Summary: God has, in Christ, transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary, through the power of His love.
Which would you rank as the finest Christmas present you ever received? If you can go back in your memory and recall several Christmases, which was the gift that impressed you the most?
Fellows, was it that electric train? I can’t explain it, but there is a touch of little boy in every man, no matter how old. There is an itch in every man which can only be scratched by an electric train! So would you rate that first, if you found a train set one fine Christmas morning?
Ladies, I just suspect that for some of you your finest and most memorable Christmas gift came in a very small package; it was circular and golden and was given to you in some very special romantic way. Christmas is a favorite time for engagement rings to be presented ... and it was a wonderful surprise, wasn’t it, even though you had been hinting for months and you had hauled him in front of every jewelry store window in town? Still it ranks right up there as one of your finest Christmases ever, doesn’t it?
Let me tell you about one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received. If you were to put it on the auction block, no one would even bid on it. If I were to take it and give it to one of you, you wouldn’t know what to do with it and would probably throw it away. If we were to put it out with the junk for the Salvation Army, they would probably leave it behind on the front steps. But to me it was a gift of wonder, a gift of love.
This is it ... a Commission, signed by the then governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, making me a Kentucky Colonel. Now don’t go to sleep, Virginians, and don’t throw rotten tomatoes, Tarheels, because this is not another one of those rhapsodies about my home state. I do not plan tonight to remind you of its unsurpassed beauty, and I will say nothing, absolutely nothing about its special people and its unparalleled culture. Fear not, for behold, I bring you no tidings like that.
The point of this Commission is that it spoke to me on a Christmas morning years ago of a father’s love. The Commission is intrinsically worthless. A Kentucky Colonel commands no regiments, is useless in Saudi Arabia, and cannot even get a discount on fried chicken. But that year my father had been in a lawyer’s office, working on sane estate matter, and saw the lawyer’s commission hanging on the wall, and thought of me. He thought of me exiled up here in Washington, he thought of my love for my native place, and he went to work to arrange for a Kentucky Colonel’s commission, which only the governor can give.
Now again, I say this thing is intrinsically worthless. And I am sure my father spent practically no money on it ... not even the frame, really, because in his retirement years he had a part-time job in a frame shop and got the materials at cost. But the point is very simple: my father thought of me and went to work to do something that would please me.
That’s all. That’s it. That’s the story. Nothing to it. Except that if after a number of years this still has power for me, that tells us something of the wonder of a father’s love. The heart and core of it is that a father thought of his son and provided for him. The wonder of his love. The wonder of his love transformed something that has no value as money into a gift of joy and of value. Because he thought of his son’s need and moved to meet it.
By contrast, a friend of mine tells me that she has almost always dreaded Christmas time, because when she was young, her father and mother just started to give her money and tell her to spend it for whatever she needed. Each Christmas she would come down to the tree, and every other member of the family would have something to open, some brightly wrapped package, full of promise and of mystery. But my friend would just be given an envelope. Here, here’s some cash. You’re so hard to please. Just go out and get yourself whatever you want. And for her, that has meant that Christmas has a negative touch, a message that says, "We don’t want to take the time to think about you. We don’t want to put in the energy to examine your needs. Here, just take this money and do something, anything." The gift had value as the world counts value, but it lacked the wonder of her father’s love.