What to Give to the Person Who Already Has Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh (Cassandra Millis)

We’ve reached the time of year when you have to take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror… and practice your face of “How did you know that a sweater with kittens in mittens with real mittens sewn onto it so you can stick your hands awkwardly by your stomach is exactly what I wanted!” (That sweater is a true story, by the way.) It’s easy to give a bad gift. It’s easy to give a generic gift. (Legitimately, most women really do like gift baskets from Bath and Body Works.) It’s hard to give a really wonderful, memorable and significant gift.

The Young Adult Bible Study (Reknew) was discussing what makes a great gift and the list shouldn’t surprise you. “It’s personal”, “show forethought”, “something you didn’t even know you wanted but they seem to know you better than you know yourself.” That’s setting the bar pretty high. What’s wrong with a nice gift card?

From a Biblical perspective, the first gifts of Christmas that spring to mind are that of the Wise Men. (Bonus points for anyone who gives their loved ones gold, frankincense and myrrh.) However, there was another group that brought an offering to Mary and Joseph: something more personal and definitely something they couldn’t have known they wanted but would certainly bless their lives greatly.

The Wise Men are the gift givers the Gospel writer Matthew is most interested in, while Luke tells us about shepherds. Matthew 2:1-12 tells us how the Wise Men figure out where the “King of Israel” is to be born, and make their way, on their own volition mind you, to see this new ruler, yet instead of just paying respects, they worship the baby. Luke 2:8-20 has the shepherds likewise deciding on their own to visit, only they were told of the birth by an Angelic host that surrounded them. They arrive the same night of Christ’s birth while the Wise Men likely came a good bit afterwards, but they too fall down and worship this child.

There are certainly similarities between the two groups. If you don’t read the texts carefully, you may think Herod sent the Wise Men, or that the angels told the shepherds to visit the family- but neither is true. It is Herod who asks the Wise Men what they’ve learned, and to report to him once they’ve found him so he can “worship him as well” (a.k.a. slaughter any possible threat to his power). The angels tell the shepherds where to look but they are the ones who conclude “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15b). Both groups worship the baby when perhaps only the likely Jewish shepherds would be expected to do so, and both groups bring gifts. But how different the gifts are.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh were all extremely valuable in that time, things only royalty or those of great means would have in any significant quantity. These are gifts for a king which is entirely fitting- as that what Jesus was, but fitting in the way you might get your dad a tie or your teacher a paper-weight. It fits one of their titles, but could be given to any dad or any teacher.

The shepherds bring a message from the angels. They bring “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:11b) If the only words Mary and Joseph have are the ones recorded by the Gospel writers, it really isn’t that much, and honestly, what parents don’t like to hear stories about how wonderful their kid is? The shepherds tell the new parents that their son is the Savior of all people, Christ the Lord. That means Jesus is the “anointed one”, the “messiah” prophesied of old and that He isn’t just the Son of God, He is the Lord, Himself. The angels praise him singing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will to man.” (Luke 11:14) Their son will bring peace and favor, love, affection to the people.

The news of Christ’s salvation is the greatest gift Mary and Joseph could have received, and the greatest gift we can receive. (Yes, Jesus is the best gift- you hear this every year, but that doesn’t make it any less true.) Couldn’t you do with a little more peace and love? And not just peace and love to anyone, from anyone, but from the God who created you and knows you better than anyone else. There is no more personalized and thoughtful gift, and often we don’t even realize that’s what we need. Not to mention, it’s an awful lot better than a kitten sweater.

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