The Best Presents of All

Heritage Presbyterian Church

2nd Sunday of Christmas

January 2, 2022

Scripture – Ephesians 1: 3-14

It all began in 1964 when Larry Kunkel’s mom gave him a pair of moleskin pants. After wearing them a few times, he found they froze stiff in Minnesota winters and thus wouldn’t do. That next Christmas, he wrapped the garment in pretty paper and presented it to his brother-in-law, Roy Collette.

Roy discovered he didn’t want them either. He bided his time until the Christmas after, then packaged them up and gave them back to Larry.  This began their unusual annual Christmas tradition…

And so, the game began. Year after year, as the pants were shuffled back and forth, the brothers strove to make unwrapping them more difficult, perhaps in the hope of ending the tradition. The brothers agreed to end the caper if the trousers were damaged.  So…

  • Roy twisted the pants tightly and stuffed them into a 3-foot-long, 1-inch wide pipe.
  • Larry compressed the pants into a 7-inch square, wrapped them with wire, and gave the “bale” to Roy. 
  • Roy put the pants into a 2-foot-square crate filled with stones, nailed it shut, banded it with steel and gave it back.
  • Larry had the pants mounted inside an insulated window that had a 20-year guarantee and shipped them back to Roy.
  • Roy broke the glass, recovered the pants, stuffed them into a 5-inch coffee can, which he soldered shut. The can was put in a 5-gallon container filled with concrete and reinforcing rods.
  • Larry installed the pants in a 225-pound homemade steel ashtray and etched Roy’s name on the side.
  • Roy found a 600-pound safe, had it decorated it with red and green stripes, put the pants inside, and welded the safe shut. The safe was then shipped to Larry at his job.
  • Larry put the pants into a 3-foot cube that once was a 1974 Gremlin. The pants were placed in the glove compartment.
  • Roy placed the pants inside a tire 8 feet high and 2 feet wide and filled with 6,000 pounds of concrete. On the outside were the words, “Have a Goodyear.”
  • Larry had the pants arrive in a 17.5-foot red rocket ship filled with concrete and weighing 6 tons. The rocket sported a picture of the pants fluttering atop it. Inside the rocket were 15 concrete-filled canisters, one of which housed the pants.
  • Roy made a 4-ton Rubik’s Cube made of concrete that was baked in a kiln and covered with 2,000 board feet of wood.
  • Larry’s next move was to get a junked station wagon and fill it with 170 steel generators all welded together with the pants in the middle of the generators. Because the pants couldn’t be damaged, each component had to be carefully disassembled.
  • Finally, Roy was inspired to encase the pants in 10,000 pounds of jagged glass to be deposited in Larry’s front yard. The pants were shipped to a glass manufacturing company. While molten glass was being poured over the insulated container that held the pants, an oversized chunk fractured, transforming the pants into a pile of ashes.  The urn containing those ashes now sits proudly on the fireplace mantel in Larry’s home.

[“Will Next Tradition Have Moleskin Pants Rising from Holiday Ashes?” by Bob von Sternberg, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 29, 1989, p. B1.]

No matter what presents you received for Christmas this season, I’ll bet yours were a little different than this news-making item…

But no matter the presents, what is important is the love that is behind those presents.  Someone loved you enough to take some time, maybe have some fun, and find something just for you.  That is just one wonderful part of the Christmas season: the love that it brings.

When Paul was writing to the Ephesians in the letter we heard from today, love was a big part of what he was sending them.  Paul had spent a great deal of time with those Ephesians.  He had started their church, had lived with them for a time, trained up their elders and church leaders (as he always did when he started churches), and left to go and do more work.  But he always stayed in touch because he cared about them…he loved them!  That’s why we have letters from Paul in the New Testament today.  Paul’s resounding words of love come through in those letters.

However, this particular letter has some issues that puzzle and confound Biblical scholars.  First of all, Paul uses words and phrases in the Ephesians letter that are not used in almost every other letter he wrote.  Second of all, we are not 100% certain when Paul wrote this letter, but in the closing he referred to himself as an “ambassador in chains.”  Paul was arrested several times during his missionary journeys, but the Ephesians letter leads us to believe that this may have been his final imprisonment in Rome, just prior to his execution around the year 67 A.D.  If this is true, then perhaps we can forgive Paul for using new and unusual language in his letters.  I certainly do.

So, if Paul was in prison in Rome, and he knew the end was near, wouldn’t he have tried his very best to send the kind of letters that would truly resonate with people?  Would he have wasted his time with following a previous formula for his own letters?  Or would he get to the point in the best way possible?  Would he be as clear as his words could be?  Once, again, I certainly think so.

Paul spoke of three presents that the Ephesians – and indeed, believers everywhere – had been given forever.

First was the fact that God the Father chose us…ALL of us.  He original covenant was with Abraham, to make him the father of the people of God.  But in the centuries since Abraham, the other people who were outside of that original covenant were also loved and cherished by the Father.  

So, the Father chose all his children – the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Ephesians, even us today.  What a wonderful present!

Secondly, the Son gave his life for us.  A sacrificial offering that would eliminate the need for anymore burnt offerings or sin offerings or festival offerings or first-fruit offerings or ANY offerings of any kind.  The one-time offering of the Son’s life on behalf of all humankind was the end, the finish, the completion of any need for anything else other than belief in the salvation from the Son.  Again, an amazing present – especially when you consider that most humans on the earth when Jesus died didn’t even recognize what he had done.  That came much later, and Paul’s triumphant, loving voice was one reason we understand it today.

Finally, the Holy Spirit marks each and every one of us as God’s own precious child.  To believe in God is to also believe in the Son and the Holy Spirit.  We may not receive tongues of fire above our heads; we may not speak in tongues; we may not have faith strong enough to heal others in the name of Christ just by touching them.  But we are still marked by the Holy Spirit nevertheless. 

One more thing: we are marked whether or not we ever accept that mark.  Because we don’t know or fully understand the moving of the Holy Spirit and its effect – even among non-believers.  God uses everything to work his good will…why not non-believers too?

In the end, Believers, Paul reminds us that the greatest presents we have ever been given were given long ago, given freely surrounded and inspired by love, and given to everyone:

  • We are chosen by the Father.
  • We are saved by the Son.
  • We are marked by the Holy Spirit.

Now go and use those presents to the best of your ability, and never forget who loves you the most.