“The Most Important Gift”


January 4, 2015


Text: Matthew 2:1-12


          I’m sure many of us have heard this joke:

What would have happened if it had been three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men?
They would have asked directions,
arrived on time,
helped deliver the baby,
cleaned the stable,
made a casserole,
and brought practical gifts.
Here is the part of the joke I hadn’t heard before: (invite women helping here to stand)
But what they would have said when they left...?
"Did you see the sandals Mary was wearing with that gown?"
"That baby doesn't look anything like Joseph!"
"Virgin, my eye! I knew her in school!"
"Can you believe that they let all of those disgusting animals in the house?"
"I heard that Joseph isn't even working right now!"
"And that donkey they are riding has seen better days too!"
"Want to bet on how long it will take until you get your casserole dish back?"

(thank helpers and invite to be seated)

          A few weeks ago I made a comment on Facebook that the Wise Men were the originators of the impractical Christmas gift. Seriously, of what use are gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a baby? Oh, sure, I know about the symbolic meanings of these gifts—gold because Jesus is a King; frankincense, which was burned as an act of worship, because he is divine; and myrrh, a spice used to prepare dead bodies for burial, because he would die for the sins of humankind. These were very expensive gifts. But they don’t seem very practical, even less practical than the proverbial ugly Christmas sweater, which hadn’t been invented yet.

          But a response to my comment on Facebook got me to thinking. Do you remember what happened after the Wise Men did not return to Herod, because God had told them in a dream to go home instead? Herod got very upset and ordered the slaughter of all males under the age of two in Bethlehem. Jesus escaped only because God had warned Joseph in a dream to get out of there, so the Holy Family fled to Egypt. Now what did Joseph, Mary, and Jesus live on in Egypt? Maybe Joseph would have been able to find some kind of work, but knowing how foreign laborers often get treated, I wonder if that would have been enough. But they did have the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It was worth a lot of money. What was suggested to me, and it makes a lot of sense, is that the Holy Family was able to sell the gold, frankincense, and myrrh in Egypt, giving them enough funds to live on until it was safe for them to return home. If that’s the case, the gifts the Magi gave were a lot more practical than we might think.

          But I submit today that the most important gift the Magi gave the Christ Child was not the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. For there were two other gifts they gave.

          First of all, they gave him their worship, their homage, their honor and respect. Before they even opened their treasure chests and pulled out the rare and expensive material gifts, the Wise Men knelt before the holy Child and worshipped him.

          And secondly, when God warned the Wise Men in a dream not to return to Herod, they obeyed. They went home by a different route, and thus helped to preserve the Christ Child’s life.

          So, what is the most important gift we can give the Christ Child?

          Well, our material gifts to God through Jesus Christ are important. They are what we use to do ministry as a church in the world. They are how we help people who are in need. I certainly do not want to downplay their importance. But they are far from the whole ball of wax. For one thing, not all are equally able to give in this way. And there is also the temptation to let our money do the work of ministry for us without getting personally involved in the lives of those who need to know God’s love in Jesus Christ.

          Our worship and devotion to Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is also important. Not only is this a way we show honor to God, it is also how we deepen our relationship with him. It is how we place ourselves in God’s presence to learn from him and grow in our faith and our witness for him.

          Our obedience to God is also important. Living the Jesus way in the world, loving and serving the people Jesus loved and served, especially the poor and outcast, following the teachings of Jesus in our dealings with others, are ways in which we demonstrate how God wants the world to be. Unfortunately, some Christians misunderstand what this means. They act is if Jesus was a legalistic killjoy just waiting to beat up on anyone who makes a mistake. We forget that God’s judgment is about more than punishing wrongdoing. It’s also about setting things right in the world and vindicating the innocent.

          Jesus promised to give us joy. The Magi rejoiced when they found the Christ Child. Being a follower of Jesus means we are to be joyful in giving to him, in worshipping him, in serving our neighbor on his behalf. And Jesus forgives those who make mistakes instead of beating up on them.

          We can give our material gifts. We can give our worship. We can give our obedience. Better still, we can give the Christ Child all these gifts, and more, by giving him ourselves and our lives—all we have, all we are, all we are meant to become. When we give God in Christ our lives, God can use us and everything about us to fulfill his purposes in the world. This is the most important gift we can give to God. Let us do so with joyful hearts and minds.


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