One of my favorite collection of Christmas stories is "The Guideposts Christmas Treasury" which was published by Bantam Books in 1981. A lot of the stories in the collection are what you might call Hallmark sentimental in tone, but since I'm easily taken in by good old fashioned sentiment, especially during the holiday season, I enjoy them all the more. I want to share one of those stories with you this evening. It's little bit sad and teary, but it also wells up with joy, which is what Christmas so often does, both heightening and deepening the sentiments of the heart as we remember the gift and blessing of life and recall past times and loved ones who are with us no more. The following story by Ruth C. Ikerman reminds us that little acts of kindness and generosity can sometimes bring light and love and joy into a life that is hanging heavy with sadness and loss. Her story is entitled, "The Promise of the Doll", and I hope you will find in it a message about the true meaning of Christmas. Here is Ruth Ikerman's story:
When I met my friend on the crowded street, she held out her hand to me and said, "I hope you can help me. I'm desperate." Wearily she explained, "I'm about to cry and it's all over a doll. I simply have to find this doll for my granddaughter." As tears filled her eyes, I remembered the terrible shock we all had felt over the death of her daughter who had been such a vivacious young mother until stricken several months before. The young husband was doing a fine job with the little girl, but it was on the grandmother that much of the burden of planning for good things remained. And this explained her Christmas errand.
"I blame myself entirely," she told me, "for not starting earlier but I never thought it would be a problem to find one of these special dolls. Yet there is not one of this variety left in town." I asked her, "Well, why can't you settle for another kind of doll?" She shook her head. "One of the last things my daughter ever said to me before the pain got so bad was how sorry she was that she had refused to buy this doll for her little girl. She told me she had thought the child was too young for such a doll, and had refused to buy it for her birthday, supposing there were lots of occasions ahead when she could get it for her."
Then she told the rest of the story. The little girl had come to her mother's bedside and asked whether the doll might arrive at Christmastime. The young mother grasped the tiny hand in hers and said, "I promise you this for Christmas." Then she had asked her own mother to do this one thing, "Just make sure that my little girl gets that doll this Christmas."
Now my friend was about to fail in her mission. "It's all my fault," she kept repeating. "I waited until too late. It will take a miracle now." Secretly I agreed, but I tried to keep up a polite facade of courage. "Maybe the child has forgotten, and will be happy with something else." Grimly my friend replied, "SHE may forget, but I won't." We parted to go our separate ways.
With my mind only half on my shopping, I found the ribbon a neighbor wanted to finish a baby blanket she was making. A few minutes later I stopped at her door to leave the package and was invited inside. Her two little girls sat on the floor, playing with their dolls. As I sat down, I noticed that one of the dolls was the same type my friend was seeking. Hopefully I asked, "Can you remember where you bought that doll?" My neighbor gave me her warmhearted smile. "That's not a doll," she said, "she's a member of the family, and as near as I can see she probably was born and not made. She came to us by plane from a favorite aunt in the East."
So I told her that I had a friend who was searching frantically for such a doll for the little girl whose mother had passed away during the year. Apparently unaware of us, the two children played happily. The mother and I spoke in adult words about facing loss at the holiday time, and how much we wished we could help my friend.
Later when I got up to leave, the two little girls followed me to the door. "Dolly is ready to leave too," they told me. Sure enough, she was dressed in a red velveteen coat and hat with a white fur muff. "Where is dolly going?" I asked. They laughed happily. "With you, of course. You know where the lady lives, don't you--the one who needs the doll so bad?" I started to tell them that of course I couldn't take this doll. Then I looked at their faces, happy in the moment of giving. If I say the wrong thing now, something within my heart warned, I may ruin their joy of giving for the rest of their lives. Silently I took the doll, fumbling with my car keys so they did not see the mist over my eyes. Their mother asked, "Are you both sure you want to do this?" They answered, "Yes, we do...." The mother put her arms around them tenderly.
Later I rang the doorbell of my friend. "Don't ask me how I got it, for I can't talk just yet. The doll is a little smudgy, but the worn places are from kisses and maybe they won't show under the Christmas lights." She fondled the doll as though it were made of precious metal. Tears of joy welled up in the woman's eyes when I finally was able to tell the story. "How can I ever thank those children enough?" she asked. I told her, "They already have received a blessing greater than anything you or I could give them. I saw their faces when they offered me the doll to bring to you." And it was true. In the moment of giving they had also received, in ways past our finding out. A miracle had taken place. A promise could be kept, linking here with there, in the eternal circle of love of which the great gift of Christmas itself is a part. (END OF STORY)
Jesus, I am quite sure, would have been proud of those two little girls who responded without guile or ulterior motive, and without being asked, to the spirit of love and generosity in the human heart. Jesus says in the Gospels that those who are able to lose their life for a higher good shall surely find it. Remember the song, "Love is a circle, it knows no bounds. The more you give the more comes around." Or in the words of the Magic Penny song, "Love isn't love until you give it away, and (then) you end up having more." I don't know why this is so, but it is so.
Inside each and everyone of us, be we young or old, is the promise of the doll. Each of us has something we need to give away to make ourselves and others truly happy. The Spirit of Christmas Past, Present and Future will someday ask us, not what did we get, but what did we give away, and if we have learned to respond to the promise of the doll, we will answer, "I had this favorite thing which I loved dearly, but someone less fortunate than I needed it, so I gave it away. The strange thing is when I gave it away I found myself."