Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Thoughts on the Magi

I have a devotional type of book I picked up entitled “In the Bleak Midwinter: 40 Meditations and Prayers for Advent and Christmas” by Herbert Brokering. It comes from the Advent hymn, “In the Bleak Midwinter” based on a poem by Christina Georgina Rosetti. Close to the end of the hymn, and therefore the book, the stanza says, “If I were a wise man, I would do my part.” The devotion I was reading was based on “if I were a wise man.” It prompted me to think about the gifts the wise men brought to the infant Jesus – gold, symbolic of the wealth of kings; frankincense, symbolic of the aroma of priestly duties; and myrrh, symbolic of death. All were costly, and all were of importance to the life of Jesus.

We could look at this whole story as a symbolic writing seemingly foreshadowing the life of this small child, or we could look at it as giving the ultimate gifts, much like the pure nard in the alabaster jar – it was a substantial material gift to represent a substantial sacrifice on our part. It was more than worth or value in the world, it represented the extreme worth or value the giver placed on Jesus. It is no wonder very little has been written since of such extravagant gifts, we tend to only give gifts of extravagance to the very needy – generally ourselves! So, my question is how do we bring gold, frankincense and myrrh today? What is the ultimate gift of extravagance and significance that we place at the manger?

If I were a wise man, what gift would I bring? I am reminded of the claymation movie, “The Little Drummer Boy.” Of course, we all know the song…poor boy, have no gift, I’ll play for you. The gift he brought to the baby was all he had, his talent and music. But in the world of wealth, particularly in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, simply giving of our time and talents seems…well….too easy. I have seen numerous people who never give to the church because, they do this or that for the church and they are “giving in other ways.”

This line of thinking always seemed like a cop-out to me, even before I went into the ministry. Since going into the ministry, I have seen cases in which their time and service supplemented their giving where the person’s income and finances failed. They in effect were giving more than their tithe so to speak. However, in cases where the person made $50,000 a year and gave $50, because they led a pet program and gave to that program just seemed to me as if they were using the church for their own forum and not for God’s glory. (This is no comment on the validity of the program, just the motivation behind the person’s giving.)

What is the extreme gift, the sacrificial gift, you are called to bring? It was different for each of the wise men, and it will be different for each of us. There is something that would take a real act of giving on our part.

Giving of oneself is not giving something that it doesn’t phase you to give anyway. A gift of a scarf that you bought at a last minute sale the week before Christmas to Aunt Martha doesn’t take much; a little time, a little money, but nothing of yourself. Most of our gift giving consists of those little things that simply say, “I remembered you,” but not necessarily, “I thought about who you are and what you would like.” This is good too, it is important to remember people, and we don’t always have to go the extra mile. When they say, “it isn’t the gift, it’s the thought that counts” they are right, but what is the thought? And these little gifts that say, “I remembered you” or “I really thought about what you would like,” still may not take much sacrificial giving on our part.

But giving a gift to our Lord, the baby Jesus, the Christ child, Emmanuel, God with us, this ought to take some thought and some real sacrifice. It should be of significant value not only materially, but also symbolically. What is our equivalent of gold, frankincense or myrrh? What is Jesus to us, and what is that which we are willing to provide for that role Jesus plays in our lives?

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