O Come, Let Us Adore Him – Advent Day 22 – Gifts for a King
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi 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.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12, NIV)
Christmas is the time of year when gifts are given and received. The purchasing and preparing of gifts are typically the top priority for most people. Months are spent coming up with gift ideas, and endless amounts of time and money are spent to bring those ideas to fruition. And all for what? Fifteen minutes of gratification and potentially a nice gift in return? The idea that giving is the most important part of the Christmas season is actually false; it is not about what we can give but what we have received. The most important part of Christmas is the Gift that was sent down from above, the gift of Jesus.
Giving gifts, then, is a symbol of the greatest gift given to us. We give presents to those we love and care about as a tangible display of that love and devotion. In today’s world, though, many have forgotten the One who gave us the greatest Gift and instead have elevated a jolly man as the best and ultimate gift giver. One might wonder how this tradition came to be.
St. Nicholas, born in the third century A.D., was the bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey. He was orphaned at an early age and received a large inheritance from his parents. He was known for giving away most of his fortune to those in need, leaving behind a legacy of generosity. The way he gave so selflessly to those less fortunate than himself is how the legend of St. Nick and Santa Claus came to be. But even for St. Nicholas, giving away his money and time was not enough; it was his relationship with Christ that truly gave him peace and joy. Like St. Nicholas, those of us who love and serve the one true God know that Christmas is about much more than simply giving; it is about understanding the truth of the ultimate Gift.
Further back in history is the story of the Magi and their three gifts given to the baby Jesus. Between this biblical story and the legend of St. Nick, it is easy to see how the act of giving at Christmastime has been elevated in western culture. Let’s take a minute to look at the three gifts from the Wise Men. Throughout Scripture we read of different uses for the three items gifted. Gold represented royalty, honor, and glory, as seen in the Tabernacle, the Temple, and in Christ’s victorious reign, as well as representing the accumulation of wisdom and knowledge, which is deemed far more valuable. Frankincense was commonly used in Old Testament times as a perfume and often signified wealth. Myrrh was used as an embalming oil and represented death.
Together the gifts represented three facets of the person of Christ Jesus: His future kingship, His deserved worship, and His death. The gifts the Magi chose were not random, but were commonly given at the coronation of a new king. Some theologians believe that throughout history wise men travelled from the east specifically when a new king was crowned, and that this was not a one-time event. Their unexpected arrival caused Herod and his court great upheaval (Matt 2:3). Understandably so! Herod was already king, and now they told him of this new “King”; the priests and teachers of the law backed up their claim, based on Micah’s prophecy.
While it is very common to focus on the gifts that the Magi brought for Jesus, that’s not what I want to focus on today. Many Christians use the story of the Magi to support gift giving at Christmas time. I actively participate in the practice of giving gifts and I love it! But I do want to take a moment to ask all of us to look inward and consider if we are emphasizing gifts over celebrating Advent and Jesus.
The birth of Jesus is the true gift of Christmas; He was the long-awaited Messiah, come at last to save the world. His coming looked vastly different than what was expected, and yet it was exactly what was foretold. Just like the shepherds in our story from Luke 2, the Magi had an encounter with God, followed what they were told, and their lives were changed because of it. The true meaning of Christmas is the coming of Jesus, God’s gift of His only Son (John 3:16). Come, let us adore Him who is Christ the Lord!
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!
Jesus, to Thee be all glory given;
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing.
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!