Dr. Ed Wright, Senior Pastor

Collegedale SDA Church

Collegedale, Tennessee

Summary: Gift giving has its roots right at the heart of the Christmas story. In the right sequence, and given to the right Person, a gift is an act of worship. For the wise men and for us, the giving of the gift is as much worship as the bowing and adoration and praise.

Christmas and gifts just go together! And gifts can mean a lot of different things. I received a gift on my 50th birthday that I’m sure was meant as a joke.

It was a plastic denture case. Would a friend really do something like that? Some gifts are more of a courtesy exchange, the kind of thing you feel obligated to do. Maybe you’re buying for an acquaintance and you don’t really put a lot of yourself into it—either time or money. It is expected of you and you want to be accepted, so you do what’s expected.

I hope that during this season we are motivated by hearts of love. At my house I’ve heard a few whispered conversations and have seen a few sneaky peeks here and there. Surprises are fun! When it’s the people you care about, you spend lots of time and energy just to find the right gift.

So what is it about gifts and Christmas? Is it just a product of St. Nicholas and a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer? Is it a folklore myth that brings Christmas and gifts together? Some of you say, ?No.? There was a St. Nicholas, a real cleric of some centuries ago, who tried to embody the values of Jesus Christ in giving to others. But what does that have to do with Christmas?

Outsiders in. Giving is part of the Christmas story. If you turn to Matthew, Chapter 2, we will set the stage. Matthew 1 includes a genealogy. Then there is a brief conversation between the angel and Joseph, but there’s not much detail given. We would expect that Chapter 2 would open with the birth of Jesus, but we read: ?After Jesus was born.? Matthew’s purpose was not to describe Christ’s birth. He simply says, ?After Jesus was born in Bethlehem ? magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, ?Where is the one that has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him.’? There are no details about what happened that very important night. Instead, Matthew fast forwards to the journey of these curious people called magi.

?Magi? is not a common word today. There is much folklore around these people but very little solid information. We don’t know if they were kings or if there were three of them. We’re not told exactly where they came from, except that it was East. We don’t know their names. Actually, we know very little. So, what do we know? Well, magi were considered to be holy people. They studied various holy writings, were familiar with astronomy, but also delved into astrology. They believed that at a person’s birth, their future could be foretold by the position of the stars. They believed many unusual things and perhaps even delved into some spiritism. There were strange things going on with the magi. So much so, that Jews considered magi detestable. They were right down there with prostitutes and profligates! To even consider that magi were involved in Jesus’ birth was overwhelming. It rocked the world of these Jews!

Matthew is very clear. It is the outcasts who play a pivotal role in recognizing Jesus for who He is. There are no outsiders with Jesus, and He makes this point over and over again. We simply know the magi came from the East. It could have been Moab, 40-50 miles away; Euphrates, 400 miles away; or Persia, 1200 miles away. We are not sure they rode camels, but if they did, it may have taken them three to four months to travel 1200 miles. If they were walking, a year! That’s why Matthew says, ?After Jesus was born.? The family likely moved from the stable of His birth to a more permanent place, but they didn’t leave Bethlehem. That’s significant. They didn’t go back to Nazareth but stayed right there for important events—perhaps like this one.

More than a hunch. And so the magi ask, ?Where is the one who’s been born King of the Jews?? What they knew about this important king is not revealed. Some have wondered if they had a copy of the Jewish Old Testament. That’s possible, for Jews had been exiled to Persia for hundreds of years. Whatever their source, they were convinced enough to get up off the couch, fire up the camel, and go out of their way to follow more than a hunch. This wasn’t just ?Well, what do you think? Shall we drop in?? They invested incredible amounts of time and energy and resources to investigate. They were under Divine conviction!

The same God who spoke to them later and said ?You’d better go home a different way,? was speaking to their hearts saying, ?I’ve got something you must see!? They followed the star and said ?We have come to worship him.? They knew this wasn’t just any baby. He must have been royalty. No, rather, He must have been deity; for they came to worship Him.

In verses 9 and on we read. ?After they had heard the king, they went on their way; and the star they had seen in the East went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.? Notice, He wasn’t a baby any longer, He was a child. ?When they saw the star they were overjoyed.

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 and incense and myrrh.? Gifts. This is where gift giving has its roots—in a biblical Christmas story. It’s right at the heart of the story. They didn’t just make the trip. They came prepared.

Everyone brought something. Gift giving was quite an expected practice at that time and place. In 2 Chronicles the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. Notice 2 Chronicles 9:1. ?When the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, she came to Jerusalem ? arriving with a very great caravan with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, precious stones ?? She knew what was expected. You brought gifts to royalty!

In verse 22, ?King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth ?Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, and robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.? Interesting. Everyone brought a gift. Let me remind you of another Old Testament experience—a ritual or daily part of Jewish life—the Old Testament sanctuary. Every worshipper was invited to bring a sacrifice. Depending on the wealth of the worshipper and the event, it might be a cow. But few people could afford to bring a cow. More might be able to bring a lamb or goat. Some could only afford a pigeon or a dove. And some, not even that. The Old Testament law allowed the worshipper to bring a handful of flour. Everyone could afford a handful of flour. And everybody was meant to bring something.

In Psalm 96 there is a description of this kind of God-worship—not just royalty worship—but God-worship. Psalm 96:8: ?Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.? What is that next phrase? ?Bring an offering.? ?Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name? is a part of giving Him worth and honor and glory. To ?bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.? Every worshipper is meant to bring an offering.

Whatever it takes. This isn’t an offering appeal. This is recognition that we as worshippers bring a gift. It’s not surprising that when the magi finally found the Christ child, they gave Him something. But the sequence is very important. Look at Matthew 2. It is so important that it must inform what we do, not only today, but always. ?On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary? (vs. 11). Step number one: they found him. Finding Jesus is critical. It’s the first thing we do. Find Him at all cost. Whatever it takes, find Him.

But don’t end there. What happened next? ?They bowed down and worshipped him.? That was more than just a code phrase. That meant to Matthew’s Jewish readers that this was more than just a baby. You only worship the Divine. You worship God alone. For these holy men, foreigners as they were, to bow down, face-in-the-dust worship, that’s significant! If you have really found Jesus, you will instinctively bow down in worship. He is infinitely greater than we are and deserves our adoration. So, first we find Jesus. Second, we bow down and worship Him.

Finally, number three. After you have found Him and have worshipped Him, then, you give Him of your treasure. If you get it the other way around, it feels like pressure and manipulation. It doesn’t feel good at all. But if you have first found Him and worshipped Him, the giving is natural and instinctive, and comes from your heart.

We give gifts—sometimes as a joke, sometimes as a courtesy exchange, sometimes as a bribe, sometimes as a display of pride, or ego. I hope we give as an expression of love. In the right sequence, and given to the right Person, a gift is an act of worship. And for those wise men and for us, the giving of the gift is as much worship as the bowing and adoration and praise. We must continue to seek Him with all our hearts. When we have found Him, we must bow and worship. But we must also give Him the most important thing that we have. Our hearts.

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July–September, 2002

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