Nicholas, my brother, is 27 years old today. This note is for him.
This year's greeting is plain and simple, like communion bread, not fancy, like a birthday cake. I know you will appreciate that because, like me, you know that the substance of any birthday greeting is the words, not the kind of paper it is written on or the color of the ink. The words make the greeting, and the words make it holy, give it the character of a benediction. As you give us a blessing when you say "happy birthday," so now do I bless you, my brother. "The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8). One day this card will be recycled, but my blessing will remain with you always.
Let us always be about the business of blessing the world, not cursing it. Like St. Nicholas, we may have to give our gifts secretly, under cover of darkness, because people will not understand what we are doing, or they will be scandalized by our actions. So be it; yet nothing must stop us from becoming the thankful givers God bids us become. As you receive your presents now and again at Christmas, prepare to present yourself as someone's precious gift -- not by wrapping yourself in the gaudy but brittle foils we delight in seeing, but by cloaking yourself in the mantle of Jesus Christ, whose garment is plain and simple and whose everlasting beauty is seen only by faith.