In many places of the British Commonwealth, today is a holiday, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, December 26th. It was for years when I saw this printed on my Day Runner calendar, I thought it was some kind of big sporting event, you know, a boxing match! Well, historically, it goes back to a time when wealthy people in the UK would give a box containing gifts to their servants. Today, it is a bank or public holiday that is observed in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, when Christmas gifts are traditionally given to service workers. In Canada, for instance, it gives people the chance to take part in the post-Christmas sales or watch ice hockey games. On a more practical level, it is time to start “boxing up Christmas” for another year! I thought this would also be a good day for me to “wrap up” any Christmas-related thoughts and truths, for you to take home with you (or wait until next year).
My specific focus is the whole Christmas tradition of gift giving. It is one of the aspects of Christmas that I have a kind of love-hate relationship with. This is not because I have a hard time being a “cheerful giver” or expressing liberality. God really has taught me over the years the wonderful blessing of giving and not just receiving (Acts 20:35). My dilemma is not even the result of the rank commercialism that defines Christmas for a lot of people, starting on “Black Friday” and continuing through the day-after-Christmas sales. No, my frustration is related to the time-sensitive nature (December 25th is coming whether you’ve been “naughty or nice”), and the cultural expectations of finding just the right gift for the person you love. After nearly 40 years of marriage to the most incredible woman, Mona, what do you give her that: 1) she doesn’t already have, or 2) she’d really like or need, or 3) that would be a real blessing to her and show her you love her. It doesn’t help either when I ask her, “Honey, what do you want for Christmas?” and she answers “nothing,” and in her case, she means it. She’s happy, we’re still married, we have our health, we’re able to serve God in the most wonderful church in the world (I am totally and unashamedly biased), so, no, I really don’t want anything. Plus, my track record in this area is not the greatest (I don’t think I hit any home runs this Christmas!), not for a lack of desire, but a lack of time and necessary insight. I rely a lot on “Santa’s elves and helpers” (her friends), but even they couldn’t help me much this year.
I am not alone in this dilemma either! Just try working in the “Returns Department” on the day or two after Christmas, as gifts are returned that either are not liked, or that don’t fit, or, they’re not the right color etc. I love the story of the three sons who had grown up, left home, went out on their own and prospered. Getting back together, they discussed the gifts they were going to give their near blind, elderly mother for Christmas. The first said, “I bought her a big house for Christmas.” The second said, “I got her a Mercedes Benz and a chauffeur.” The third smiled and said, “I’ve got both of you beat. You remember how mom enjoyed reading the Bible? And you know she can’t see very well. So I sent her a remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took a preacher 12 years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it. Soon thereafter, the woman sent out her letters of thanks to her sons for the Christmas gifts. She wrote the first son and said, “The house you bought is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house.” She wrote the second son, “I am too old to travel. I stay home most of the time, so I rarely use the Mercedes. And the chauffeur is really rude!” She wrote her third son, “Son, you are the only one who has the good sense to know what you mother likes. The chicken was delicious!” You see, it’s not always easy to get the perfect gift!
TO THE RESCUE, come the wise men or Magi in the Christmas story in Matthew 2. The way they help us is by answering the most important question which is, “What do I give to Jesus?” In this area their lives teach us, and are role models for us today what true wisdom is all about. The Magi (Greek, “majoi”) were from the Medeo-Persian Empire. They were the scientists and the scholars of their day, the intelligentsia in a good sense. In them, we find the best educated and finest minds of their time; the kind of “go to” people in times of crisis. Their mission in life was to hunger for and search out truth, wherever they could find it. Their actions model for us 3 gifts that we should present to God 365 days of the year.
THE GIFT OF PURSUIT
Matthew begins by saying, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” In their minds, the fruit of their study and calculations, coupled with the appearance of a very unusual star in the heavens, heralded the birth of a King, the “king of the Jews.” The king that the Hebrew scriptures and prophecies pointed to for hundreds of years. These propelled them to make the almost 1000 mile journey to Jerusalem, which probably took them around 3 months to complete. Just the journey itself was no small feat, but one they felt was completely warranted. You’ve heard about pursuing Christmas? Well, the Christian life is exactly that: it is a continual, day-by-day pursuit to know and to serve God. This is true whether you’ve recently come to Christ, or you’ve been a believer for years or decades. When Jesus said, “follow Me,” He was talking about a pursuit, and one that is entirely warranted and worth it! Listen to the promise in (Jer.29:11-13 ) “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart.” According to these verses, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. But, that plan is aimed at triggering a corresponding response in you and me: a lifelong and sincere search. When we read the story and consider their actions, it confirms the saying: WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM!
THE GIFT OF WORSHIP
Man was created by God to be a worshiper. This is why every person inherently will “worship” someone or something. It’s in us, you can’t escape this fact. It was also very clear in the Christmas story that this was the priority of the wise men. They told Herod, “we are come to worship Him.” Then, in verse 11, it says: And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” Any participation in or celebration of Christmas that does not lead to, or include worship, in the end is either not valid or it is missing something. Jesus told the woman at the well, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:23.24) The essence of true worship is seen here: it involves giving God His rightful place in our hearts and lives. In the Christmas story, we see elements of a clear focus on the person of Jesus Christ, along with the awesome reverence and submission and obedience that true worship contains. It is such a moving picture: grown men bowing down before a baby in worship. In 1872, the poet Christiana Rossetti wrote a poem that was later set to music and became a Christmas carol. She was a devoted follower of Christ, who for many years volunteered at a refuge for women coming out of a life of prostitution. Her poem asks and says,
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part, Yet what can I give Him,
Give my heart.
Worship acknowledges the one thing that all of us can give Christ, no matter who were are, and it is the one gift Christ wants more than anything else–and that is our hearts! The beautiful thing about the gift of worship is that it is a “gift that keeps on giving” and one I can give to God every day of the year, not just on a single holiday. WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM, AND WHEN THEY FIND HIM, THEY WORSHIP HIM!
THE GIFT OF LIBERALITY
The key phrase and insight is found in verse 11, “Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Gift theology plays a central role in the revelation of the Bible, and finds an outstanding expression in the actions of these wise men. Our giving is a reflection of God’s giving and it proves the sincerity of our love and devotion. “They opened their treasures.” Jesus told us that “where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.” This is one reason I also emphasize at offering time that we are “giving in worship” because the clear connection is unmistakable in the first Christmas story. They gave God the best they had, because God desires and deserves the best of our time, our talents, and our treasures. The gifts the wise men gave were not only great in value, but they were even greater in meaning, for what they said about Jesus, the recognition each contained.
Gifts of gold. This is what you give a King or royalty. Jesus is our King!
Gifts of frankincense. This was an important element in Temple worship, and the altar of incense, telling us that Jesus is our Priest!
Gifts of myrrh. This was a spice that was used in embalming corpses. It probably was the strangest of all the gifts given that day, but even at or around His birth, the shadow of the Cross could be seen. It tells us that Jesus is our Sacrifice! This King was born to die for you and me.
Our giving and gifts to God should not be a sporadic or once-in-awhile affair. They should be a lifestyle that is a reflection of and a response to God’s indescribable gift of Jesus Christ! The powerful reality of the wise men’s gifts is that many believe that it was these gifts that financed and made possible the flight into Egypt of Joseph and Mary and the Christ Child. They were strategic in preserving the life of Jesus Christ and advancing the Gospel in their time. I really like the story about the family who chose to celebrate Christmas every year with a birthday party for Jesus. An extra chair of honor was set up at the table that became the family’s reminder of Jesus’s presence. One year an after-Christmas visitor was at the house, and asked the 5-year old daughter, Ruth, “Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?” After a moment’s hesitation, Ruth answered insightfully, “No, but then it’s not my birthday!”
As we prepare to “wrap up” Christmas in 2011, we can learn that these gifts are ones that every follower of Jesus Christ is able to give to God on a regular basis. They are gifts that will not only meet the needs of others, but they will first and foremost give honor and praise to God, and they will bless our lives in the process. I encourage you to keep on giving to God these gifts throughout this upcoming New Year. Let me take this opportunity to remind you one more time: WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM, AND WORSHIP HIM, AND IT CARRIES WITH IT THE FRAGRANCE OF SACRIFICIAL GIVING.