This morning I would like us to reflect on the aspect of gift-giving at Christmas. Some of you have no doubt been scurrying around buying gifts for others already. Some, like me, may have a long way to go. So much of our celebration of Christmas focuses on this gift-giving aspect. I would like to look at what many believe to be the origins of this gift-giving this morning. We find it in the story of the Wise Men or Magi in Matthew 2. We will look at the whole story next week, but this morning I want to focus on verse 11, specifically the gifts the Magi gave to Jesus. Let’s read Matthew 2:1-12.
I. First, what kinds of gifts did the Magi bring to Jesus?
These gifts seem to be rather peculiar to us today. Think about the gifts that you usually give to a baby at a baby shower. You may give blankets or clothes, rattles or other baby toys. I doubt if anyone here has ever given gold, incense and myrrh to a new born child. These are strange sounding gifts to us and especially to children.
Brenda Roberts, a day care instructor in Georgia, was reading the story of Jesus’ birth to her young students one morning. She stopped to see if they understood. “What do we call the three wise men?” she asked. “T he three maggots,” replied a bright 5-year-old. “What gift did the Magi bring baby Jesus?” she corrected. “Gold, Frankensteins and Smurfs!” the same 5-year-old replied. To a child’s ears these are most peculiar gifts indeed.
What kind of gifts are these for a common baby? One can imagine the other mothers in town talking about this: “Did you hear what those foreigners brought to Jesus? What kind of gifts are those?” Even in those days, such gifts would be very unusual!
But you see, the Magi knew that Jesus was no common baby. These were all gifts which were suitable for a king. They came expecting to find royalty, a newborn king. They brought gifts that would be fitting for a king. You can imagine how surprised they were to find the newborn king in such humble and common surroundings. He wasn’t in a palace or even in a fancy house, but a simple house in Bethlehem. Yet they still believed that Jesus was a king and gave gifts appropriate for a king. There is something else about these gifts that is significant for us today.
II. You see, these gifts given to Jesus also represent some of Jesus’ gifts to us.
Gold points to the fact that as King, Jesus came to beautifully enrich our lives. Without Jesus as one’s Lord, a person lives in a desolate land of spiritual poverty. Life has no ultimate meaning. Without God in their lives, many end up asking, “What’s the point of life anyway?”
Jesus brings enrichment in the form of meaning and a great sense of worth to our lives. Jesus promises us that if we live for him, we will have a full and abundant life. Those who believe in Jesus know that they are serving the only true and great King over all. If you know that you are on the side of the one who is ultimately going to be victorious, it gives you a great sense of worth and encouragement.
The frankincense symbolizes the fact that Jesus comes into this world to bring us closer to God. In the Old Testament, incense was used to symbolize the prayers of person rising up to God. The incense would often be sprinkled on the hot coals on the altar. This steam would then rise up as a wonderful fragrance symbolizing the prayers of the people. Now Jesus has come into the world and we no longer need to have incense, for as one of us, Jesus brings ourselves and our prayers to God the Father. Jesus came to be the only way to God, the Father. Now we no longer need to be afraid of God for Jesus being one of us and out of his love, brings us to him, and we can now be at peace with God.
And this means that as one of us Jesus does really understand us in our problems and our joys. Pastor Craig Loscalzo tells of a Kansas family who lived through a tornado that nearly destroyed their home. From that point on the little daughter became terribly frightened every time the sky darkened and the winds began to blow. She thought another tornado was on its way.
One evening a big thunderstorm developed with torrents of rain, loud booms of thunder and the sizzling of lightning. Needless to say the little girl was terrified as she lay sobbing in her bed. The father went up to calm her down and said, “There’s no reason to cry. It’s only a thunderstorm. It will soon be over. Now there’s no reason for you to be scared or afraid.” She said, “Yeah, Daddy, that’s easy for you to say. You don’t know what it’s like to be little.” And it’s true; as adults we forget what it’s like to be little and afraid.
Does Jesus really know what it’s like to be a human being? Jesus knew what it was like to be without money and having no place to call home. Jesus wept from sorrow and loss when his dear friend Lazarus died. There were times when Jesus just needed to get away from all the pressures and crowds to pray and be by Himself. He got tired and frustrated just as we do at times. Certainly Jesus knew about physical pain that wasn’t fair or deserved. Jesus, the Son of God, came to dwell with us fully as a human being and so he knows what we go through in this life.
Myrrh points then to how Jesus did all these things. Myrrh was used to make an oil which was used to anoint things, again specifically bodies for burial. This gift of myrrh represents Jesus’ gift of his crucifixion and death which he would suffer some 30 years later. He would die so that we might enjoy the spiritual riches from God our Father. He gave this gift so that we could have life now and in eternity. The gift of myrrh by the Magi already at the beginning point to the main part of Jesus’ mission on earth: to suffer and to die.
But let’s not forget what the Magi firmly believed: Jesus is the king. And he isn’t a dead king, but one who is very much alive today. Jesus did die and was buried, but he rose again after three days and ascended to heaven to reign as king. Jesus certainly has given great gifts to us.
III. So what gifts should we give Jesus in return?
Many people try to give Jesus many different things. Some try to live a decent and moral life, hoping that such a life might please the Lord. They try very intentionally to keep their sins to a minimum. They think of themselves standing before God and saying, “I’ve done pretty well, don’t you think? Aren’t you proud of me?” They, especially at this time of year, go out of their way to offer some Christmas cheer and good will to all. After all, God would like that too. Some people may give some money to a church or some charity on Giving Tuesday. God would certainly like that. Isn’t that is a nice thing to give to God?
There are many things people try to do to try to please God but whatever we bring ends up being tainted. Terrence Johnson tells of a Christmas play in which an 8 year old girl named Anne, played the wise men. She stalked across the room as if she were riding a camel, bowed to Mary, to Joseph, to the angel and then announced: “I am all three wise men. I bring precious gifts: gold, circumstance and mud.” Johnson reflects: “Gold, circumstance and mud. That pretty well describes our condition, doesn’t it? Enmeshed in a materialism, which all but chokes to death the breath of the Spirit; victimized by circumstances which so often are far different from what we might wish; and with mud of divisions, injustices, war, loneliness and despair splattered all over the good intentions of our better selves. Gold, circumstance and mud.” We must give God something far better.
What is the best gift we can to give to Jesus in return for all his gifts to us? The answer comes from the Magi in Matthew 2:11. The first thing they did when they saw Jesus was to bow down and worship him. Bowing down meant that they were saying that Jesus is greater than they were. Worshiping him meant that they believed Jesus to be God and King. That is what we are to do. We must bow down and worship Jesus, the Christ, our Lord. We must gladly yield all authority and control to Jesus alone. We must say to him that in all things, Jesus is my king. I am not, my family is not, my joy or money is not king. Bowing down and worshiping means Jesus is my Lord and King.
And then we can give our gifts to him to express our gratitude for all God has done for us. And the best gift we can give him is not stuff or actions, but simply this: OURSELVES! Jesus wants us to give ourselves, our very lives to him and allow him to be Lord; allow him to take full control over our lives. He wants us to love, serve, and obey him so that he can make us to be truly free. In fact, the most important gift we can give that will be pleasing to Jesus is to believe and accept Jesus Christ fully as the one who forgives all our sins and who is control of our lives.
This month we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Today our risen King stands ready and willing to give his gifts to us. He is ready to give your life meaning, direction and purpose. He is ready to give you peace and contentment. He is ready to make us have true peace with God. He is ready to offer you salvation and forgiveness of your sins. All we need to do is give our gift to him: believe him and accept that gift. If you believe in him, then offer him your life completely to him. If you don’t believe in him, give yourselves to him by believing in him, believing that he can and did forgive all your sins. What gift will you bring to Jesus this year?