After a long time of build up - seeing pictures of Santa, reindeer, snowmen, decorated pine and fir trees, presents, candy canes and the like, Christmas lights go up, the Christmas adverts hit the TVs, the annual Christmas songs being played on the radio - it has finally arrived! The most anticipated day of the year; ‘Christmas day’! Excitement has built up in many around the world. It is a reason to celebrate for many, as it is a holiday of great enjoyment in which Santa Claus brings us gifts or that we give gifts to one another.
But have we forgotten exactly why we celebrate and give gifts to one another? Are we excited for the right reasons? We can have every right to be excited about receiving a gift that has our name on it; perhaps being the very thing we want this Christmas. But perhaps unappreciated is the fact that someone else has paid the price for the gift that we are so excitedly about to unwrap and receive.
We live in a world where Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday and nothing more. It is too easy to get suckered into this mind-set, and forget that Christmas is really all about remembering the greatest gift ever presented; God’s Son, The Lord Jesus Christ.
We have been learning this week that the baby born in a manger would grow up to become the man given to pay the sin for all of humanity. He has done this by subjecting himself to the wrath of God, in our place, on the cross, and has conquered death by rising from the grave three days after he was buried. Because of His sacrifice we can be saved from our sins and have eternal life shared with God in Heaven if we put our trust in Him.
It is wonderful what has been done for us and an extraordinary event that God would send His Son to be born on Earth. Some men who appreciated this moment were the first documented worshippers of the baby. The men that our giving of gifts on Christmas day has derived from, due to the items they gave the Lord. The magi, otherwise known as wise men, due to their intelligence, worked out that The Saviour would be born and sought to find Him. We read of them in the book of Matthew chapter 2:
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2: 1-12)
Why did they give these particular gifts? Gold, frankincense and myrrh were rare, precious and expensive but not typical gifts for a baby. For the wise men, they represented their best to honour the new-born king, and these gifts represented the future roles of Jesus.
Gold was the usual offering presented to kings by their subjects, or those wanting to pay respect. When the wise men presented gold, they were honouring Jesus with the very best they possessed, and they also were recognizing that Jesus was no ordinary child, but the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. In both the Old Testament Tabernacle and the Temple, gold was used plentifully, so we see that gold is also associated with worship. And we are told that in the heavenly city we will "walk on streets of gold." (Revelation 21:21)
Frankincense represents Jesus' divinity. It is a very costly and fragrant gum distilled from a tree. It was used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God. It also was used as medicine and as perfume. The wise men knew this baby was God, and they fell down in worship of Him. They would have read Isaiah 9:6 which says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government will be on His shoulders: and he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus was not only born a king, He was God in human flesh.
There may be some who read this and say, “Well, I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is God, but I do believe that He was a good man.” What did Jesus say? “And Jesus said to him, Why do you call Me good? No-one is good - except God alone” (Mark 10:18). If Jesus Christ is not God, then He is not good by His own words and if Jesus Christ is a man and only a man, He is a liar, a fraud, and an imposter for He Himself claimed to be God: “Before Abraham was born, I Am” (John 8:58). “I AM” is the most sacred name for God and Jesus claimed it for Himself.
While frankincense represents sweetness, myrrh represents bitterness. Myrrh is similar to frankincense in that it is an aromatic gum and is obtained from a tree. However, it is used when embalming the dead. It might seem a very strange gift for a baby but the magi knew that Jesus was born to ultimately die. It was used on Jesus body after his crucifixion as noted in John 19:39. Myrrh was brought as a gift to acknowledge the human suffering Jesus would experience as a man.
There was no doubt that these men knew that this baby as their divine King, who would suffer for them.
As you enjoy your Christmas time this year and open up your gifts, think of the magi and their gifts for the King, and like these wise men we should bow down and praise God that he came down as a baby to be our Saviour. Let's symbolically give gold to honour Jesus as King. Let's give frankincense to worship Him for being divine, and let's give myrrh as a reminder that He identifies with us because of His death on the cross.