The Gift [Matthew 2:1-12]
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The Gift – 12.11.2022
[Matthew 2:1-12 and Mark 14:3-9]
As a child around Christmas, I had no self-control when it came to Christmas presents. If it was there, and it had my name on it, it was going to get opened, and quick. And so growing up, we had no gifts under the tree until Christmas morning. Now, in our house, we had some rules. All the bedrooms were upstairs, and the tree was in the living room at the bottom of the stairs, and so we would wake up, crack of 5 am. But we were not allowed to go downstairs, not until mom and dad got up. And stroke of brilliance on my parents part – we were not allowed to wake mom and dad up until 7am. So by 5:30, we four kids are all wide awake. Sitting in the hallway at the top of the stairs, peering into the darkness down the stairs. Imagining that we can see the faint outline of the tree, and the packages. And we would sit there and guess who each package was for, guess what it was. It was so exciting, and this was at 5:30 in the morning so of course by 5:32 we are antsy, we want to go down there. But we know the rules. And so what we would do, is we would sit in the hallway, talking loudly and “accidentally” bumping against the wall to wake mom and dad up early.
Now, when I got married, we developed a slightly different tradition. Now we wrap presents as we buy them. You buy something, wrap it right away, and then put it under the tree. So, there can be presents under the tree for weeks with my name on it. And it’s the strangest thing because I feel like a little kid. “Hey, this one’s got my name on it. But it’s only December 6th. Can I open this?” When we first got married, I was 23 years old, first married Christmas, and I’m five years old all over again – is this for me? No, you can’t open that – wait until Christmas. W-Wait?” And here’s the thing, the present stays there, all the time, not getting opened. Sitting there, trying to get the cats to tear the edge, so I can take a peek. As much as we try to claim otherwise, presents are big part of Christmas.
So, imagine with me, if you will, imagine a present sitting under the tree. Now this present is special, because you are giving it. You know what’s in it. You know that it’s exactly what the person wants, it’s just what they need. It’s a beautiful present, good wrapping paper, none of those pesky ribbons that cannot be broken with the muscles of mortals. Just a nice present, and you are very excited to give it. Imagine Christmas morning comes, and the kids ignore the present. They don’t want to open it. They come thundering down the stairs looking for breakfast. So you do breakfast, and now they want to play outside. Still the present sits under the tree – unopened. They even talk about the present sometimes, but they never opened it. You encourage them to open the present, but they say things like, “I’m not worthy to have it.” And you’re baffled because they’ve completely missed the point of the gift. And the days go by, kids go back to school, the tree withers and dries out, starts to look like Charlie Brown’s tree. And the present remains, unopened, ignored. Occasionally, the kids will go look at it – talk about it, “that’s a nice present”, but it never gets opened. As time goes on, they talk about the present less and less, the excitement flickers. Eventually they start forgetting about the present, they laugh about it. You invite them, you call them back “Go open your present” and they say things like, “I’m not even sure it’s real anymore. I’m not sure I believe in the gift.” Do you see how frustrating that would be? I love it when I find the perfect gift for someone, and I just know they’re going to love it and I love watching them open it. I can’t imagine how I would feel, if I had the perfect gift, and it went unopened – but every Christmas, I think that’s what God goes through. The gift of Christ – unopened.
Now, today we are going to take a look at the tale of the three wise men, which comes out of Matthew. Now, most of us know the story, but let’s set the back-drop just a little bit. Israel, at this time, is under foreign occupation. They are being controlled by the Romans, who have allowed this guy King Herod to take over. But Herod and the Romans are terrified of a Jewish uprising. It’s a lot of work to crush a rebellion, so they are always on the look-out for potential rebels and leaders. And so when the wise men show up, asking for the king of the Jews, we can understand Herod getting a little worried. It says, [read v.1-3]. Now there’s one thing about that, I don’t quite understand. I get why King Herod is scared, he’s the one who would get overthrown. But why would all of Jerusalem be afraid? They are the jews, the scribes, the priests, the people – the king of the Jews means salvation, means hope and change. But I guess maybe that’s the problem. Some people like to complain, they want things to be different – but they don’t want change. You see it in the church all the time, even in society, we don’t want things to stay the same, but change is scary. It might require effort, courage, risk – and so, even when it’s a good thing, when we hear about something new - we are afraid.
And so the three wise men, follow the star, and they find Mary and Joseph and the baby. It says in verse 11, [read 11]. Now, we all know that phrase, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But here’s what I want to show you today. Other than gold – have you ever heard of those other ones? Don’t worry, I did the research for you, because I didn’t know what they were either. I had no idea the significance of the gifts. But each gift has something to say about Jesus. The first gift is gold, and gold in this time period was the stuff of royalty. Gold meant that you were a king. The second gift is frankincense, and I’d never heard of that outside this story. But what I found in my reading is that frankincense is the perfume that they used in Jewish worship services. Not only is Jesus a king, but he is better than that. He is worthy of worship. We’ll use gold, but also the perfumes of worship with this baby. Now the third gift is Myrrh. And this one is a little tricky. Myrrh is the perfume that Egyptians used on dead bodies to make them smell nice. The wise men, gave myrrh to a baby. That’s a little alarming, yes? That’s like giving a baby a casket. You know, just in case. [laugh] Yikes, that a really inappropriate gift for an infant. They should not need myrrh for years, what is this guy thinking giving a gift like that. If I had to guess, which of the three gifts was gonna get re-gifted next year, my money’s on Myrrh. Right? But here’s the deeper level. Myrrh was also used by Jewish people to dedicate the tabernacle, the place where God dwelled. Which is awesome symbolism, because Jesus is the place where God dwells. Do you see it? They give Myrrh, the stuff they use on the Jewish tabernacle, they give it to the baby, because this baby is the place where God dwells. Second, the gift of myrrh, which was used as a perfume by Egyptians on dead bodies, is sort of the perfect gift for Jesus because it points us forward to the reason Jesus was here. Some people say Jesus was born to die, but that’s not the best part of the story. Jesus defeats death. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead. The gift of myrrh reminds us that the one thing humans are still afraid of – has no hold on us anymore. Death is not something Jesus is afraid of. It’s one of those things where we hear about the gifts of the wise men – gold, frankincense and myrrh and we’re not interested. It doesn’t mean anything to us, because we don’t understand the gift. But when you dive a little deeper, look a little closer – you learn a lot about who Jesus is and what he means for each of our lives. If you don’t understand the gift, you can’t see how valuable it is.
There’s another story I want to mention that shows this perfectly. Much later in Jesus’ life, when he’s all grown up – there’s a moment, when he’s hanging out with his disciples and it says (and this is Mark chapter 14), [read v.3-5]. So Jesus is hanging out at a guy’s house and this woman breaks open expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus. And the people at the party are outraged. We could have returned that. We could have gotten store credit or given the money to the poor! And don’t get me wrong, they’re totally right! Giving money to the poor is a great thing, but they misunderstand the purpose of the gift. There’s a TV sitcom called The Office that illustrates this pretty well. There was this one Christmas episode, where all the workers in the office bought Secret Santa gifts for one another. They got very specific gifts for particular people. But the horrible boss comes in, and he doesn’t like the gift he was given, so he decides to switch the game and make it a white elephant exchange. Does everybody know white elephant? It’s like a pile of presents, and you just pick one at random and you can steal or pick a new present. It’s a lot of fun, but of course in the show it completely ruins the Christmas party. Everybody bought specific presents for specific people, and it doesn’t work at all to switch things in the middle – which was really funny. My point is that if you don’t understand a gift, you can’t see how valuable it is – and with Jesus these teachers did not understand the value of the man sitting at Simon’s table.
Look at his response, [read v.6-9]. They complain, we could have sold that and given the money to the poor – and Jesus responds, “yeah, you could give money right now. You don’t have to take my gift away and sell it to do it. You could just be generous with your own money or something” And did you catch that little bit he added about death? He’s hinting at something HUGE, check this out, [read v.8]. This is like the gift of Myrrh. We’re hinting that the gift of a baby in the manger is more than just the baby in the manger. Jesus came so that he could die for our sins, so that we could be washed clean, so that we could be free from sin and live our lives washed clean. That is the gospel truth, and that is the real gift of Christmas, the real gift of Jesus. If you have sin in your life, because of Jesus you can be forgiven. Maybe you’re in here this morning, and you’ve been a life long Christian, or maybe you’re just checking out this Jesus thing. But what we believe in the Christian church is that we’re all broken, we’ve all done things we should not have. We call that sin, we’ve all sinned. But if you give your life to Jesus, your sins are washed away. We step into forgiveness, when we accept the gift that Jesus gives us. These guys sitting at Simon’s table, they thought that he was a teacher, or maybe that he was a miracle worker or a healer – but they did not understand the gift, so they did not understand how valuable it was. But Jesus is here today to be so much more than just a healer with some nice teachings. Jesus is here to offer you salvation. To offer you freedom from your sins, a fresh slate. And if you knew how valuable that was, you wouldn’t leave the gift unopened.
The good news that I’ve got for us this morning is that Jesus is the gift. And I know, we talk about this sometimes in the holiday season. God gave us a gift at Christmas, and so that’s why we give gifts to one another. But here’s the thing. Jesus as a gift, grace and forgiveness, love as a gift given from God… I mean, this is not a new pair of socks under the Christmas tree, right? This is not a gift you leave unopened. And if you do, there’s a really good chance you don’t understand how awesome the gift is. Having Jesus in your life, following him as your lord and savior, knowing and loving him and being loved by him? There’s just nothing that compares. I don’t really have the words to express what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. So much of our lives is putting on a fascade, pretending to be better than we are, dressing ourselves up, plastering the smile on our face. Clinging to people and relationships, knowing that if they knew who we really were they’d leave us, abandon us. So many of us – we’re terrified of being vulnerable, because we think if people knew us, they wouldn’t want us – and they definitely wouldn’t love us. But Jesus knows you. Knows everything about you, knows every sin, and every accomplishment, ever dark thought and every good deed – he knows it all and he still wants you. Jesus wants you. He loves you. He wants to change your life.
Jesus is God. It’s weird to think about, because we talk about Jesus a lot. Jesus is my friend, he’s my buddy, he loves me. But Jesus is also our Lord. In our second scripture lesson in Mark, the woman pours expensive oil on Jesus. And everybody’s mad at her. She’s wasting the perfume. And Jesus tries to explain – but they just don’t get it. Jesus is our brother, and our friend, but he’s also God, eternal and all powerful – come in human form. They give him gold, because he’s the king. They give him frankincense because he’s worthy of worship and they give him myrrh because he IS literally the dwelling place of God. He IS God with us.
Jesus is the gift God gave to us, the unopened gift under the tree. God knows how perfect Jesus will fit into our life. God knows that this gift is what we need. Not all gifts are like that. You ever give a gift, and there’s some risk involved? Some gifts, everybody likes. Other gifts, there’s more risk. Like clothing, right? Anybody give clothing here? You are so brave. Clothing is a risky gift. First there’s the size question – you don’t want mess that up. Especially if you’re a man buying for a woman. You don’t want to guess too big – huh, I thought you were bigger than that. You don’t want to guess to small – huh, you’re bigger than I thought. And then, even if you’ve got the right size – there’s the style question. You ever get like a sweater or a pair of pants, and you look at it, and you think – “not even close.” And you put that in the drawer, I’ll wear that when grandma’s around, but the rest of the year – bottom shelf. What I’m trying to say with all this, my challenge to you this week is that if we like a gift, we share it. If you like a shirt someone gets you, you’ll wear the shirt all the time. You’re excited to show people your new shirt. You can’t wait until they see it. If you like a gift, you’ll share it. If you’re embarrassed, you’ll hide the gift. This goes for the gift God gives us as well. My challenge to you today and everyday. Open the gift of Jesus. Welcome him into your life, and if it’s a gift worth having – share it with those around you
Christmas is in a couple of weeks, hopefully you’re all done with your shopping. If you’re anything like me – probably not done shopping yet. But as it all winds down let us remember the greatest gift we’ve ever had. Access to God, given through His son Jesus. Think about it, they used to have all these rules about how you can connect to God. They used Myrrh to dedicate the tabernacle, the fancy place where God lived and people came with sacrifices. The wise men gave Jesus gold – because He’s our king, our ruler. They gave Jesus frankincense, because he’s our God – worthy of worship. They gave Jesus myrrh, because he tore down the curtain, he opened the doors so we can open our present, our gift. So I’ll leave you with this – May you open the gift. Hold it up, try it on, fall in love, see how God rearranges your world. And then may you share the gift with everyone around you. Ame