Dec 20 - Giving The Right Gifts At Christmas

Giving The Right Gifts At Christmas

December 20, 2016

Matthew 2:1-2



December 20th, 2015

Giving: focus on the motive behind giving – love!!  If we truly love someone we will find a gift for them that is …

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.  They inquired, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  …   Matthew 2:1-2

… The star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the child, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother and they fell down and worshipped him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh.                                                                                               Matthew 2:9-11

So the wise guys from the East.  We don’t know how many they were.  But they were likely learned Jewish men who were very familiar with the OT. 

They might have been the descendants of Jews who had remained in the Persian empire instead of returning to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, about 530 years before Jesus’ birth (539 BC – Persia conquers Babylon).  Today that region would consist of Iraq and western Iran. 

But they might also have come from a region more south-east, on the Arabian Peninsula, a region where the frankincense and myrrh trees grow, possibly where the kingdom of Sheba was, but more of that in a moment.

Where-ever they came from, the wise men knew the OT Scriptures regarding the Messiah, the promised king who would usher in an era of peace for Israel, as well as what this period would include. 

A short time prior to the nation of Israel entering the promised land, somewhere around 1300 to 1400 BC, after traveling for 40 years in the wilderness, the nation camped on what was known as the plains of Moab. 

As you can see, the plains of Moab were no longer part of the kingdom of Moab at the time.  In the next picture you might be able to tell that there was an elevated plain on the left side of the Jordan River where it entered the Dead Sea.

In any case, after the Israelites had already passed through the kingdom of Moab, it’s king, by the name Balak, hired a professional prophet to put a curse on Israel.  I mean, the treat to himself had already passed, which leaves you shaking your head.

Ironically, he chose to hire a man by the name of Balaam, a prophet who actually believed in and served the very same God the Israelites did (YHWH; Num 22:8,18-19…), another really dumb move. 

As could have been predicted, and to the great chagrin of king Balak, Balaam spoke four messages from God, all blessing the nation of Israel and cursing Israel’s enemies, including Moab (Num 23:7-10,18-24; 24:3-9,15-24). 

You would have thought Balak would have fired or killed Balam after the first of these.  But no – he allowed Balaam three more opportunities to bless Israel and curse Moab.  And after all that, Balak just lets Balaam go home.   

In any case, during the fourth of his oracles, Balam prophesied the following:

I see him, but not here and now.  I perceive him, but not in the near future.  A star will arise from Jacob.  A scepter will emerge from Israel.  He will crush the people of Moab and destroy the people of Sheth.                                                                                                          Numbers 24:17

The star is obviously a ruler who will hold a scepter, that is, a king.  Sheth is a word that either refers to “turmoil,” so the star will destroy the “people of turmoil”, perhaps a nation that is the cause of much turmoil as it invades other countries. 

On the other hand, Sheth could be in reference to the descendants of Seth, but that wouldn’t make much sense given that all of humanity basically was descendent from him.[1] 

Or, Sheth could be in reference to an unknown kingdom not mentioned anywhere else in the OT.

Of course, what Balaam said was the exact opposite of what Balak, the king of Moab, wanted to hear.  However, in Jesus’ day, this particular prophecy was interpreted messianically by many Jewish scholars, such as the Rabbi Akkiba.  This famous rabbi, renamed a leading warrior of his day, whom he considered to be the Messiah, from Son of Kosiba, to Son of Kochba (= son of the star). 

Obviously that interpretation was also the one known to the wise men.  That is why they associated the star with the long awaited ruler of Israel who had finally come. 

Now, did you ever wonder why they brought gifts that included gold, frankincense and myrrh, seemingly inappropriate for a child?  Well, those of us who are parents may actually welcome the gold.  It’s like money – and it’s expensive to raise children.  But what about frankincense and myrrh, both of which are just dried tree sap from two different trees growing on the Arabian Peninsula (myrrh has darker sap than frankincense).

Sure the sap can be ground up in a pestle and used as incense or placed in oil to make some good smelling oils or perfumes, but what a crappy gift for a newborn child.  What in the world? 

Well, the reason for the choice of gifts is also due to their knowledge of the OT, in particular with the prophecy in Isaiah 60 that speaks of the future glory of the nation of Israel.  Part of that prophecy speaks of people from Sheba bringing gold and frankincense – as well as good news - into the country.[2]  

All those from Sheba will come.  They will bring gold and frankincense and will bring good news, the praises of YHWH.                                                        Isaiah 60:6

And this verse is in the greater context of the coming Messiah (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2a quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 as pertaining to his own ministry).

The wise men may have thought they were also fulfilling this prophecy when they announced the birth of the new king of Israel in Jerusalem.  The good news (in Greek evangel), in fact echoes the voice of the angel to the Shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem when he announced Jesus’ birth:  “I bring you good news of great joy.”

That is why they chose those particular gifts … they wanted to make sure to bring the right gifts for the right occasion, and felt that the most appropriate were the ones so mentioned in prophecy. 

Now Sheba still existed at the time of Jesus’ birth, in what today is Yemen, and just north of Yemen, far to the south-east of Bethlehem.

The choice of gifts by the wise men would make even more sense if they themselves came from the Arabian Peninsula, the only region where myrrh and frankincense trees grow, and it makes even more sense if they came from the kingdom of Sheba on the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula and so directly fulfilled that prophecy. 

The gifts of the wise men were appropriate for the occasion – the birth of the Messiah.  But they were also an announcement to the identity of Jesus, God’s gift to Israel and beyond, to the whole world.  As the angel pronounced, the birth of Jesus is “good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

But that isn’t all that I’ve noticed after closely analyzing the passage about the wise men.  They are other important but often overlooked theological facts.  For example, notice that there is no mention of wrapping paper!

If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so:

“And behold, the gifts were encompassed about with 7 square cubits of parchment.  And the parchment was covered without with many depictions of small palm trees holding many-coloured dates.  And Joseph purposed in his heart to cast the parchment into the barrel of refuse, but Mary said unto him, ‘Cease man! Drop the decorative parchment!  It should be folded carefully and set aside for future festive occasions!’ And Joseph did roll his eyeballs. And it came to pass that the babe was more interested in the paper than the gifts from the wise men.”

…But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:

1. They were wise.

2. They were men.

Most men are not big gift wrappers.  Most men do not understand the point of putting coloured paper on a gift just to have somebody else tear it off. There are much easier ways to camouflage a gift

For some reason, I do a terrible job of wrapping gifts, especially if they are not in perfectly rectangular boxes.  And even then, I struggle to figure out the right amount of paper, almost always cutting a piece of wrapping paper that’s too big or too small. 

So when I cut a piece that’s too large, I try to fold away the excess, which never seems to work properly.

And when the paper I cut is too small to actually make it all the way around a gift, instead of being wasteful and cutting a bigger piece of paper, I will cut another small piece and use it as a patch. 

And I always use way too much scotch tape. 

And then I look at the way that my mother or my wife wrap gifts.  They look good even when the gift is in one of those horribly misshaped hard plastic containers.  I have this sneaking suspicion that women may actually like wrapping things, which for most men, borders on being insane.

I blame my poor gift wrapping skills on my genetic make-up.  Maybe gift-wrapping is one of those genetically pre-determined female abilities - like having babies.  All I’m saying, is that it may be that gift-wrapping comes more naturally to women than to men.  And of course I know there are exceptions to this.

But for those of you guys who are like me, I thought I’d share some GIFT-WRAPPING TIPS for you, before I actually talk about the best Christmas gifts.

So, I know that you can make your own wrapping paper by printing a design on it using an apple sliced in half and dipping it in a mixture of food colouring and liquid starch.  I think that the only men who do this are on crack or they have WAY too much time on their hands! 

My advice to men who do this:  stop smoking crack and get a different hobby. 

1. Guys, whenever possible, buy gifts that are already come pre-wrapped (with a picture on the outside of what’s inside).  I saw some of these at WalMart the other day and was severely tempted to get one for my wife, but I wasn’t sure if Kathy needed another foldable umbrella or even if she liked summer sausage.

2. Guys, only buy in stores or malls that have a free gift-wrapping service. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Costco, WalMart, Island Outfitters, or Canadian Tire, so you might have to compromise on this one.

3. Stick the gifts unwrapped inside one of those gift bags and attaching a little self-sticking bow. 

Forget the coloured paper that you have to put on top.  It looks festive as it is and it will be sure to delight the lucky recipient.

4.  If you have bought a larger gift, I would recommend the Glad Garbage Bags with the different coloured draw strings. 

You can tie the draw strings into a pretty bow, which is way better than the sticky kind that tend to fall off anyway.  Just remember, don’t make the mistake of buying the see-through bags, that will spoil the surprise.

Husbands can you imagine the conversation you could have on Christmas morning?

YOUR WIFE: Darling, why is there a Glad garbage bag under the tree?

YOU: It’s a gift for you! See? The colourful tie strings are a bow! Isn’t that pretty?

YOUR WIFE (as she undoes a corner and peers into the garbage bag): Dear! It’s a leaf blower.

YOU: Yes, and it’s a Huskvarna. Gas-powered! Five horsepower!

YOUR WIFE: Thanks a lot!
YOU (Noticing that you may have made a mistake): Actually, sweetie, I’m God’s gift to you.

YOUR WIFE: I don’t think God gives gag gifts!

So husbands, remember that the important thing is not how you wrap a gift. During this special time of year, the most important thing to remember is to save the receipt for whatever you’ve bought her so she can return it if she’s not thrilled with it. 

Oh, one final thought on gifts.  Where does the expression, “It’s the thought that counts,” originate?  I once just wished a happy anniversary without a gift or flowers or anything, and let me tell you, it’s not the thought that counts. 

Now the wise men from the east came bearing gifts.  We give gifts at Christmas time.  But the greatest of all gifts are the ones that God gives.

• God gave Noah the gift of a plan for a boat called the ark that would provide a safe place for his family when the flood came.
• God gave the Israelites the gift of a fertile land they could live in and call their own.
• God gave the Israelites the gift of prophets who pleaded with them to return to him and told them of amazing things to come, including a coming Messianic king who would deliver and save them.
• God gave the shepherds in the field the gift of an angelic proclamation that the messianic Saviour was born that day.
• God gave the Wise Men the gift of a bright star that made them realize the Messiah had been born and that brought them to Jerusalem announcing his birth.
• God gave all people the gift of potentially having all of their misdeeds and sins and all the evil that they’ve ever done, said and thought, forgiven  - because Jesus, the Messiah, paid the penalty due which was due to them with his own life – opening up the possibility of another gift – the gift of eternal life in God’s presence. 

• God gives those who come to him the gift of His presence in the form of the Holy Spirit living within them and guiding them to being better people.

Surely God is a great Giver.  

Jesus told the woman at the well,

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him to give you (to drink) and he would have given you living water …. a spring of water within welling up to eternal life.                                                                       John 4:10,14

John tells us that

God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.                                                          John 3:16

James states,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not vary or darken.  Willingly, he had given us new birth through the word of truth …                                 James 1:17

The apostle Paul writes,

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 

2 Corinthians 5:1

Verses like these can be multiplied, because this, in essence, is the good news that the wise men and the angels announced over 2000 years ago. 

God’s gift to us is what we most desperately need … even if we aren’t aware of it.  We may think that we’d are in greater need of the gold from the wise men, but God knows that isn’t our greatest need.  We may think that partying, or companionship, or a spouse, or children, or our own house, or a solid retirement fund, or being independently healthy, or having good health, are the things we need the most.

But we are simply mistaken, because, as Jesus taught, we could gain everything that possibly can be gained in this world.  We can have absolutely everything this world has to offer.  We can live to 100 sound in body and mind.  But in the end, if we lose our eternal souls, we have gained nothing (Mark 8:36).

God may bless us with all kind of things, but the most valuable, most needed, most important gift beyond anything else, is life eternal … the existence of our souls in God’s presence after we die.  While I simply don’t know exactly what that will be like, I am absolutely convinced that it’s vastly superior to being separated from God for eternity.

Let me ask you this morning, have you ever sinned? Do you have sin in your life now? There is no gift that you could ever need more than the gift of eternal life.

The other thing to keep in mind.  God’s gift to us was sacrificial.  It cost him something personally.  He became a true human in the person of Jesus, and Jesus had headaches, got sick, longed for companionship, got hungry and thirsty, and was tempted in every way that humans can be.  And then there was the horrendous torture and agonizing death.  God’s gift to us cost him.

So I want to recap a bit.  When we give gifts this Christmas let’s make sure of a number of things:

1. I will give appropriate gifts

Just like gold and pieces of dried tree sap were appropriate gifts for Jesus because he was the Messiah, so we should give something appropriate for the person we are giving a gift to. 

I know that I will not find anything for my wife or daughters in the hunting section in Wal-mart, at Cabellas or at Island Outfitters.  There is absolutely nothing there that they would want.  They may want clothing, but it won’t be thermal with a camouflage pattern.

As one wife said to her husband, “Honey, let’s start a new tradition of giving ourselves more personal gifts, like, socks and fur coats.” 

That’s not what I’m talking about.  Most of us know of children getting very expensive gifts and then getting tired of them in short order.  The gifts weren’t appropriate.  Or, there are certain gifts that we can give that lend themselves to abuse. 

I think that those of us who bought our kids their first X-box, had no idea that they could potentially get addicted to them. 

In any case, you likely know firsthand what it’s like to get a gift that isn’t appropriate for you.  You really didn’t want it or you knew that you’ll never use.  The tie or the garish sweater.  The small kitchen appliance that you really didn’t want or need. 

What do you think about the toilet tea pot, or better yet, the toilet coffee mug?  “Oh yes, I keep that one at work, grandma … yes, all the coworkers think it’s hilarious.”  Of course, if grandma should ever visit you at work, the poor thing just got dropped and broken recently.  “No, grandma, you can’t go looking for it in the dumpster so you can glue it back together again – there’s biohazardous waste in there.”

I was kinda wondering how a “Nose Shower Gel Dispenser” would work in real life.  Then I looked it up.  Oh yeah.  It’s not only ugly.  It’s huge.  And disgustingly weird.

[I remember someone in my family getting a rubber big mouth bass mounted on a piece of wood to hang on the wall.  Every time someone pushed a little red button, the fish would slap its tail and then bend the front part of the body out from the wall singing “Don’t worry be happy” and “Take me to the River.” The sound quality was horrible, and I thought that only someone sadistic would give this to someone else.] 

So search for and buy an appropriate gift. 

2. I will give sacrificial gifts

A few years ago a guy in our church bought his wife a beautiful 3 carat solitaire ring for Christmas, like you saw on the slide?  

Nice, eh ladies?  I overheard a friend of his asking him in the foyer, "I thought she wanted one of those sporty 4-Wheel drive vehicles."

"She did," The husband replied. "But where in the world am I gonna find a fake SUV?"

So when I am speaking about sacrificial gifts, I am not talking about expensive gifts, you know, sacrificial in a monetary way.  You know, I max out my credit cards or go into my line of credit or deplete my savings in order to buy everyone really expensive gifts. 

No, by sacrificial gifts, I mean gifts that will cost me personally something.  So a sacrificial gift is not something we can purchase in a store or on-line.  The sacrificial gifts I’m thinking about are more valuable than something we can buy, which is why they will cost us something other than money. 

So let me ask you.  What do you think that your loved ones would most love to have from you this Christmas?

 (listen to some answers, time permitting)

So here are the sacrificial gifts I was thinking about.  One of them is forgiveness, maybe forgiveness for the time they really messed up and created a lot of hurt?  Now, I can already hear all of your responses.  “Spencer, you don’t know what he’s done.  He was so mean.  Spencer, you don’t know what she did.  It was so hurtful.”  You’re right, I don’t know. 

I don’t know what he did or what she did.  But I know that my wife has to forgive me and I have to forgive her all the time… otherwise the atmosphere in our home would become poisonous. 

I know that my children had to forgive me and I had to forgive them many, many times, for us to continue to love and cherish each other.

If we don’t forgive, we will harbour slights and resentments that fester, until we are eaten up with bitterness from hurts past and present, eventually to the point that our love turns to hate. 

Doesn’t mean we can’t set boundaries. 

Maybe the most sacrificial gift you can give this Christmas is forgiveness.

Or maybe the greatest and most challenging and sacrificial thing you can give is just becoming a nicer, less aggressive, less possessive, friendlier, more caring, gentler, calmer person.  A person who is more at peace and who is more peaceful.

Peace on earth with whom God is well pleased (Luke 2:14).  That is part of the angels’ song at Jesus’ birth.

Peace on earth starts with me … and you.  Peace in our homes starts with me … and you.  We are sometimes so hard on ourselves and on those who should matter the most to us.  We sometimes say some things to each other that should never be said.  We sometimes are offended at the slightest hint of disrespect.  We sometimes get angry over the stupidest things. 

If we are married and we have not as yet grasped the concept of selfless concern for the other person, if we still are that selfish person we were when we were single and could take advantage of the good will of our parents, then our marriage will be in deep trouble

A little boy and a little girl were singing their favorite Christmas carol in church the Sunday before Christmas. The boy concluded “Silent Night” with the words, “sleep in heavenly beans.”
His sister elbowed him, and said, “No. Not beans, peas!”

This may be the way many of us feel by the time we are ready for Christmas, the song might just as well end with beans or peas instead of peace.  

I tried to compile a list of potential things that happen at this time of year which may contribute to increased stress and therefore increased conflict during the holiday season. See if any of these ring a bell, no holiday pun intended.

· Shopping for gifts

· Facing crowded malls
· Forgetting someone for whom you should have purchased a gift for
· Going into debt to buy gifts

· Paying off the credit cards after Christmas

· Getting to the necessary holiday parties
· Attending Christmas programs for the kids at school and at church
· Having the right clothes for social occasions
· Fighting the traffic.

· Cooking a special meal
· Baking
· Gaining weight

· Sending out Christmas cards
· Wrapping the gifts
· Cleaning the house
· Buying a tree

· Untangling the strands of lights
· Finding the lights that don’t work in the strands
· Putting up the decorations

· Feeling the pressure to make a memory
· Having to travel to see relatives

· (If married) Figuring out when to celebrate at both sets of parents without offending either
· Facing relatives you don’t get along with
· Missing loved ones who have passed away
· Being a part of a family that celebrates separately because of a divorce
· Knowing that maybe you’ll spend Christmas alone

· Listening to Christmas Carols since right after Thanksgiving
· Knowing the year is coming to a close and you didn’t accomplish what you intended to
· Having all the projects at work are due to a rapidly approaching December 24th deadline

Of course, this is just a partial list.  There can be so many other things that add to our stress and make Christmas hectic, unhappy, even depressing time. 

I think for us to give a sacrificial gift of a better, more peaceful self, to our loved ones, we may have to dial down our expectations and our chores.  Let’s not focus so much on the things that are not needful and focus instead on giving the sacrifice of being the best person we can be to our family.

Let’s put our most significant relationships first.  For heaven’s sake, don’t overspend on gifts.  Instead get a baby-sitter and go on a date night.  Find time for each other.  You’re no good to your kids if it’s not right between the two of you.  Be attentive.  Be kind.  Be caring.  Be more at peace.  Be more peaceful. 

Yes, it’s easily said and so hard to do.  That’s why personal reformation is sacrificial.   

All the Christmas preparations in the world won’t be able to give us a merry, or in modern English, a happy Christmas. 



[1] Noah was a direct descendant from Seth (Gen 5) and from Noah’s sons descended everyone in the table of nations (Gen 10).

[2] LXX – All from Saba will come bearing gold, and will bring frankincense, and they will proclaim the salvation of the Lord (kai to soterion Kuriou euangeliountai).