As we look back on Christmas, I hope we didn’t let all the presents crowd out the presence of God. So often the presence of God gets lost in all the activity and gift giving. I came across this quote about the over indulgence of gift giving at this time of year. “Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and, most of all, there was less loading up with trash.” Sound familiar? We often feel like this today when it comes to gifts, but this quote came from Margaret Deland in 1904. In 113 years, things haven’t changed – they may have only gotten worse.
The presence of God isn’t the only thing we miss in this holiday season, we also forget why we give gifts at Christmas in the first place – which is a really good question? Why do we give gifts? For some, gift giving is a reminder of the gift God gave the world in Jesus. Jesus came to give us the gift of God’s love and grace and giving gifts to one another is a symbol of the gift God gave to us. Other people say the reason we give gifts is to remind us of the gifts given to Jesus by the Magi. Matthew 2:1-12.
So the magi brought gifts to Jesus and while we often poke fun at gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh as not being particularly appropriate for a baby or a new mother, the truth is that they actually were appropriate. The star that the Magi saw in the sky told them that a king had been born in Israel, so they were not giving gifts to a baby but to a king and gold, frankincense and myrrh were gifts fit for a king. God was a symbol of royalty and usually given to kings. Frankincense was an expensive perfume often worn by kings and myrrh was used in oils that anointed kings. Historical documents even show that these gifts were given to kings and royalty in other nations at the same time as Jesus, so they were appropriate gifts for a king.
I have also read some interesting articles about the healing and restorative powers of frankincense and myrrh. These are spices that have been used to help ease inflammation, stop the flow of blood and even lift people out of depression, which means they would have been useful gifts for a woman who had recently given birth. Along this line, some people speculate that the gold may not have been actual gold but a golden spice, such as turmeric, which is widely known for its positive health benefits as an anti-inflammatory. While we often laugh at these gifts being given to a mother and child, the truth is they may actually have been welcomed by Mary.
The gifts have also been seen as symbols of Jesus life and mission. As a symbol of royalty, gold tells us that that Jesus came to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who is worthy of great riches. Frankincense was used by the Jewish priests in the worship of God in the Temple which tells us that Jesus came as God in the flesh and is worthy of our worship. And while myrrh was an anointing oil, it was also used in embalming so it has been seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death on the cross. In many ways, Jesus was born to die, to die for our sin, so this gift was also appropriate for Jesus.
While gold, frankincense and myrrh were appropriate and symbolic gifts for Jesus, they aren’t really the gifts God wants us to give today. The gift that God wants from us is a changed heart and life. The gift that God wants is something that will help us live more faithfully. God wants gifts that will help us trust him more fully and love him more deeply. Terry shared with me a few thoughts about the Magi and their gifts that I found compelling. He said that while the Magi came and bowed before Jesus as a king and gave him gifts appropriate for a king they didn’t make Jesus THEIR king. They were right there but they missed it.
The Magi returned home by another road so we know that they honored what they heard from God in a dream but beyond that there is no evidence the Magi made Jesus their King and there is no evidence that the gifts they gave changed them. They were there. They heard the story of Jesus’ amazing birth from Mary, they felt the power of God and maybe the love of God but they missed making Jesus their God. My hope is that we don’t miss it.
Many people celebrate and give gifts at Christmas and they hear the story and feel the love, but fail to make Jesus their Lord and Savior. Like the Magi they were there but missed it. What helps us not miss it is giving gifts that will change us. So what gifts do we need to give to Jesus that will shape our hearts and deepen our faith? What gifts will help us trust Jesus more and help us live a new life? As we look ahead at 2018 and set new goals and resolve to live a new way, the three gifts of the Magi give us some insight and direction to what gift we can give to God.
Our gold is actually a fitting gift to give, because giving our financial resources to God actually does deepen our faith. Because our money is often what we trust in more than anything else, when we begin to give that God it loosens the grip that money and greed has on our lives and it helps us trust God more. As we begin a new year, can we commit to giving the first fruits and the full tithe of our finances?
From the very beginning, people have given an offering to God out of their financial resources. For Cain and Able it was a gift of livestock and grain because that is what they had. What separated Cain and Able’s offering was that Able gave the best potions of his meat from the first born of his flock. He gave the first and the best which showed his faithfulness and trust. God doesn’t want what we have left over, he wants us to give to him first as a sign that we trust him above all things and that we think of God and thank God first, last and always. Giving to God first is how we learn to trust God and it changes our hearts and lives.
From the time of Moses, we have also seen that a tithe, or 10%, given as an offering, has been seen as a faithful way to give to God. While God called for this to be given, many people did not give this way and so through the prophet Malachi God challenged people to give a tithe so that they could see how faithful God would be in return. Malachi 3:8-12
Can we give the full tithe to God and can we set this aside first so that we show God our commitment to him as King of kings and Lord of lords? The Magi gave once, but we don’t see that gift really changing them. God calls for us to give continually, because it is the constant giving of a tithe that helps us trust God day after day. If you have already been doing this and experienced God’s faithful blessing in return, then consider increasing that percentage. The tithe was never given to be a limit on giving, but more as a place to start. When Jesus saw a woman put 2 small copper coins into the offering at the Temple he commended her, not because she was giving her tithe, but because she was giving all she had to live on. She trusted God completely and that is what God wants from us.
Worship is another gift that God wants, because God knows it will change us. Frankincense was used in worship at the Temple and our worship of God is still fitting but worship only changes us, if it is an ongoing part of our lives. Certainly making Sunday morning worship a commitment and priority is important, but worship is not just an event, it really is a way of life. Worship can take place as we give thanks during the day for food and family and friends. Worship takes place as our hearts and maybe our voices sing to God in praise for who he is and what he has done. All through the book of psalms we are told to sing to God and our hearts and minds can sing without words or music because songs can really be attitudes and reflections of our hearts and lives.
Worship is also confessing our sin and humbling ourselves before God, when we realize that we have failed or fallen short of who God wants us to be. Psalm 52 says that God does not take pleasure in burnt offerings, but what God delights in is a broken and contrite spirit. Confession also changes us. It helps us be real about who we are and who we want to be. It helps us change our hearts and actions and opens the door for God to forgive and heal. James 4:10 – Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up. Humility and confession changes us and gives God the opportunity to lift us up to a new life.
The third gift we need to give that will fundamentally change who we are and help us become the people God wants us to be is the death of our self. We need to put to death our pride and give up our need to be in control. Myrrh was a symbol of death and we need to remember that what Jesus asked of all those who followed him was to carry a cross and die to ourselves. Can we die to our need to be in control of all things so God can take control of all things?
This is so much easier said than done. In life, we need to take responsibility and work to move ourselves and our families forward. We need to be intentional, hardworking and plan for the future. We need to make sure we are taking care of things and the people around us so we need to be in control, but we can never forget to keep God at the center of it all. Giving God control of our lives doesn’t mean we stop thinking, planning and working – it means we look to God for wisdom and direction. Letting God take control means we add the step of prayer into our lives before we act so that God can guide us.
Jesus shows us what this looks like. On the night before his death, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He knew soldiers were coming to arrest him and he would be handed over to the religious and political authorities, who would put him to death. Jesus didn’t want to suffer and die on a cross – but more importantly Jesus didn’t want to be in control of his own life – he wanted God to be in control so he prayed, not my will but thy will be done. This is the prayer of one seeking to have God be fully in control of their lives. This needs to be our prayer and this really is the gift God wants from us in the New Year.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement had his own prayer for giving God control that is also a great way for us to pray in the New Year. We have included this prayer on the next steps and I would invite you to keep it and place it somewhere where you will see it and be able to pray it each day.
So what Gift will we give to God in this New Year? Will we give our Financial Resources in a way that helps us trust God more? Will we give our daily worship of God that will help us love God more? Will we die to ourselves and give over control to God each and every day so we can be the people God truly wants us to be? The Magi gave gifts that point us in this direction. We don’t know if this is how they gave, but if this is what we will give we won’t miss the opportunity to deepen our faith and trust in God in the New Year. Let us give the gift of our lives to God in 2018 and let us start today.
Would you join me in prayer, as we give ourselves to God:
Almighty God, I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
What Gift Will You Give?
Read the Story of the Magi in Matthew 2:1-12.
1. Gold was a precious, expensive gift fit for a king.
• How can you order your financial giving in 2018 so that God will receive your best and first gifts?
• What percentage are you currently giving to God? Can you increase this in 2018?
• How can all of your financial plans honor God?
2. Frankincense was a spice used in perfumes and the burning of incense in worship.
• Commit to being in worship every Sunday in 2018.
• Set aside time each day to praise God?
• Humble yourself in confession and prayer each day.
3. Myrrh was used embalming.
• How can you die to yourself in 2018?
• What area of control do you struggle to give to God?
• What would it look like for you allow God to be in control of this area?