Hi there.

I know this letter won’t mean much to you now, because words are not as meaningful as they used to be, but maybe in 30 years or so when you have kids of your own and I am even more of a doddering old fool, you will find this tucked in a book or stored in a file on your phone, and then it will mean more. I want you to know how much I appreciate being your father. I really mean that. I know there are times when I rant and rave and frighten you in my anger, but it isn’t about you, please believe me. My anger comes from the things I am scared of, just like when you get scared—like the Darth Vader doll you used to put in your closet so you could sleep, Seth, or the way you still come to our bedroom in the middle of the night because you heard a noise, Chelsea.

Anyway, you are getting lots of stuff for Christmas, most of it from Santa, some from us, and lots from your grandpa. These things will eventually break and get thrown away, or you will outgrow them and we will pass them along to other children (a lot of your toys already ended up in a church nursery, just like mine did when I was a kid). But please remember that the love behind these gifts will never, ever, ever wear out. Even when your mom and I are gone from this life, we will still love you as fiercely as the day you were born. It is not a perfect love, but it is the best we can do.

You know the stories about Jesus and the stable in Bethlehem, and how angels and shepherds sang hymns of praise in a winter sky. Today, Bethlehem is a much more complicated place, with walls and guns and people who suffer. You remember when we were in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 2013, right? That moment in Manger Square when I held on to you and your mother and said, “Please don’t ever forget this moment—we are in the place where love came to earth.” I know you were cold and tired and eager to get back to our house on the Mount of Olives, but I still cherish that moment. The world we live in is capable of doing so many wonderful moments, but this capability also comes with a dark legacy of pain, oppression and injustice, sometimes enacted in the name of Jesus whose birth we celebrate every year.

I would spare you the world, but I can’t, and I shouldn’t. I believe God will give you gifts to change the world. This isn’t just some daydream of your dad’s, but a real, honest-to-goodness prophecy. I think if you are brave, and pray every day of your life, and use the brains in your noggins, God might do something wonderful through you. I hope this is so. I know of at least two wonderful things that God has done through me: They are the two of you. Since your dad is a pastor, there are lots of people whom he considers sons and daughters in a spiritual sense. I love them very much, but you—you are flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone, and I am completely astonished and exultant that I could play a part in creating such wonderful people (OK, your mom gets much of the credit because I was still eating breakfast when she was weak with morning sickness carrying you).

I guess what I am trying to say (without sounding needy) is that I need you both in my life to help me keep things in perspective. I am grateful to you for the lessons you continue to teach me from day to day, and I hope someday you will be blessed with children who are as wonderful as you are. Merry Christmas and blessings for a new year, my children. I am blessed because you exist.


Martin Zimmann
The Rev. Dr. Martin Otto Zimmann is an adjunct professor of church and society at United Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg campus. He holds a Ph.D. in American culture studies.

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