The perfect gift. For those who love Christmas, isn’t that what we hope to give? Something that communicates the depth of our love to the one who will receive it. A physical, tangible way of expressing the value of those we cherish.

Finding such a gift is a challenge. The better we know the recipient – their hopes and needs and desires – the easier it is. Driving down our country road last week to visit his great-grandmother, I asked my 4-year-old son, “What do you think Grammy would like for Christmas?”

“A dinosaur with giant teeth,” he said.

Or maybe not.

To find the perfect gift, maturity helps – a measure of experience and wisdom not often found in the first four years of life. Or forty-five.

My husband, Dana, and I have always tried to keep Christmas simple. Rather than burying our children with mounds of disposable stuff, which can obscure what is truly needed or will be treasured, we aim to give our children a few gifts that will endure. The older they’ve grown, the simpler it’s gotten – often focusing on one carefully chosen present. Ah, but which one? And how to pay for it?

If only we had the means to give as much as we’d like. I’d write a check to pay for my oldest two sons’ college educations, any school they wanted – right up through grad school. I’d buy my teenage daughter a glorious, spirited horse and build her a barn to go with it. For my 7-year-old and his younger brother, I’d build an indoor recreation center with a basketball court, swimming pool and go-cart track. And I’d wrap them in extravagantly, tied with a gold bow.

And yet, not one of those gifts will appear under our tree this year. We can’t afford them. Not many people could. At least not the people I know. Yet, there is One who gave the perfect gift. He not only had the means but the desire to show us a love so great that we would grasp our value to him – a physical, tangible expression of how much we are cherished.

He knows us well – our hopes and needs and hurts and desires. His age is infinite, his wisdom, immeasurable. His love, perfect. Rather than bombarding us with easily disposed of trinkets, he carefully chose one present – a most precious gift, which would endure forever. Then he wrapped this gift in humble swaddling cloths and laid him in a manager, brightened by a gold star so that seekers would find it.

And the price? God himself paid it, giving up the riches of glory to step into our humanity. And all the pain. And darkness. And suffering that goes with it. Why? “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16 (NLT). Because he loves us so much, no other gift would do. Emanuel, God with us.

Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.