The Christmas season is a beautiful one, full of trees and lights and hope and love. As it should be. Though we must guard ourselves from investing more in the myth than the Story, there is no reason we cannot partake of the season's festivities and yes, even give gifts. In fact, we should.
But we should give good gifts.
When the wise men arrived, they came bearing gifts for the young Jesus. Each of these gifts represents the sort of thing we ought to be giving to one another, but each also has a powerful distortion of which we must be aware.
One wise man brought gold. Gold had tremendous value in those times, and it was a gift given to show honor to the recipient. Often, it was a gift given to kings. But it was not a gift to make a man wealthy; in fact, it was assumed that anyone who would be worthy to receive a gift of gold already had more riches than he really needed. It was therefore a gesture, really, of honor and respect.
This is the kind of gift we need to be giving - a gift of honor and respect. But too often, we try simply to give riches. People demand the latest and greatest, the newest and the best. They beg for the status symbols. They want the new iPhone or iPad or the popular new sneakers. And at Christmas, we try to give them all of the things that will make them wealthy in the world's eyes. But do these gifts honor them? Do they respect the very nature of their hearts? Are we bringing gifts that have a hefty price tag or gifts of true investment?
Another wise man brought frankincense. Frankincense was very aromatic and often used in perfumes. It was also commonly used in the oil of anointing. You could smell it a mile away and know that this person had been set apart for the Lord.
This is the kind of gift we need to be giving - a gift of anointing. But too often, we try simply to give perfumes. We try to give others the gift of attraction, all the things that will make them stand out in the world. We want them to be seen from miles away, to be noticed. We want others to be drawn to them, and we think that the best way to do that is to make them smell good. But what if we gave gifts of anointing this season? What if we gave gifts that set our loved ones apart for the Lord? There is something radiant about confident assurance, something unavoidably attractive about a person who knows who they are. Why not pour our the oil of anointing this holiday season, rather than drowning each other in rich perfumes?
The third wise man brought myrrh. Myrrh was used most prominently as a burial preparation. You might think it's weird to give the gift of embalming at Christmas, but it's not about death at all. It's about honoring and preparing the body for its next journey.
This is the kind of gift we need to be giving - a gift of preparation. What is it that the people in our lives are about to step into? Where are they going? What are they poised to do? What has God set before them and how can we invest in that? These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves when we go shopping. This is what we must be mindful of when we start wrapping.
We have a tremendous opportunity in the Christmas season to honor our loved ones in a unique way, in the same way that the wise men of old honored the young Jesus. But too often, we settle for the shallow gift - gold, frankincense, and myrrh the way the world sees them. Too often, we are giving riches, perfumes, and poison.
But it's time for us to take holy back and start giving good gifts. It's time for us to celebrate something sacred this holiday, not just in a manger in Bethlehem, but in the holy seed that is in the heart of every man and woman created in the image of God. It's time for us to throw away the riches, perfumes, and poison and give real gifts of honor, anointing, and preparation.