Merry Christmas Friends! I hope you are enjoying a bit of time off from your regular work and spending precious hours with loved ones.
I was recently listening to a close friend—ok, it was my husband—as he expressed Christmas gift shopping frustrations. We talked about how stressful this season (that should be filled with excitement and joy) can be for many people. The idea of gift-giving is to bless and honor the recipient with something unexpected. Gifts show our love and/or gratitude toward another person. We want our gifts to bring joy and strengthen our relationships. However, it is often hard to know what the recipient would truly enjoy receiving. Maybe we are striving for the picture-perfect gathering depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings–the perfect “wow” gifts, the perfect table setting and food, the perfect gathering year after year. With the wide variety of personalities and lifestyles represented among families and friends, the Norman Rockwell painted experiences are just not real life.
Take a moment with me now to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. The birth of Christ, which is the reason for our Christian Christmas celebrations, was a humble one (He was born in a manger). It was also extravagant (angels appeared to shepherds to announce His birth). Humbly extravagant. What does that look like in your imagination? For me, it is a humble acceptance of where I am in life and giving extravagantly to the best of my ability. It means rejecting stress and relying on God to help me. In fact, I often pray for the gifts that I am to buy and where to find them. It takes humility to rely on someone else to guide me rather than doing things on my own. This way of shopping can also be an extravagant fun adventure.
I’ll always remember the first time I tried this. Several years ago, I needed a quick simple gift for my husband. I had absolutely no idea what to get, so I prayed for God’s help and drove to town. Nearing an intersection, I heard “Go to Safeway.” Safeway? The grocery store? Did I hear right? “Go to Safeway.” Really? What could I possibly get there? Silence… Baffled, but curious, I turned toward Safeway. Just inside the store was a Starbucks coffee shop. I glanced at the display of cups and gifts as I passed and then I saw it. There stood one bronzed ceramic travel cup designed with scallops or scales. Could that be it? There was only one, and it looked like a travel cup that a fisherman would definitely love. I thought “this is just crazy. Could it be this easy?” Yes. The cup came home with me, and my husband really liked it.
So back to our Christmas story. We often point to the birth of Christ, God’s gift to us, and the gifts brought by the magi to Jesus as the reason that we give Christmas gifts to our family and friends. God’s gift of His Son to us is truly the most humble and extravagant gift of all. Let’s also take a look at the details of the magi’s gifts.
The magi and their gifts arrived late, up to two years following His birth. In Matthew 2:11, Jesus was described as a young child at the time of their arrival, and they visited Him in a house rather than in the stable where He was born. If you happen to be running late with your gifts, you can point to the magi as your example. Better late than never!
Having discovered the star that was a sign of the Christ child’s birth prophesied about in scripture, the magi set out to find Him. Their desire to worship this King of the Jews led them to choose highly valuable gifts that would honor Him. This was no ordinary child, but rather the one and only Son of God, the one born as Savior of the world. They brought the best that they had out of awe and reverence toward God. Their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were extravagant and full of meaning.
Gold, as a precious metal, likely represented a gift of financial provision. How appropriate and divinely inspired, for as soon as the magi left, Joseph was warned in a dream to immediately flee to Egypt with Mary and the Child for the sake of their safety and lives (Matthew 2:13). Through this gift Joseph and Mary had provision for their journey.
Frankincense is a resin (tree sap that hardens when exposed to air) that was—and still is—used to make a pleasant sweet-smelling aroma for incense and perfumes. In the Bible it was mixed with sweet spices specified by God for Moses to use in making a perfume to be used in the tabernacle. This perfume was to be made holy for the Lord and not to be made for any common use (see Exodus 30:34-38). Frankincense is still used today in incense, perfume and oils. It can have a calming effect that may alleviate anxiety and depression. That also sounds like a good gift for Joseph and Mary to have as they fled and wondered how they would manage the tremendous responsibility of raising up the Son of God.
Myrrh is also a tree resin that was—and is—used in incense, perfume and oil mixtures. It has medicinal analgesic (pain relieving) properties as well. Myrrh is mentioned in the Old Testament as one of the finest of spices used in holy anointing oils (Exodus 30:22-28). It is noted as a pleasant-smelling spice in Psalms and Proverbs. Myrrh was also used in beauty treatments (Esther 2:12). At the end of His earthly life, Jesus was offered a mixture of wine and myrrh while He hung on the cross (Mark 15:23). Myrrh was also included in the spices that were used in the linen wrappings of Christ at His burial.
I like the examples of the magi’s gifts; a gift of provision, a pleasant-smelling gift, and a gift for health. Above all though, may we each have or receive the best gift—knowing Jesus Christ as our Savior.
During this Christmas Day and Holiday season, I hope your time with family and friends is special. Some of you may not be able to be with family and friends; I hope you know that you and not truly alone. Others do think of you and the King of kings is always with and watching over you. May you take time during this humble yet extravagant season to reflect on the best gift, the birth of God’s one and only Son sent to save us. As you exchange gifts, share food and make new memories, may He be honored by the love we express to one another.