Whose birthday is it?

gold_frankincense_myrhh“And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11 ESV).

When I asked the children at a Sunday service, “Who gets gifts on your birthday?” Their answer was a loud, “I do!”

Then I asked them, “Since Christmas is the birthday of Jesus, who should get gifts?”

They shouted in response, “Jesus!” The logic was inescapable even for a child.

The gospel according to Matthew reported that Magi came bearing gifts for Jesus. These men were probably Persian or Babylonian wise men, students of the stars and of ancient Middle Eastern writings. Perhaps they had access to the writings of Moses, that king Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon had acquired when he conquered Israel and looted the Jewish temple. Maybe the Babylonian wisemen who were their forefathers had been saved by Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzer’s dream and ever since, the Magi had been students of the Hebrew writings which we call the Old Testament.

Certainly, there is a prophecy concerning a coming king found in the Torah that said a “star will come out of Jacob” and a “scepter will rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). If the Magi were students of these writings, the appearance of a new star over Israel would have led them to conclude that the prophesied Messianic King had arrived.

It seems ironic that these foreigners would travel to the land of the people of the Book looking for a prophesied king, when those to whom the Book and the King truly belonged, failed to recognize his arrival. The Magi traveled a great distance bearing gifts while the people of God went about their daily business unaware of the significance of the season. The Magi brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh while the people of faith brought him nothing.

As people of faith today we often make the same oversight. We get caught up in the busyness of Christmas and forget to acknowledge the one for whom the season exists. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can offer Jesus the same three gifts that the Magi did centuries ago.

We can offer Jesus the gift of gold. Gold is a gift fit for a king. We can acknowledge Jesus as the King, the Lord of our lives. We can give him the gift of gold. How? Jesus said if you’ve done it for the “least of these,” then you’ve done it for him. We can show that Jesus is king over our possessions by giving to the “least of these” this Christmas. We can submit to Christ as Lord and King over our time, talent and treasure.

We can offer Jesus the gift of frankincense.  Frankincense is a gift fit for a priest. This aromatic resin was highly valued. The odoriferous substance was used throughout the Jewish temple as a main ingredient in the holy anointing oil, and was burned with the meat offering. Giving Jesus the gift of frankincense means that we acknowledge him as our divine priest, the one who mediates between God and men. We can recognize Jesus as the only mediator between God and humanity.

We can offer Jesus the gift of myrrh. Myrrh is a gift fit for a savior. Like frankincense this resinous exudate was prized for its aromatic qualities. While it had many uses it was especially known as a medicine to relieve pain and a spice employed to prepare the dead for burial. When we offer Jesus the gift of myrrh we recognize that he himself is our sin sacrifice and accept him as our Savior.

Christmas is the season when we celebrate that God “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” It is also the season when we can acknowledge God’s gift by giving back to him. Wise men and women still offer him gifts fit for a King, a Priest, and a Savior.

Will you include Jesus on your gift list this year? After all, it is His birthday.

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