It was one week before Advent (Thanksgiving Day to be exact). My husband left early for a football game with friends, while my three young daughters and I enjoyed a breakfast together, talking about gratitude. Then the conversation switched to Christmas. My girls reminisced about our family tradition of listening to their dad read the story of the Nativity from Luke 2 before exchanging gifts.
A thought occurred to me: What if we modified our tradition and turned it into a surprise for their dad? What if the four of us memorized and recited the Christmas story to him instead?
We were already memorizing Scripture together over breakfast each morning—me reading, and my girls repeating, a new verse every day or two. The length of the Nativity story and the number of weeks remaining would divide out perfectly. I suggested making Luke 2 our new memory passage to present to their dad on Christmas.
The idea captivated my young girls; they love surprises! Dad would be out of the house for a few more hours. We could start immediately.
After a few readings through the passage, a plan formed. We could heighten the surprise if we allowed Dad to begin reading as usual and then jumped in to recite the rest. My eldest wanted to take the first few verses alone. Her younger sister agreed to recite a few more. And of course we would repeat the angel chorus together, with my youngest daughter piping in a few lines to follow. Then I would wrap it up.
The weeks went by. Amid all the shopping and baking, my kids looked forward most to our secret memory work. Images of how their dad would react on Christmas morning dominated their thoughts and propelled their minds to absorb the verses. At odd times during the day I would hear one child reciting snatches from the story aloud to another. God's word about The Word made flesh as an infant permeated our Advent days.
On Christmas morning my husband remarked at how eagerly our girls bustled into our bedroom and crowded around him on our bed to hear him read the Christmas story. He had no clue what was to come.
Opening his Bible, he found the passage and began to read: "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree…" And on he went, until my eldest interrupted, "So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth…"
My husband looked up, startled. I gently placed my hand over the text and nodded toward my daughter, who continued to recite. By the time her sister joined in, I could see tears pooling in my husband's eyes. He saw the wrappings falling away on this gift we offered.
As our 3-year-old lisped out her verses, my husband's wide, damp eyes expressed his amazement. We barely faltered in our retelling of the story. But if we had, it would have made little difference to him.
When we finished the story, my husband pulled us together into a hug. And we knew that whatever waited for us under our Christmas tree, it would not match this gift: the gift of God's Word and the gift of The Word.
Christmas is about gifts. That's why we meditate on Jesus as The Word made flesh, God's gift to us. But what if God's Word became our gift to each other as well? What if we made a gift of reciting a passage of Scripture aloud for someone we love?
Since stumbling on the idea of God's Word as gift, I have discovered five keys to making Scripture a memorable present for someone you love (like it was for my husband):
Make It Meaningful
Reading together the Christmas story from Luke 2 was already a tradition in our family before we chose to memorize it. Notice then how the poignancy of this gift sprang from that tradition. When planning Scripture recitation as a gift, consider what passage would have the most impact on your listener. A favorite Bible story; verses that speak to a current life situation; a passage that serves as a reminder of what God has done in his or her life. Just like choosing a physical gift, choosing a passage that makes a good present requires the same attention to the "tastes" of the recipient.
Keep It Simple
What helped us to successfully memorize and recite the story in Luke 2 was its simplicity. Narrative passages, like Luke 2, are easier to remember because you simply follow the storyline. Likewise, breaking up a longer passage among a number of people or choosing a few select verses make it easier to recite. You'll want to provide a good presentation for the listener, so keep the preparation required as manageable as possible.
Make Preparing Part of Everyday Life
My daughters and I were in the habit of working on memory verses together in the morning while we gathered for breakfast. But during the weeks leading up to Christmas, we sprinkled recitations (in secret) throughout our day in an effort to be better prepared. In Deuteronomy 6:7, God told the Israelites that they were to weave the telling of his laws and decrees from parent to child into everyday life. They were to "talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up." Prepare your Scripture gift by incorporating it into the rhythms of your day; this makes it less of a burden and creates a habit you may want to sustain even after the gift is given.
Choose Well When to Unveil the Gift
Decide in advance when you will present your gift, so that all involved are prepared. You may want to announce the presentation of your gift, or bring the Scripture out as a surprise, as we did. The first time you offer this type of gift, particularly if you're including children, you may want to make it a private moment. Reciting in front of a large gathering of extended relatives can feel more like a performance and creates unnecessary jitters.
Keep It Real
Be natural as you speak the passage. Focus on your listener. And don't worry if the words don't come out perfectly. Chances are mistakes will go unnoticed or will serve to merely add a human touch.
In the years since that Christmas story recitation, there have been other gifts. But none so precious. In the years since, we've memorized other passages, but none have held the vibrancy of the one memorized in secret and extended as gift. In the years since, we have had the opportunity as a family to re-gift the passage to our entire church congregation as part of the Advent celebration.
My daughters and I still recall the words of Luke 2—not just the parts we recited individually, but the entire story. It has been inked on our hearts. In that way, the gift we gave, we also received.
Lara Krupicka is a journalist and speaker who works to equip and encourage parents to make the most of their children's growing up years. She and her husband, Mike, and their three girls make their home in the western suburbs of Chicago.