How to Give a Good Gift for Christmas
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 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”…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. (Matthew 2:1-2, 11)
Matthew’s gospel includes the famous Christmas story of three wise men, called Magi, who travel a long way to worship the arrival of Jesus into our world and to offer the baby three gifts. What did they give this two-year-old little boy? Everyone knows the answer - gold, frankincense and myrrh. In my many years of hearing this story I don’t recall anyone stopping and challenging the practicality of these gifts for the divine toddler.
The gold is practical but a bit boring for a little kid. I remember getting $25 savings bonds from my grandparents when I was little boy. I would have traded it in a heartbeat for a $1.99 Hot Wheels car. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I sure did when I cashed those bonds in at 18 and heading out to college on my own nickel. Then there is the frankincense and myrrh. I can imagine, as Jesus tore open the present, Mary and Joseph looking at each other with a puzzled look and crinkled faces, thinking, “I don’t get it.” This may top getting “soap-on-a-rope.”
I am not the only one who feels this way. I recently saw a caption that read, “After the Three Wise Men left, the Three Wiser Women arrived with fresh diapers, casseroles for the week and lots of formula.”1
Actually, after further investigation these guys were right on track with their gifts. Immediately after the Magi headed home, an angel came to Mary and Joseph and told them to flee to Egypt because Herod was in a pursuit to find Jesus and kill him. They were to stay there until Herod died, which would be somewhere between a few weeks to two years. Mary and Joseph were poor. The gold likely funded their compulsory journey. Now, with the recent resurgence of oils as healing agents, we know that frankincense and myrrh are useful for colds, the flu, pneumonia, bacterial and viral infections, and the umbilical cord stump. Rubbed on the head, it also helps reduce fevers. Pretty important stuff to have in your medicine chest especially for a baby. And these oils were very expensive. Today, a little bottle of frankincense costs over $70, so the Wise Men were giving gifts to Mary and Joseph for the well-being of their baby boy that they could never afford. Alright! High five to the Magi.
The quality of a gift is not in the price tag but in the quantity of thought about what the person receiving the gift really needs in this moment of their life.
Take time to think long and hard about where each person is at, then do something for them within your reach that really lifts their spirits, helps and encourages them, and makes them smile. Sometimes it’s…
* …a handwritten note.
For Christmas or my birthday, I have told my children what I really want more than anything is to hear from them in a note on how they are doing and how we are doing in our relationship. I don’t have any of the ties or “soaps-on-a-rope” they bought me, but I do have every single note they have written over the years. If the house was burning down, this would be the first thing I retrieved.
* …an experience.
This year we moved to Kansas City and are renting a small villa that won’t accommodate our four children, their spouses, kids and grand dogs. So, in lieu of tons of presents, we’re using the money to stay a few nights in the world-renowned Country Club Plaza to take in the Christmas lights, KC jazz, shops and tasty BBQ burnt ends. It doesn’t have to be this elaborate though. A person who’s a bit lonely during the holidays might prefer you treat them to one of the great movies released during Christmastime. Most people, particularly as we get older, don’t need another thing to find a spot for in the house or attic. What we long for is experience and community – a museum, a play, a culinary adventure, rock climbing, a cooking class, a golf lesson, sky diving…okay, sky diving may be a bit much.
* …taking something off their to do list.
Some people are overwhelmed in life and would feel such relief if you checked something off their to-do list they’ve been trying to get done for a long time – clean out the garage, paint a room, fix a gutter, clean the house, detail a car. I have my personal list if you are interested.
* …it’s your best dish.
Most people are known for a dish or dessert they make that’s better than anyone else’s. It’s what people ask you to bring to every potluck. My wife is Italian, and she makes a mean pasta marinara. She makes the sauce from scratch and includes in the gift bag uncooked pasta, parmesan cheese, and fresh Italian bread. It’s a scrumptious meal that feeds four to six people that’s meant to provide a night off from planning and cooking a meal from scratch during a busy season.
* …a special gift.
The gift may or may not be expensive. There is nothing wrong with putting it out for a special person. Jesus didn’t stop the woman who poured a year’s wages worth of oil on his feet.2 The key is not the cost of the gift, but the thought of the gift. One thing is for sure, you shouldn’t go into debt this Christmas to provide gifts for your family and friends. You will notice in the passage above that
the Magi took the gifts out of their treasure chest. This simply means they had the money in the bank to pay for what they gave Jesus.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh…was a good gift then…might be the perfect gift for the right person this year. I personally would be pretty jazzed!