A significant aspect of Christmas is the giving and receiving of gifts. But what is the nature of a gift or the nature of giving? In it’s purest form it is the provision of something to someone else without merit or any expectation of return. When done properly, there is joy in both the giving and receiving of gifts. The value of a gift can be found in both the worth of the object being given and in the worth of the recipient. When we value someone, we long to give something precious.
Christmas, at it’s core, is about the birth of Jesus Christ. As Matthew records the event, there is a unique visit by some magi or wise men from the east. They have followed a star to determine the location and identity of the Christ child. Matthew 11:2 says, “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
Notice three aspects to the actions of these magi: they saw, they worshipped, and they offered. These wise men had traveled far in anticipation of seeing this star appointed child. There was expectation of seeing the King of the Jews. We don’t specifically know the nationality of these men, but they were probably not Jews. Yet, they wanted to honor this foreign child king. Upon finally seeing the child, two other responsive actions took over. They prostrated themselves in worship before the child king and they offered gifts, precious gifts fit for a king. The recipient was seen by them as worthy. We know this because the gifts were worthy.
The particular word used here for “gifts” is one that is almost always used in the Bible for something being given to deity, to God. These were holy offerings, not just for a king, but for THE King. There has always been speculation about the specific nature of these ancient gifts. Some believe that they are symbolic: the gold, a precious metal, representing the kinship of Jesus; frankincense, a perfume or incense, representing the priestly role of Jesus; and myrrh, foreshadowing the death of Jesus through an embalming oil. Others have stated that all three are simply valuable gifts that were a common feature of the ancient near east as tribute for a king. But it is the nature of the word “gift” that tells us that there was more in mind than just simple tribute. There are different kinds of gifts and different motives for giving. The wise men knew what they were doing and salvation history provides us with the record. We must take careful note of this historical act of giving.
There is a right order to this act of giving. First we see, then we worship, and finally we offer.
First, we must see Jesus in his creative, redemptive power. We gain sight from creation all around us. We gain insight from the Scriptures. We better see and understand the incarnation when we engage the body of Christ that is his Church. When we truly see Jesus for who he is, the God of the universe, Savior, we rightly worship. That is all a created being can do before his Creator. We are so in awe that we must praise. We must bow. We must honor the King. Once we find our hearts rightly prostrate before the King, our only natural inclination is to give. There is no thought of taking in that moment. There is no notion of demanding or wondering what the benefit will be to me. There is only the gift, the offering of something precious to the King. There is nothing more precious than our lives, to Him or to us. So we offer Him that. We voluntarily offer Him ourselves as a proper response to seeing and worshipping.
After the Apostle Paul has carefully delineated all of the benefits of salvation in Romans 1-11, he gets to chapter 12 and we read this, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Paul saw, he worshipped, and he gave. He exhorts us to do the same. Even the giving of ourselves becomes a part of our worship.
We can try and offer God many gifts this Christmas–to appease, to pander. But the gift He longs for is the gift of ourselves, wholly surrendered before a holy God–from truly seeing and rightly worshipping. Will you give Him that gift this year? Will I?