The Giving of the Perfect Gift

Reading Time: 7 mins

There is an association, almost a one-to-one correspondence, between the gift and the nature of the giving.

How you give a gift is sometimes nearly as important as the gift itself. How you give a gift can significantly augment the moment of giving, the significance of the gift itself, and the meaning and motive behind it, rendering the gift unique and memorable. The converse also holds true. Bad packaging, no wrapping, damaged delivery: these things bespeak little consideration, last-minute purchases, and even frugality.

Our culture understands packaging like Mozart reads music. It may be something built into human nature. We have an inherent sensibility when it comes to how things are presented – especially gifts. This is why Madison Avenue exists. Advertising agencies study human nature: our inclinations, dispositions, and perceptions. And the one thing they know they've got to do to move product is ponder the packaging. Sure, you've got to land the right moment, but blow it on the packaging and presentation and you might as well keep the receipt because your gift is heading for the closet, basement, or dumpster.

There is an association, almost a one-to-one correspondence, between the gift and the nature of the giving.

How you give a gift is what prompts us to inquire about engagement proposals: How did you do it? Was it in a box? Did he go to Jared's? Did your kiss begin with Kay? There is an association, almost a one-to-one correspondence, between the gift and the nature of the giving. What the gift is and how you give it go together like Lexus and leather. How you give and get things matters. It matters to us because we have expectations, and this rule summarizes those expectations: how the gift is presented reflects the preciousness of the gift itself, because how it is given correlates to the Giver himself.

This principle of the correspondence of the what and how of gift-giving applies to everything. Think about food. A sumptuous presentation of short ribs bespeaks of the excellency of the flavor. Hungry Man Dinner scraped out of a can, not so much. We expect good things to come in good packages. This is precisely why gift-wrapping services are available at Nordstrom's but not at Dollar Mart.

Upon our fifteenth wedding anniversary, I wanted to upgrade my wife Melinda's engagement diamond. When it was finished, the craftsman simply put it in a fold of loose-leaf paper. I raised an eyebrow to say, "Dude, that ain't gonna cut it." However, he surrendered it to the store owner, who took the ring from the paper, placed it on a exquisite black cloth, and then reached beneath the counter and offered me a selection of extraordinarily beautiful ring boxes. Yeah, that's more like it. Jewelers understand that how you present that costly gift says a lot about the gift's value and the Giver's values. The value of a ring is to be matched by the kind of packaging by which it comes, and both portend to heighten the moment of giving, communicate the significance of the gift, embody the meaning and motive behind it, and make the giving itself both unique and memorable, fulfilling all expectations.

With the idea that the value of a gift correlates with how it is given, we elevate our consideration from good gifts to the perfect gift. For the perfect gift to be and remain perfect, it would have to come by way of perfection. Not only would it be given at the perfect moment, but the packaging would have to be perfect, and so would the delivery. All this perfection, of course, would manifest the perfection of the Giver and his perfect motive in giving the perfect gift.

Galatians 4:4 describes the perfect moment this way: "when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son." Elsewhere the Gospels proclaim "the time being fulfilled," and therefore, the perfect moment. And in the perfect moment, the perfect gift (which we recall is the greatest gift God could possibly give: himself, the perfect One, God the Son) is given in perfection, that is to say, without sin, perfectly spotless, fully righteous, and thoroughly holy: he is perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:38). This truth is the dogma of the incarnation: perfect Son of God became perfect Son of Man, yet without sin. This fact of Christ's sinless perfection finds testimony in the Scripture. "There is no sin in him" (1 John 3:5). "Him, who knew no sin, God the Father has made to be sin for us," i.e. a victim of sin for us, explains Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21. He is the spotless, unblemished, perfect sacrificial Lamb given to us and at the same time given up to the Father as a perfect atoning sacrifice, to perfect our redemption. 

This sinless, perfect one who came at the perfect time is also given through perfection: he was "conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary," as the Apostles' Creed puts it. Perfection begets perfection. This is why Jesus Christ is "the only-begotten Son of God: God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made" (Nicene Creed). How Jesus was given bespeaks of the excellency of God's greatest gift to humanity.

The incarnation of the Son of God consists in his assumption of a human body and soul. It was foretold in Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14 that a pure and virginal woman would give birth to "Immanuel, who is God with us." By this mysterious union, Jesus Christ was the Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2.5). He mediates through the personal union of the two natures of God and man in his unique person. He is unique like Adam was unique. Both had God, as it were, for their Father. Adam begotten in time. The Son of God eternally begotten of the Father and conceived of the Holy Spirit in the fullness of time. This is why Jesus is called "the Last Adam." 

The two natures personally united in Christ are and remain essentially distinct. Each retains its own essential properties or attributes and its own intelligence and will so that his divinity is not his humanity nor a part of the same, nor his humanity his divinity. Yet there is in Christ—who is one person with two natures (fully God and fully human)—a communion of natures, so that the divine nature is the nature of the Son of Man (born of the Virgin Mary) and the human nature the nature of the Son of God (conceived of the Holy Spirit, eternally ever-begotten of the Father). Perfection begets perfection in the act of divine self-giving. In giving the Son by way of the conception of the Holy Spirit, the perfection of the eternal Word of God, who is the second person of the Holy Trinity, is preserved and formed in the perfect act of creating the perfect human being. That human being was and is Jesus of Nazareth. 

Inseparably connected to the incarnation is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. Again, we find nothing but perfection. There are some facts and implications with which we have to grapple here. The first is that Jesus of Nazareth is "the Word made flesh." The Divine Word or Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, who is the substantial and personal Reason or Genius of God, did not cease to be God when he became flesh; He was made man, not changed into man. Scripture continues to speak of the Logos incarnate in such a way that each nature must be understood as retaining all its essential characteristics. In Christ Jesus, two complete natures are united in the personality of one of them. Generation of the man Jesus and the union of the two natures (divine and human) were simultaneous. The human nature of Christ never existed by itself; it was not produced from the essence of the Holy Spirit but, by his creative agency, from the body of Mary. "Conceived of the Holy Ghost" denotes efficient agency. "Born of the Virgin Mary" denotes the matter.

Since Jesus' Father is God Himself, there was no original sin to be passed down, but only perfection.

Perfection begets perfection. So we understand that anything with which the Holy Spirit is said to be the efficient agent must itself be holy. But what of the humanity of Christ? How was it not tainted by Original Sin? Adam and Eve brought sin and death into this world. And since Jesus is the Son of Man, would he not have a human nature disposed to sinful selfishness like us since our defining human natures—with inordinately self-loving dispositions—are the constitutive inheritance from one generation to the next? Wouldn't he have a fallen human nature too? The answer is no. Jesus of Nazareth was born without original sin because he was conceived without original sin. Since Jesus' Father is God Himself, there was no original sin to be passed down, but only perfection. Conceived by the Holy Spirit through Mary's willing cooperation at the Annunciation, Christ was not subject to Adam's sin or its effects. In this way, Jesus is an authentically fully human person and so capable of representing us in our need to be perfect before the law of God.

But what about his physicality? Wouldn't that be despoiled by being born of a woman? The fact is that the Word made flesh was enfleshed with the flesh of Mary. The blood that ran through the veins of Jesus and was spilt on the cross of Golgotha was blood that came from Mary. Here the Scriptures tread carefully and describe Mary in utterly unique terms, in utterly unique scenarios. Note in the Annunciation how the archangel Gabriel comes and "Hails" Mary, bringing a salutation from God that's meant to resonate throughout all humanity. God hails her in Luke 1:28, not through some chump lackey angel that's got nothing to do. No, instead, it is YHWH's greatest Ambassador sent from the very throne of God to lavish laud and honor upon Mary. And then he bestows a singular title upon her traditionally rendered "Full of Grace." The Greek word, kecharitomene, is so rare that we find it only used to describe Jesus and Mary. The rarity of the word, which is at the same time a title, speaks of the singularity of Mary's condition: she is the "Full of Grace" one. The Greek grammatical form indicates that her "grace" or "favor" is a present and permanent condition resulting from a past action of God. The Lutheran Confessions say that she was a pure virgin. Her purity comes by way of God. 

The Orthodox Church says that Mary's redemption and immaculate state was accomplished by God at the moment of Christ's conception, not hers (per the Church of Rome). God's Word purifies her as the Lamp that holds the Light of the Word. She is cleansed as the temple in which she bears God her Savior. This is why Eastern Churches call her Panágia — "the All-Holy," rendered immaculate at the Annunciation. Luther saw the merits of this view saying that Mary became pregnant "through the ear," that is, by way of the Word of God announced to her by the archangel Gabriel: Hence, he was "conceived by the Holy Spirit" (Apostles' Creed). True biblical theology inseparably couples the work of the Spirit with the Word of God. This view extols the perfecting of Mary by a saving act of God, so that the Perfect One is understood by way of an inscrutable conception and unblemished formation within the pure, virginal body of Mary. 

The result of this perfect union is the perfect gift: a perfect man, who as our King, represents humanity, to fulfill our high calling to perfectly image forth the rule, character, nature, and will of God. The perfect gift is immaculately conceived and delivered. He is "born of a pure virgin" (LSB 401).

Both what is given and how he is given must be understood as for you.

How the perfect gift was given meets our expectations too. Giving the Son through the agency of the most Holy Spirit, formed by the body and blood of an immaculate Virgin, at the perfect moment of our heightened need, all tell of the significance, meaning, and motive bound up with this gift. Perfection enters our radical imperfection so that you may stand before him. Both what is given and how he is given must be understood as for you. He came for you. Such a gift tells us there is perfect love and a perfect Father behind this world. Packaged and delivered in perfection, the gift of the body and blood of Christ is unique and memorable and now continually available for you in the Lord's Supper, where a union of two natures is present under the auspices of bread and wine so that the perfection that you need is given for you. Your Christmas gift awaits, packaged in perfection, to render you the same: for perfection begets perfection.