The characters in O’Henry’s story used the money from the possessions sold to buy gifts of great value.  God’s gift of redemption can’t be bought — it’s free!  
  4. In O’Henry’s story, the gifts received were temporal, earthly treasures.  In God’s story, the gift we receive is eternal with heavenly treasures — new life in Christ! PRICELESS!!!

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Christian apologists Alex McFarland and Shari Abbott answer some of life's many questions concerning the gospel, faith, and the Bible by sharing Truth for a New Generation and Reasons for Hope found only in Jesus. For more information about apologist, evangelist, author, and religion and culture analyst, Alex McFarland, visit www.alexmcfarland.com. For more information about Shari Abbott, executive director of Reasons for Hope* Jesus, click here.


Truth for a New Generation (TNG) serves nationwide, featuring a multi-year conference tour and student-led club program to equip teenagers, parents, grandparents, and others who lead them to live for God. TNG's mission is to creatively communicate a compelling Christian worldview to the next generation by giving answers to tough questions, based on the truths of Scripture, and to build up the Body of Christ to stand strong and boldly proclaim the gospel in the world. For more information and resources visit www.truthforanewgeneration.com.

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