“There’s no better present than a future.”
– Death, Hogfather
I was searching for a perfect Christmas quote to share on Christmas Day itself, an lo, I find it in a Christmas-themed fantasy that I’ve surely seen a dozen times already. Life is funny like that, isn’t it?
Death says these words when, on what is the equivalent of Christmas Eve, he refuses to take the soul of the little match girl, and instead gives her a renewed life. His associate cautions him against it, as he’s not allowed to do that. Death responds that their equivalent of Santa Claus, whom he is substituting for at the moment, can do so. He gives presents, after all.
The original story of the little match girl has her unable to sell the last of her matches, which are the last, fleeting source of warmth she has against the bitter cold of the night. She freezes to death, and the happy ending is that she goes to Heaven, where her mother awaits. But that happy ending waits for everyone who doesn’t disqualify themselves from it, and certainly for those who make use of the first gift of Christmas, which is the reason we celebrate a certain notable birth. Though one can find great comfort in such a glorious ending, there is still something wrong when everything leading up to it is awful.
The significance of that first gift is both for eternity and for here, now, in the present of everyday life.
I have seen too many times how people can turn the point of a story on its head. Instead of saying, “We should be kind and help those in need,” they say, “They’ll be fine either way without us.” Death’s friend does the same thing, saying how the fate of the little match girl makes people more grateful for what they have, because at least they’re better off in this life than she was, which is entirely not the point. “Be grateful that you have it better than someone else,” is just crass and manipulative, falling far short of the spirit of Christmas.
The point is to help those people who have it worse. To be kind. To use whatever we have to give them the best present we can, just as our Father in Heaven gave us the best present of all: a future. He gives us a future longer and greater than we can imagine, and as His Son directed us to do as He did (and continues to do), helping those in need is, in fact, the emulation of Him, doing for others as He does for us with every day we wake up alive and go to sleep alive.
What we can give might be nothing more than a single night sheltered from the cold, a single, humble meal, a single blanket, a single coat, but it can make all the difference in the world. It can get them through today and into tomorrow. It can give them a future.
To be given a future is to be given hope, which every one of us desperately needs a bit of every day.
May you find that you have been given both this season, and may we all strive to pass it on to others.