Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh were gifts we are told were given by the Magi because they were some of the most valuable things that people could have at that time. It was a statement that Jesus was valuable beyond anything. And, as you also know, it was more than that:
Frankincense – was (and is) often made into incense and used in worship. So it represents who Jesus was as “God with us” – It represents life.
Myrrh was used to embalm mummies, especially those of rich, important people. So it symbolized the suffering and death that Jesus would experience when he was grown up and the honoring of what was to come.
There is more in this story than even that. The magi or wise men also travelled a very long way with their gifts. They gave to Jesus a huge gift, then, of their time and their energy as well as their material gifts.
We understand their value, we understand that they had deep meaning, that these gifts were the most important and valuable things they could give, materially but also in terms of their energy and time.
If Jesus were born among us today, and you knew about it, knew who he was and why he was coming. If you were invited to go to the birth of Jesus, what would you give, what would you bring? I invite you to think about that for a minute.
In the Advent Devotionals that went out, Lisa and Lynn Justice mentioned the story in the blog, Hyperbole and a Half called, “The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas.” We have enjoyed Hyperbole and a Halffor a long time, but I did not remember this story, so we looked it up and I read it out loud to the whole family. It is hilarious and I laughed so hard I was crying by the end. In the story, the author describes a childhood event in which she was trying to get her family to act out the Christmas story and she assigned parts to her family members to play in the story. Her aunt and grandmother were to be the Magi and the writer insisted that they bring gifts for the baby Jesus. Apparently her aunt and grandma were a bit tipsy at this point in the story and so they grabbed whatever they could find to give as gifts. This included a pack of cigarettes, the remote control and a Kenny Loggins tape. My kids were not nearly as impressed with the story as I was. They didn’t find it nearly as hilarious, in part because they sympathized with the author as a little girl whose needs were not being attended to in the story. But it did kick off a conversation for us about what presents would be appropriate and what presents we might bring to Jesus today. The first suggestion was diapers. After all, that’s a really useful, needed thing for babies, and we all know that if a person is poor, diapers, even if you use cloth and just need to be constantly cleaning them, they amount to a cost that is not insignificant. “But,” I challenged, “diapers is really a gift more for the parents than for the baby.”
“Also,” I reminded them, “the gifts brought to Jesus signified the best that people had, the most valuable things and gifts and resources that the Magi, or anyone at that time, had.”
That led into a discussion of two of my favorite Christmas stories – the Littlest Angel, and the Little Drummer Boy. If you recall the story of the Littlest Angel, the one thing that made this little boy angel happy was a box of his favorite collected stuff – depending on the version of the story it’s a small box of things that would make a young boy happy, like string and a stick, the box itself, the collar of his pet dog, a stuffed bear. Before getting this box he was very unhappy in heaven and it was the one thing that brought him consolation and joy. But when he hears about Jesus’ birth, he wants to give him the best that he has, the thing he values most, so he adds this box of everything that gave him joy into the pile of gifts. He is running away in shame, feeling that the gifts he has are not worth anything when God chooses that gift to be the Star over Bethlehem. Now while I realize there could be a lot of critique about the story (if it becomes the Star, for example, it’s still not a gift that the baby can actually play with…), none the less, the gift he gave was one a small boy would appreciate and would love, and it was also the thing that was most valued by the Littlest Angel in the story.
I like the Little Drummer Boy even better because what he gave was his talent, was his ability. He gave the gift of his music to the baby: the best he had, all he had. I like it because it was a gift that babies really do value – music, especially drumming, perhaps. And I like it because it also was the best that the Drummer Boy had.
So for me, giving our best involves two things: giving what is needed, will be appreciated, will be valued by the recipient; and giving what we value, what is the best we have to give.
And as I thought about this, I realized that this is the same answer to the question, “what is call” – it is when your greatest gifts, your greatest joy, and the world’s greatest needs meet. That is our call: that which brings us joy, that which we are gifted in, and that which is most needed by the world.
Those are the gifts that we should be bringing to the Christ child, those are the gifts that we bring to God.
But I was thinking that perhaps we should take this a step further. When we give gifts to anyone, they should also be given with these same intentions. We want to give our best to those around us because they are God’s children and we are called to love them as we would love ourselves. We would want the best – so we should give the best. Not only to God, but to our neighbors, to those around us. We give our best time – perhaps that is Sunday mornings when you could be out golfing or sleeping in, but we give our best time every day as well: maybe at dinner with a prayer and with attention to those with whom we are eating. We also give our best energy to serving those around us, to loving those around us, to caring for those around us. And we are called to give our best material gifts as well: things that we value, things the other will value.
I’m reminded of a praise song, “My Own Little World” by Matthew West. These are the lyrics:
In my own little world it hardly ever rains
I’ve never gone hungry, I’ve always felt safe
I got some money in my pocket and shoes on my feet
In my own little world, population — me
I try to stay awake through Sunday morning church
I throw a twenty in the plate but I never give ’til it hurts
And I turn off the news when I don’t like what I see
It’s easy to do when it’s population – me
What if there’s a bigger picture, What if I’m missing out
What if there’s a greater purpose, I could be living right now
Outside my own little world
Stopped at a red light, looked out my window
I saw a carboard sign, said ‘Help this homeless widow’
Just above this sign was the face of a human
I thought to myself, ‘God, what have I been doing?’
So I rolled down my window and I looked her in the eye
Oh how many times have I just passed her by?
I gave her some money then I drove on through
And my own little world reached population two
(Creator,) break my heart for what breaks Yours, Give me open hands and open doors
Put Your light in my eyes and let me see, That my own little world is not about me
What if there’s a bigger picture, What if I’m missing out
What if there’s a greater purpose, That I could be living right now
I don’t wanna miss what matters, I wanna be reaching out
Show me the greater purpose, So I can start living right now
Outside my own little world,
We started today’s scripture lessons with another scripture, and in that passage from Luke we are given the sole glimpse into Jesus’ childhood years. He was sitting in the temple listening to the teachers, learning, growing. But it caused his parents, who didn’t know where he was, to worry at his absence and to be very upset when they couldn’t find him. His response was that he needed to be in his Father’s house. And perhaps we might find this response to be snippy and less than giving. But this is another time when perhaps our ideas of what is loving, what is giving need to be challenged. Being loving and giving does not always look like “being nice”. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to speak truth to the other, sometimes the most valuable thing we can give is a different way of looking at or understanding something.
I found myself reflecting on this during this week after looking at our church’s YouTube channel. As you may know, we have several interviews with Roger Woolsey from his time here, posted on our YouTube channel. He is well known, and because of his non-fundamentalist ideas about Christianity, he also has quite a few people who really hate what he has to say. Those who believe in a very judgmental, very angry, very hierarchical God are not going to like what Roger has to say. As a result, because he is so well known, most of the comments we receive on our YouTube channel are comments left in response to Roger’s interviews and most are proclaiming that Roger is going to hell because of his beliefs in a loving, accepting, compassionate God. Roger knows his scriptures very well and quotes them often in his arguments for that God. But those who respond are mostly just angry, attacking, and even threatening. But as I thought about what giving from our hearts, giving what is most valuable to us looks like, I found myself thinking of Roger. Despite the commenter’s anger, despite the fact that he is challenging their thinking, their very world view, their rigidity and judgments, he is giving to them a different world view, from his heart, from his sense of call and purpose. He is giving to God by speaking words of adoration and praise for a God of love, grace, and compassion.
We are to follow Jesus and Jesus gave everything – even his life for us. We, too, are called to be givers, like Jesus, but also like the Magi, of that which is most valuable to us, that which uses the best of who we are, that which is most needed and wanted by those in our world, and that which is a giving back of what has been given to us – our talents, our resources and our time.