Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Greatest Gift of All

The Greatest Gift of All
Christmas Observance Speech 2017-Commandery

When I was a little boy, I remember asking my Mother why we received presents when it was Jesus’s Birthday. Mom said that, “giving presents was a gift of love and that God gave us the greatest gift of all. He gave us Jesus and that by believing in him, when we die we will go to heaven to be with him forever, and you will see your Great Grandmother again”.
I couldn’t have been but four or five years old at the time, but those words have stayed with me as I grew up and as developed into my manhood and even now in my maturing years, I remember them well.
My Mother was the world’s greatest gift giver. She and my Dad would listen to my sister and I as we talked about our likes and dislikes. They paid great attention to our activities and were always on the lookout, all year long, for the perfect gift.
Mom kept an ongoing list of presents and at Thanksgiving time she would sequester all the Aunts and Uncles off to another room and behind locked doors, and in hushed voices, shared the information with them. It was organized and looked like a planning session between Churchill and Eisenhower when they were planning for D Day, I imagine.
When Christmas came I would gaze at all of the packages under the tree. My parents had a formula for what was included and wrapped into those beautifully wrapped packages. Those packages contained what I needed and the things I most desired. Every year there was socks, underwear, handkerchiefs, a flannel shirt, a sweater, blue jeans and a few fishing lures from my uncles and the one perfect present that Mom and Dad spent all year planning.
It always seemed that the perfect present was given at the perfect time in my life when I could most understand and appreciate them. There was the Hop a Long Cassidy Gun set, the Butterfly net, and Magnifying glass, the red bicycle, the Cub Scout uniform, the down jacket when I went to Alaska, and the handmade quilts when I bought a home.
There was an extreme amount of planning, thought and consideration that went into the gift giving by my parents. There was nothing haphazard about the giving and I appreciated every gift. Sometimes my appreciation grew with the gift like for most of the clothes that were given one size larger so I could grow into them.
I didn’t actually figure it out until I was almost thirty that I came from a family of what you would call today, the working poor. I think many people in this world would be envious of my childhood and the family that I had for we were rich in many ways. During my Dad’s entire life he always said every few days how rich he was. So, one hot summer day, after we were working on a project, over a beer I asked him about what he meant. He explained that he was “rich” in Love.
I think some of us in this room tonight may have given gifts that haven’t always been so appreciated. We may have spent a lot of time and money, and with the very best intentions, but in the end we did not achieve the desired results with our gift. We may have been hoping for a Wow, when all that was received as an “OH ya sure…. Thanks”.
As the gift giver we may feel sad, frustrated, or irritated when you find the diamond earrings tossed to the side of the bathroom sink or the expensive cashmere sweater laying in a ball on the floor. And guys don’t worry I won’t repeat what you said when you gave your wives lingerie for Christmas last year.
And then there are some people who decide to push the limits of procrastination and do their shopping on Christmas Eve. There is nothing like a little Christmas shopping “frenzy” to get you in the Christmas Spirit, or out of it fast.
On one of my tours in the Uniformed Division of the police department, I had a sharp young partner named Larry who had about three years on with the department. We were working on December 23rd and we both had Christmas Eve off. We were walking into the Station at the end of our shift and I said, “Larry what are you going to tomorrow”?  Larry replied, “I’m going to do my Christmas shopping and then my fiancée and I are going to my parents’ house for dinner.  We will open presents and celebrate Christmas.” I said, “Larry you haven’t done any shopping yet? Are you crazy?”
Larry said, “Tom I love the concept of ‘The One Day Hunt’. Didn’t I shoot that eight point buck this year one hour into the Deer Opener?” I said, “Good Luck, Larry and Merry Christmas.”
On Christmas Day morning we both had to work again. After roll call, as we were walking out to the Squad car, I heard Larry say, “I’m so happy this Christmas is over” as he threw his ticket book at the dash board and I closed my door to the car. Now, when working in Law enforcement, that type of response is usually a sign that you need to drive to a coffee shop, get a donut or bagel, and talk with your partner. Now, Larry is a fit guy and he eats healthy, but this called for drastic action. So, I ordered him a triple expresso and a huge Bear Claw. Once he was about half way done with the claw and coffee I asked, “Well Larry, what went wrong?”

Larry replied, “I got up at 11:00, ate breakfast and reviewed the things I intended to buy everyone. Traffic was crazy, and I couldn’t even get into Southdale, so I decided to try Ridgedale and then I couldn’t find a place to park. So, then I drove to the Mall of America. Once I finally got into the Mall it was packed and it was shoulder to shoulder with people. Finally, I found one of the things on my list, and then I stood in line forever to pay. I looked at my watch and I was overcome with anxiety. It was two o’clock and I had to pick up my fiancée at three to be at my parents’ house at four.”
So I asked, Larry did you get any presents at all?”’ Larry, who was visibly upset relating his story, responded “You know, I have a good paying job, unlike my shiftless future brother-in-law. So yes, everybody got a present.  But Tom, I was in a panic, so I went to Walgreens and got some real nice Hallmark cards and then I went to Super America.” I said, “Larry, I bet your family is just happy to have you there to celebrate and any present from you is nice.” Larry replied, “TOM, I gave my MOM A GAS CARD from Super America for Christmas! My Dad and brother got $50.00 worth of Lottery tickets. I gave my Fiancée cash. It was mindless shopping, I’ve never been so irritated and frustrated in my life. I just hope that they are all talking to me by New Year’s.”
So, I later learned, that Larry’s Dad took him to lunch after the holidays. They had one of those talks that only a loving Dad can have with his Son. Larry’s Dad pointed out that Larry has missed what was right in front of him the whole time. The first clue was that his Mother, for 30 years, arranges a Manger Scene on a table by the front door every Christmas. It’s to remind everyone that enters the home that Christ is the center of Christmas. Larry was so consumed by the empty promise of presents and materialism that he didn’t really see his loving and supportive family around him, who really did not care what he gave for presents.
And in the end, the presents that Larry gave were useful and well received.  Although Larry’s Father and Brother didn’t have a winning Lottery ticket, his Mother and Father were planning to a trip to Arizona and could use the gas card for the trip.  Larry’s Fiancée has just started a job working in an office and used the money to buy many nice clothes to wear to work.  It really is the thought that counts.
Besides shopping, we may have other Christmas traditions or rituals in our families that enrich or add some excitement to our lives.
There are the outdoor lights, decorations and displays that dazzle our homes and neighborhoods. I truly enjoy taking a walk or drive, after dinner, so enjoy the neighborhood lights and displays.  Or perhaps, there is the sending and receiving Christmas cards, and family newsletters. I think I got one this year…..
One things I remember best is walking into the house and smelling freshly baked Christmas cookies. My Mother would start her baking the morning after Thanksgiving and would finish the week before Christmas.  She would bake what seemed to about 50 different varieties in every shape and color you could imagine.
My Father would eat Christmas cookies until his birthday-which was the 4th of July and then complain when they were gone.
Or, we have our favorite Christmas Tv shows and movies that we love to watch each year such as; A Christmas Carol; It’s a Wonderful Life; Frosty the Snowman; or How the Grinch stole Christmas.  And of course, who can forget the classic Charlie Brown Christmas show that many of us and our children have watched for over the last 50 years.
Do you remember Good Old Charlie Brown? Our favorite Blockhead who couldn’t muster up the courage to talk to the cute little Red-haired girl?
Do you remember when Charlie Brown finds that forlorn little Christmas Tree? The image of that poor tattered tree makes me laugh and cry to this day. 
But, Charlie Brown, discovered that our family traditions or rituals of shopping, gift giving, lights and decorations, Christmas cards, and cookies were only symbols but not the true meaning of Christmas. Charlie Brown asks the most profound question in that shows when in an exasperated voice he asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about”?
Linus, Charlie Browns best friend, who is always seen with his blue security blanket, says in a calm voice, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about”.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (King James Luke 2:8-14)
“That’s what’s Christmas is all about Charlie Brown”…Linus concludes.
That’s what’s Christmas is all about….
God gave us the greatest gift. There is a package from him with your name on it.
The gift was extremely thought out and planned, and it is a gift of his true love. This gift is more precious than any money can buy.
God’s gift doesn’t wear out, never goes out of fashion, doesn’t need batteries, and doesn’t need an internet connection. No assembly is required.
Our gift was not wrapped in beautiful paper with big fancy bows looking like it was professionally wrapped by one of those nice ladies at Nordstrom’s.
Our gift was born in a stable. He was wrapped in rags and laid in an animals feeding trough, in very humbling surroundings.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Jesus Christ came to earth for one specific purpose, to make it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins and go to heaven when we die.

Jesus said, “For the Son of man came to seek and save the lost”.
Luke 19:10

When Jesus was nailed to the cross our sins were nailed with him. He paid the price for us, a slow agonizing death for our salvation.

What God asked for in return for this great gift, is to love him….. to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength”.
Deuteronomy 6:5

Christmas is a time for us Sir Knights and Christians to rediscover the wonders of that gift.
From Manger to the Cross………………

Merry Christmas



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