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Giving Like The Magi

November 27, 2011

Recently, a friend of mine shared his concept of the “3 Gift Christmas” basing it on the idea that Jesus only received three gifts (and certainly we don’t need/deserve more than Jesus, right?).  In the past few years (well, for that fact, all my life), I have struggled with the “giving of stuff” just for the sake of “giving stuff.”  The most treasured and memorable Christmas gifts have been those that had purpose or meaning and were not likely to be “regifted” or recycled in a yard sale a few months later. (not that I’ve ever done that — I’m more inclined to the “hoarding in case it comes in handy someday” practice)

A few years ago, one of the major network news shows did a man-on-the-street segment, asking passers-by what they got for Christmas “last year.”  Ironically, very few (hardly any) could recall.  It caused me to pause and try to remember my own “Christmas past presents” — and I fell into that group of interviewees with an embarrassed and blank look on my face.   I’m certain they were useful — and most likely, my lack of memory has more to do with the “busy-ness” of life, the season and my overcrowded mind than it does with a lack of appreciation.

As the mother of an 11-year old boy, certainly I am wearied by the growing list of “wants” and/or “needs” (in his opinion), but what I really want to give him in this holiday season is an appreciation for “things that count” and “things that will last” — especially memories — for many years to come.  He looks at me with great chagrin when I mention (he sees it as “threatening”) the Dr. Bill McKibbon philosophy of “Hundred Dollar Holiday.”  (if you haven’t read it — please do.  It’s a cheap book on Amazon. Obviously, not one that is in high demand in our capitalist society) But I do think “more stuff” and spending “more money than necessary” is NOT what our focus should be during these precious holiday times.  Of course, NO ONE would argue that with me.  We all see the detriment that commercialism has caused. We all long for the “traditions” and getting back to the “true meaning of Christmas” … “The Reason for the Season “ as many church signs, bumper stickers and appliqued sweatshirts will attest.

So rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater … I’ve been giving my friend’s “3 Gift Christmas” some serious thought  and after some research, I think, “Giving Like The Magi” has some merit.

What an incredible story is told from the perspective of the “Three Kings.” 

Matthew 2 (NKJV)

 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

It doesn’t really say “to whom” they were saying “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  But they must have created enough stir to get audience with King Herod and tell him about their journey.   (and just as a side-bar — I don’t think enough of us are in search of the Nativity or the King of the Jews to create that kind of stir today — but that’s another blog entry)

Here they were … far from home, (http://youtu.be/n08I6D3VR7w) … most likely worn out from this “weary and long journey.”  And yet, with diligence and enthusiasm (i.e. “JOY”) they continued their pursuit to find the “Christ-child.”  (anybody feel like say, “Hallelujah” yet?)

What I appreciate most about these fellas is their “commitment” as well as their “intrigue.”  It is one thing to “notice” something different that’s going on (a bright star in the sky) … but to be so curious as to follow it to see what it’s all about is a whole other thing.   That must have been a VERY BRIGHT STAR, huh?

11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Notice something in that passage:  “they saw the young Child with Mary His mother”.  Now when the shepherds went searching for Jesus, the Bible says that they “found the Babe” lying in a manger.

Luke 2

16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.

The Magi are not mentioned in Luke’s version of the Nativity story … and for the sake of the length of this post, I won’t go into the history aspect of the age of Jesus when the Magi arrived.  But suffice it to say, their journey was long and arduous … and their commitment to honor and worship Him is commendable.

So they brought to him “GIFTS” — gold, frankincense and myrrh.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gift of gold from the Magi was a statement of Jesus’ royal status.  It said to the Christ-child, “You will be King.”  Gold was precious and worthy across all cultures.  Were we to follow the tradition of the Magi, most of our “gift-recipients” would not wince at the gift of “gold.”   But while we know it is valuable and that it might be something worth “holding on to” as a treasure, in recent years, this would have to be questioned with all the “WE BUY GOLD” merchants popping up.  Maybe there is a more purposeful, and priceless means of “giving gold,” to a loved one.

Personally, I think giving something that someone will value and treasure, requires considering what stirs the heart and mind of that person.  Sure, there’s a certain level of maturity that is required when it comes to appreciating “the thought that counts.”  Nevertheless, (as I continue to opine) it appears to me that all people are impressed when someone truly pays attention to what “matters” to them.  I personally think such “considerations” are priceless and will not be forgotten, nor pawned or sold at the local “gold” shop.

Every year, I think about this one gift that I received about 15 years ago.  I had a holiday work party to attend … and I wanted to have a date for it.  Of and on, I had been seeing this gentleman that probably could have become very significant, if I had not been so “flighty with my affections.”  In any event, I asked him to escort me to the party and he kindly accepted.  We dressed up, went to the fancy dinner and had a most enjoyable time (probably one of the best times I’ve ever had on a “respectable” date).  He was a perfect gentleman and great company the whole evening.  About a week after the party, he came knocking on my door on a Saturday evening and said, “I wanted to bring you this … for Christmas.” I WAS NOT expecting any sort of gift from him.  But he told me that he really enjoyed our date and really “appreciated” that I thought enough of him to ask him share in that evening.  He handed me a wrapped gift and asked me to open it.

I began un-wrapping the flat, shirt-box present to find a “flannel night shirt” inside.  I was taken back, I admit … at first, it seemed a bit bizarre that he would even buy me a present — but a flannel, night shirt.  

He said, “I hope you don’t mind me giving this to you.  It reminded me of you.”

Quite honestly, it had been so long (so very long) since I had received any kind of gift from a man … my heart was pounding.   But as I looked at that flannel gown, I said to myself, “This fellow kinda “gets” me.”  Truly, I’m not a lacy, frilly, kind of gal.  I’m not even a jewelry kind of gal.  But I am a flannel night shirt kind of gal — and he understood that.  It had no strings attached … just from one friend to another and I’ve never forgotten that gift.  I don’t have the night shirt anymore, and this friend has moved on.  But I’m still impressed that ‘once upon a time’ — it really was the “thought that counted.”

Now frankincense (as it is known to the western world) is a resin called “olibanum”  derived from the Arabic “al-lub” (the milk), a reference to the milky sap that comes from the Boswellia tree.  Frankincense is known for its medicinal and soothing properties, and many herbalists say it has calming, restorative, clarifying and meditative effects. In ancient times, it was used to treat depression and they burned it believing the “incense” carried their prayers to heaven.  As a gift from the Magi, it signifies Jesus role as our Priest … our connection … to God and everlasting life.

My goodness, I read that and can’t help but think of all the people who suffer from depression during the holiday season.  Certainly, we could all use a little “soothing … some calm and some restoration … clarity and prayer.”   Too many people (self- included) embark upon this season with a sense of dread and anxiety.  Too many people (self-included) feel disconnected and dysfunctional.  Frankincense may not be a practical gift, but there is nothing more practical that “connecting” with others.  When the world is saying “hurry here and hurry there” — “catch this sale” or “come here for your last minute shopping,” — remember “FRANKINCENSE” and how valuable some “calm, restorative, and authentic fellowship” would be to those you love and even a friend or co-worker who needs the “sweet essence of community.”

Myrrh is perhaps the most mysterious of the Magi gifts. Myrrh is an Arabic word for bitter, and it is considered a wound healer because of its strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. The Chinese used it for centuries to treat wounds, bruises and bleeding and to relieve painful swelling. Another use for myrrh is for preservation. It was used as an embalming agent for Egyptian mummies and as a gift from the Magi to Jesus, it signifies that He would “die for our sins.” In fact, myrrh, was one of the oils/spices taken by the women to the tomb to treat Jesus body.

 I don’t know about you and your family, but mine could definitely use a little (or a LOT) myrrh.

“WOUND HEALER!”  

 “STRONG ANTISEPTIC!” 

“ANTI-INFLAMMATORY!”

“PRESERVATIVE!” 

Sounds like an ideal prescription for family dysfunction.  What better gift for your family than to “HEAL” rather than allow those wounds to continue to fester and set up infection for generations to come.

The problem is … going to Walgreen’s and purchasing enough myrrh to “rub down” the whole family is not practical.  But don’t be mistaken, you can buy myrrh … in all kinds of forms … just GOOGLE it.  In my research, I did find one rather “ironic” use for myrrh in present times.  It is used in some “mouthwash.”  Discovering this little tidbit, I thought, “Well … that’s just like God.”

Most family dysfunction is a result of poor or bad communication — THE TONGUE!  Things are said that should not have been said, creating wounds that never get that “much needed antiseptic” of an apology or forgiveness.  How ironic (and GOD-LIKE) indeed that “myrrh” would be used in an antiseptic mouthwash. We need to wash out our mouth  —- rid it of all criticisms, back-biting, hateful exchanges, untruths and insults to injury.  Rather than allowing further inflammation to our hearts and souls, we need some “myrrh ointment” to treat those wounds and allow healing to take place.

Is it that simple?  No, it’s not.  On paper … the logic just flows right out, but we all know that family dynamics and the “peopleness of people” will certainly make “giving like the Magi” a virtual impossibility.  Except —- Jesus, Himself, has another Word for us!

Matthew 19

26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

And in Mark 11, He says,
25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him,  that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.

So … if we (especially “me”) were to embrace this “giving” in the tradition of the Magi, considering the significance of gold, frankincense and myrrh, truly there would be less “trinkets” under the tree. Furthermore, I suspect there would be no more “Black Friday Madness” or “Last Minute Shopping” either.  As the Magi took an incredible and long journey to deliver their gifts to a family and child they did not know —- and we remember their gifts to Him more than we remember our own gifts to and from our family —- why would we not embark upon the same journey to honor our own families with “gifts” they will surely treasure for generations to come?

Matthew 6

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 Merry Christmas … and Happy Holidays forever!

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