The Perfect Gift

Christmas Eve 2018

Ever been stumped as to what to give someone for Christmas?  You don’t have to answer that – especially if that someone is sitting near you in the pew.  

This fall, at our Minneapolis Area Synod’s gathering of clergy, we were asked to bring a gift for someone – we didn’t know who it would be. Oh, I thought – it’s the dice game! I’ve got an enormous flyswatter from the last time that I played that game. I’ll bring that!

It’s a good thing I read the rest of the letter. It went on to say that it should be something that you own, that is important to you, that is worth under $20 and that you should share a story about it with the person who receives it.  That made it harder. What could I give? What would be the perfect gift?

Recently I read a story about a man, Charles, who wanted to give the perfect gift to his family for Christmas.1 So…on Christmas eve, just before dinner, he handed sealed envelopes out to his family - his wife and children and grandchildren and his sister who were sitting around the table.

“What’s this?” asked his daughter.  

Charles explained – that he had been thinking a lot about this day when they would all be together and he did not want to not miss this opportunity to share a special gift with each of them.  

He said, “I’d like you to open these, one at a time. Laura, since you are curious… would you begin by opening your envelope?”  She did. Inside there was a red velvet letter H.

Laura asked, “ The letter H.  What is this for? “

Charles replied: “H is for the beautiful harp music that you play for us – heavenly harp music I might say. I appreciate you sharing your musical talent – that’s a gift for all of us.”

Laura smiled. “Glad you like it.”

Charles said, Tom… why don’t you go next?

“Ok,” Tom said. Tom was about 8 years old and was already tearing into his envelope.  Inside, he found a letter T. “Grandpa, what’s the T for? Toys?”

Grandpa Charles smiled and said, “Kind of… but not just toys… T is for taking time to be together… Taking time together to throw a baseball in the park, to play with the model train, to build a snowman, to tell stories. I wanted you to say: ‘thanks for sharing time with me. ‘

Tom ran over to his Grandpa, threw his arms around him and said, “Oh Gramps… Any time!”

Charles grinned and turned to his son-in-law: “John, why don’t you open yours?”

John quickly opened his envelope and out fell the letter S. “S… Let me guess. Is it for the Star that I put on the tree?”

“That’s right John, it’s for the star” said Charles. “But it’s not just because you are 6’4 that I ask you to do that. Your joy shines through everything you do – just like the light from the star.

John, a bit surprised said, “Why… thank you.”

Sara, Charles sister, asked,  “my turn?” Charles nodded. She opened up her letter. “The letter C! Is C is for Christmas cookies?

Charles laughed. “Good guess! C is for the cookies you make and for the loving care with which you make them – and we are all glad that you share.”

Everyone at the table agreed… and several people… and not just the children... reached for another cookie.

“What if I go next?”

Charles looked at his granddaughter who trying to be patient but was also trying to sneak a peak by holding her envelope up to the light. “Absolutely, Julie. You’ve waited long enough.”

Julie let out a big sigh and ripped the envelope open. The letter “I” fell to the table. “Grandpa, what does ‘I’ stands for? Igloos? Ireland? Icicles? Ice cream?”

He replied, “Imagination.”

Julie said, “Imagination?” What do you mean?

Everyone laughed.

Grandpa Charles explained, “You have the gift of imagination – you can dream of igloos and Ireland… ice-cream and icicles before the rest of us can say one word. Keep dreaming and imagining, let your curiosity keep asking, “what if?” We are all glad that you share your “what ifs” with us!  

Judy, Charles’ wife of 50 some years said, “I may need a little more imagination. I can’t guess what letter may be in my envelope.”

“Then, my dear, you are just going to have to open it,” Charles replied.

Judy carefully opened the envelope. “The letter R!” Is that for “Reading, ‘riting and ‘Rithmatic?”  

Charles replied, “No, dear. It’s for  ‘reminiscing.’ I love remembering with you. Thank you for all of the years together to remember!”

Judy said, “Thank you! I love remembering with you too – but even more, I love it that we keep on making memories. Tonight you have given us a wonderful gift and I don’t even really want to break this lovely moment… but… are you ready for supper?

Charles said, “Soon… but there’s one more gift. And it’s the best gift ever. You could call it the ‘Perfect Gift.’”

Tom said, “But grandpa… I don’t see any more envelopes.”

Charles replied, “You are right. But put your letters on the table. See what they spell.

Everyone dropped their letter to the middle of the table and almost at once they all saw it:    C - H – R - I - S – T! Christ.

Charles said to them, “I kept thinking about what was the perfect gift that I could give to you on this Christmas night. But then… I realized, the perfect gift has already been given. God’s got that one all wrapped up. God loves us so much that God gave us Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior. Jesus Christ is the perfect gift.”

The next year… as the family gathered around the Christmas table, they each brought their letter and their gift of heavenly music, time, bright stars and delicious cookies, imagination and reminiscing. One person was missing: Charles. He may have had a premonition that he didn’t have much time left to tell the story. But tell it he did – and his loved ones all remembered the gift that they were to him – and God’s perfect gift to them… the gift of Jesus Christ.

I hadn’t read this story yet when I was looking for my gift to bring to the clergy gathering.  I finally settled on a Jerusalem cross pin that I had received from Salam Arabic Lutheran church in Brooklyn on one of our youth mission trips.  I worried that it wasn’t the right gift… but I was out of time, so I packed it up and headed to the conference.

After worship that evening, a wonderful thing happened as we divided into groups to share our gifts and our stories. I realized then… despite my anxiety about finding that perfect gift… it wasn’t about the gift at all. God had already given each of us the perfect gift -  Jesus, God’s own Son… The important thing for us to do was to tell the story.

Tonight we celebrate that perfect gift - God’s gift - Jesus Christ. This Christmas, be sure to tell those you love what a gift that they are to you… and tell them the story about God’s perfect gift: Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church 2018

1 Adapted from The Christmas Letters: A Timeless Story for Every Generation by Brett Nicholaus