Although no one knows for sure, because there are many theories, I would believe that a part of the custom or tradition of exchanging presents and gift giving goes back to the giving of the gifts of the Magi to the baby Jesus. So, this evening I want to begin by looking at the actual gifts, as we read in our text, “10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:10, 11). And personally, I believe the reason many people believe there were three wise men is because there were three gifts, at least there are only three gifts mentioned.
One gift given by the Magi was the gift of gold. Gold is the gift meant for a King and Jesus is our King. Jesus was born from the kingly line of King David, thought to be Israel’s greatest king. The genealogies of both Joseph and Mary trace Jesus’ lineage back to King David. Jesus is the son of David and even Greater, He is David’s God and Lord. As King, Jesus watches over us and rules us from heaven, but even more His kingdom is not of this world, but is of the eternal kingdom of heaven where He will rule over us forever.
Another gift mentioned is the gift of Myrrh. Myrrh is an oil often used for the purposes of anointing. Myrrh is a gift especially appropriate for a prophet. Jesus is indeed a prophet and the greatest prophet. And although Jesus did speak prophetic sayings while He was on this earth, He was a prophet in that He was a proclaimer of God’s Word. And interestingly enough, as some had suggested, I have a Bible that has the words of Jesus in red and the response is, then why are not all the words in red. Jesus is the great prophet in that He is the one who has given us His Word in the first place. Jesus continues to be a prophet for us today as He continues to speak to us through His very Word as it is read and proclaimed.
Another gift mentioned is the gift of frankincense, or simply incense. Incense is meant to be a gift for a priest. Incense is the fragrant aroma burnt in the temple as a sweet smelling offering rising up to the Lord. Jesus is our priest and our great High Priest. One of the roles of the priest was to offer sacrifices in the temple. As our great High Priest Jesus does not simply offer any sacrifices, but He offers Himself as the ultimate, the once and for all sacrifice for us. And as our great High Priest Jesus continues, even today, to intercede for us before His Father in heaven.
Today, we continue to see this gift giving reminding us of the gifts of the Magi or the Wisemen. Yet, today this tradition is expressed as a tradition of emulating St. Nicholas who was said to have begun the tradition of gift giving by leaving coins in shoes for those who left them out. He truly took to heart Jesus’ words to sell all you have and give to the poor.
On the down side, if you will, and I believe I am not alone, but the tradition of gift giving, of exchanging presents in our world today has reached a point that, as the saying goes, “We have over commercialized Christmas.” Satan has moved our attention to the things of this world away from the main thing, the gift of God in flesh in Christ. What God has done is that He has given us the greatest gift of His Son, even Himself. What we do every year is exchange presents. So, this evening I do want us to make note of the difference between exchanging presents and true gift giving. Very often we use these terms interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, but I contend that they are two separate and distinct things.
What we do today, our tradition and custom, for the most part is an exchange of presents. I will give you a present if you give me a present. Now certainly there are some exceptions to this tradition, mostly because someone did not get the message that there was to be a “gift exchange,” and so they may have received without giving, but, again, for the most part it is simply an exchange. And please understand and do not misquote me, I believe this is a worthwhile tradition and there is nothing wrong with this tradition. I am not against this exchanging of presents, but my point is that this is not true gift giving.
My contention is that true gift giving is not a present or gift exchange. And further, my contention is that true gift giving is what Jesus does and what only Jesus can do. True gift giving is giving without getting in return and truly without even expecting in return. True gift giving flows out of true love which, as sinful human beings does not originate within us, but must first come from outside of us, namely from Jesus. We love because He first loves us and therefore we give because He first gives to us. It always begins with and flows from Jesus to us.
God is the prime mover. God gives and we are given to. God gives gifts. He gives first and truly expects nothing from us as if there is anything we would have to give to Him, especially to give to Him that He did not in the first place give to us. God gives life. He gives life to all at creation. God gives life personally, to each one of us at our conception. God gives us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God gives forgiveness especially through His means of confession and absolution. God gives strengthening of faith through His Word and through His Holy Supper. God in Jesus has given His life for ours, living perfectly for us, taking our sins and giving us His righteousness, suffering and dying for our sins, rising and ascending to heaven to watch over us, rule over us and intercede for us. God gives gifts. God gives faith, forgiveness and life.
This evening as we continue celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, we do so looking forward to our Epiphany celebration and our acknowledgment of the gifts of the Magi. As we end this year which has been a gift from God, remember, each day is indeed a gift from God, we look forward to many more gifts from God in the new year knowing and believing that our God is the great and even the greatest gift giving God. Our God, the one true God is God who needs nothing from us, as if we would have anything to give to Him, except to return to Him a portion of what He has first given to us. Our God is the great gift giving God who created us to love us and to give to us. And He gives to us, all that we need, all our physical needs as well as all our spiritual needs. And He has taken care of our greatest need, forgiveness of sins. He gives and we are given to and we rejoice in His giving. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.