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  • Writer's pictureDRW

The First Gift

J.J. Newberry "Five & Dime," 348 Main Street, Royersford, circa 1950

When Bill Brunner recently posted this picture on Facebook of J. J. Newberry's on Main Street in Royersford, it reminded me of this story. As it has a Christmas theme, it's perfect to share today.


He was eight when he learned the joy and excitement of giving. Before that, he had been mostly concerned with getting. But this Christmas, things would take a change.

He had traveled to the J. J. Newberry store in Royersford with his mother. With him was a considerable amount of money: eighty-five cents. There was the quarter that he had found under his pillow in exchange for a tooth; ten cents, which had been given to him by a neighbor lady for running an errand; and a Franklin fifty cent piece, that he had been given in a birthday card five weeks earlier.

He was rich. And the money was burning a hole in his pocket. He was going to spend it, but it wouldn’t be for himself.

Instead, his express purpose was to select and purchase a gift for his grandmother. And with his own money. He had never done anything like this before, and he could hardly control the anticipation and excitement.

He entered the store with his mother, but quickly separated. This was something he was going to do on his own. He began to look at the items offered for sale. At first, none struck the fancy of this young, discriminating shopper.

Then he saw it: a pressed glass candy dish. Before he got too excited, he checked the price. Eighty cents. He would even get change!

Carefully, he removed the dish from its glass shelf. It was the last one. Holding it tightly with both hands he advanced with deliberate steps to the cashier. The woman smiled as she received the selection from the young shopper. A smile of accomplishment was on his face.

The cashier handed him the nickel change, wrapped the dish in white tissue paper, and placed it in a bag with burgundy printing. She folded the top of the bag over and over until a handle was formed, and handed the purchase over to the boy. The transaction was completed.

He had bought things before, but never anything so expensive, and never anything so expensive for someone else.

He was pleased and proud, and the anticipation now shifted to Christmas day, and he imagined handing, what would be a beautifully wrapped gift to his grandmother.

He hurried to show his mother. But he didn’t run. After all, he had just felt some maturity “kicking in”. She was busy talking to a sales clerk, and so he waited. And he waited some more. He tried to occupy himself by looking at the decorations in the store; then by reading the signs on the merchandise. It was a long time to wait, for an eight-year-old with exciting news to share.

The bag got “heavier”. His hands got sweaty from clutching the bag so tightly. And in a moment of distraction, the bag slipped from his fingers and hit the hardwood floor of the store. He didn’t have to look inside to know that the candy dish had broken into dozens of pieces.

He was devastated. His mother tried to console him. But it was the last one, and he only had a nickel left. The clerk took the bag to dispose of the broken dish. And as he left the store, he had nothing to show for his purchase.

If you can identify with the initial enthusiasm of this young boy, imagine the anticipation and excitement of our heavenly Father as He prepared for that first Christmas gift. It was, after all, the giving of Himself in a very real way, so that it could be communicated to us who God really is. And what a surprise! He would come as a little baby. Just like each of us entered into this world.

From the very start, there were those who sought to destroy this gift. He would be opposed throughout his life. He would be misunderstood...mis-interpreted...maligned. And finally, this gift, sent from the hand of God, would be taken and dashed and destroyed. And this gift was one of a kind, too.

If you can identify with the disappointment and hurt of the little boy at the broken candy dish, imagine how God must have felt when His gift, His special gift, was destroyed.

But because God is a God of surprises, an unpredictable God, and a God of unconditional love, the story was not over. He had prepared a plan in the event of rejection. He restored his gift, fulfilled his gift, and established his gift so that we too can receive him even today. God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, is the one and only gift that truly “keeps on giving”…giving of His love and peace and joy. Accept that gift today.

As for my grandmother’s gift that year? I don’t remember what I actually gave her the year I dropped and broke the candy dish at J.J. Newberry’s. But the message of that intended gift remains.

The world gives us too much to hold onto. And much slips through our fingers, especially at this time of the year. So much competes for our attention. Hold onto what is important. Not in the eyes of the world, but in God’s eyes. Hold onto family and friends. Hold onto the love and joy and peace that only God can give. Hold onto Jesus Christ, the true gift of Christmas. Don’t let that gift slip through your fingers.

David R. Willauer

Christmas, 1997

NOTE: Twenty-two years ago, Bill Schmearer, III, Spring-Ford Area High School music teacher, and assistant conductor of the Pottstown Symphony Orchestra asked me to provide a meditation for the orchestra's Christmas concert. It was first shared on December 14, 1997. DRW

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