Tues., Dec. 13, 2016
Matthew 2:11 – 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.
Gifts are a huge part of Christmas and often become the highlight. Unfortunately, the focus is on what people get instead of what people give. As a child, I made my Christmas list out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog and posted it on the refrigerator. Most items never made it under the tree. It was a thrill when a couple did.
Years ago, I became disenfranchised with Christmas gift-giving. I had returned from living overseas in a developing country and saw how little some people lived on. The reverse culture shock of returning to the U.S. was dramatic. On Christmas Day, the gifts at my parent’s house spilled into nearly half of the living room. One of my students was studying in the U.S. and spent Christmas with my family. I was embarrassed and appalled at our Christmas extravagance.
Hubs Rick and I don’t purchase gifts for each other. Instead, we identify a couple families and gift them. We also purchase items for a needy family. One year, Rick got sleds. I got a girl’s purple winter coat.
For several years, each member of my family brought an exchange present to our family Christmas. Early on, the gifts were new. Eventually, it became a white elephant exchange with silly and fun presents. Two years ago, we moved my Mom into an apartment. Cleaning out her house was a chore. Items needing more time and attention were boxed up and moved to my house. I declared that I would find enough items out of the boxed-up items for our family gift exchange.
The first year, the exchange worked OK. Last year, we moved. Many of those “Mom boxes” were moved because I had not sorted them. Right before our Deaton Christmas, I found enough interesting items for the exchange. As I wrapped them, I wrote little accompanying stories. Some items were more interesting. My Dad’s journal from his time in the service was a huge hit. The Tri-State Breeders song book we used to carol to shut-ins? Not so much.
These gifts became a way to tell family stories. I’m not sure my great-nephews and niece fully appreciated the signs from when my Dad showed cattle at the Iowa State Fair. My siblings and I did. My nieces and nephews asked when some of their favorite things from my parent’s house would be part of the exchange. One Christmas, I received a toy Winnebago camper. We all rode that camper. While the windows are broken and the bumpers scratched, it will be a highly sought after item when part of the exchange.
Last night, I pulled together the gifts for this year’s exchange. Digging through the same boxes, I found things of my parents, my grandmothers and grandfather. It’s a trip down memory lane. Are the gifts practical? Not really. But they tell my family’s story. They recall our history, heritage and background.
When the magi arrived in Bethlehem, they brought gifts to the Christ child. Do gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh seem practical for a baby? Absolutely not. Wouldn’t diapers or a blanket make more sense? This is not what the magi brought. Actually, the wise men’s gifts were fortuitous and explained Jesus’ life:
- Gold is the metal of kings. Jesus would be the ultimate King of kings.
- A type of incense, frankincense was used in temple worship and to anoint priests. Jesus would assume a priestly role and become the Hebrew High Priest.
- Myrrh embalmed dead bodies. Considered offensive to present myrrh to a baby, Jesus’ gift was a gift of faith and pointed towards his awful future death.
We don’t know what happened to these gifts. Some scholars suggest Mary and Joseph sold the gifts to finance their escape into Egypt. While the gifts may not have seemed practical at the time, their purpose is clearer today.
Are you a practical gift giver? I am. We learn from the magi that intentional unpractical gifts can have great symbolism. I envision Mary and Joseph telling Jesus the story of the wise men and their gifts over and over. While their gifts seemed impractical, we still discuss their gifts today.
What do you give someone who needs nothing? A gift filled with story and symbolism. Rather than going to the store, “shop” through your home and gift forward something meaningful or silly and fun to the next generation in your family. And pass down the story.
Why the impractical gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? Because they weren’t impractical. They told a story. Lord God, may our gift giving be more about our stories and family symbols than just giving a gift. Amen.
Saturday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: can of oranges
Sunday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: peanut butter
Monday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: box of rice
Tuesday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: can of baked beans
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