The Gift That Matters Most | J. Richard Clarke | 1981

We are responsible to learn of and become witnesses of Jesus Christ. As we do, we positively and profoundly influence our posterity and those around us.

This speech was given on December 6, 1981.

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"Realizing the time of year it is—that you are getting ready for finals and the kind of hours that you keep—and realizing what I’ve been through the last few days, I want you to know that I feel just like one of you. I don’t know which one of you it is that I feel like, but whoever it is probably ought to be home in bed.

“Gold, Circumstance, and Mud”—Christmas Gifts

I would like to begin tonight by reading a story by Rex Knowles. He titles it “Gifts of the Wise Children; or Gold, Circumstance, and Mud.”

It was the week before Christmas, I was baby-sitting with our four older children while my wife took the baby for his check-up. (Baby-sitting to me means reading the paper while the kids mess up the house.)

Only that day I wasn’t reading. I was fuming. On every page of the paper, as I flicked angrily through them, gifts glittered and reindeer pranced, and I was told that there were only six more days in which to rush out and buy what I couldn’t afford and nobody needed. What, I asked myself indignantly, did the glitter and the rush have to do with the birth of Christ?

There was a knock on the door of the study where I had barricaded myself. Then Nancy’s voice, “Daddy, we have a play to put on. Do you want to see it?”

I didn’t. But I had fatherly responsibilities so I followed her into the living room. Right away I knew it was a Christmas play for at the foot of the piano stool was a lighted flashlight wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a shoe box.

Rex (age 6) came in wearing my bathrobe and carrying a mop handle. He sat on the stool, looked at the flashlight. Nancy (10) draped a sheet over her head, stood behind Rex and began, “I’m Mary and this boy is Joseph. Usually in this play Joseph stands up and Mary sits down. But Mary sitting down is taller than Joseph standing up so we thought it looked better this way.”

Enter Trudy (4) at a full run. She never has learned to walk. There were pillowcases over her arms. She spread them wide and said only, “I’m an angel.”

Then came Anne (8). I knew right away she represented a wise man. In the first place she moved like she was riding a camel (she had on her mother’s high heels). And she was bedecked with all the jewelry available. On a pillow she carried three items, undoubtedly gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

She undulated across the room, bowed to the flashlight, to Mary, to Joseph, to the angel, and to me and then announced, “I’m all three wise men. I bring precious gifts: gold, circumstance, and mud.”

That was all. The play was over. I didn’t laugh. I prayed. How near the truth Anne was! We come at Christmas burdened down with gold—with the showy gift and the tinsely tree. Under the circumstances we can do no other, circumstances of our time and place and custom. And it seems a bit like mud when we think of it.

But I looked at the shining faces of my children, as their audience of one applauded them, and remembered that a Child showed us how these things can be transformed. I remembered that this Child came into a material world and in so doing eternally blessed the material. He accepted the circumstances, imperfect and frustrating, into which He was born, and thereby infused them with the divine. And as for mud—to you and me it may be something to sweep off the rug, but to all children it is something to build with.

Children see so surely through the tinsel and the habit and the earthly, to the love which, in them all, strains for expression. [The Guideposts Christmas Treasury (Carmel, NY: Guideposts Associates, 1972), pp. 197–98]

Now, I realize that story carries a little risk because it is so interestingly told. I suppose we look to the gifts of children, and by children we are taught. Christmas is so often interpreted by children. I have record of a fifth grade at Christmas time in High Point, North Carolina. The teacher asked them to answer this question: “If you could give any gift you wanted to, what would you give and to whom?” Here are some of the students’ responses:

John Brandon said, “The gift I would most like to give would be love. It lasts forever and never grows dull. It can be given to anyone that you like.”

Fonda Hunter said..."