The Paper Pulpit
Exchanging gifts is a long-standing Christmas tradition by Christians and others. The tradition goes all the way back to Bethlehem two thousand years ago when God sent His Son into the world. Jesus is God’s gift to lost humanity. The Bible calls Him God’s “indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15), the One “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
When God first gave us this marvelous gift, there were many who sensed the need to respond to Him with a gift of their own. The Magi, astrologers the New Testament calls “Wise Men from the east,” followed a light in the sky all the way to Bethlehem. “On coming to the house where He was, they saw Jesus with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. They then opened their treasures and presented Him gifts of gold and incense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
The worship offered by the Wise Men is especially noteworthy because they were kings in their own right. Thus, by bowing down in worship, they were acknowledging Jesus as the King of Kings. Their adoration was the fulfillment of prophecy. Concerning the Messiah, Isaiah had prophesied: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). This prophecy was fulfilled almost as soon as Jesus was born.
The treasure the Wise Men brought was also significant. Their gifts were costly, and thus they demonstrated the worthiness of the One to whom they were given. The gifts themselves were important. For example, Gold is fit for a king, as it is a symbol of royalty. Incense in the ancient world was often used in religious worship as a symbol for prayer. Myrrh was used in the embalming process as a spice to preserve the dead for burial.
Each of these gifts was uniquely appropriate for Christ because each was prophetic of some aspect of His saving work. Gold is for kings, and Jesus came to be the King of Kings. Incense is for priests, and Jesus is our High Priest, the One who offers our prayers up to God. Jesus also offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. In the description of His death the Bible mentions two details specifically involving myrrh: (1) the drink that was offered to Jesus on the cross was wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23); and (2) the other reference concerned the spices that were used to prepare His body for burial (John 19:39-40a). These details remind us of the fact that He was born to die.
Christmas is still a time for the giving of gifts. Millions of families and groups across America will be exchanging gifts either on or around Christmas Day. The most important thing, however, is to accept the gift that God has given. The words of a popular bumper sticker that can be seen prior to each Christmas are true: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” God sent His Son to be our Savior. Everyone who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord receives the free gift of eternal life.
The finest way to celebrate Christmas is to offer ourselves to God in worship in the same way that the Wise Men of old did. We will not offer gold, frankincense or myrrh. Instead, we should offer our lives in worship. After we have done that, we should give ourselves in service to others.
The presents we will find under the Christmas tree from others are trivial by comparison. It is not wrong to give gifts to one another, of course. But we should make certain that the gifts we give are given in a way that both honors God and reflects something of His grace to others.
This Christmas let me encourage you, first of all, to celebrate God’s gift of His uniquely born Son by attending the church of your choice, and by giving yourself to Him in sincere worship. Second, find those who are needy in your community and share what you have with them in the name of Him who is God’s greatest gift.
It is the only way to genuinely celebrate Christmas!
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.