In the tradition of Christmas, this is a season when we give gifts to our friends and loved ones. When we consider whose birthday we celebrate, it is appropriate to reflect on the first gift of Christmas. But truly what is the first gift of Christmas?
A very popular Christmas movie is the Polar Express. The protagonist travels by train to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. While there, he is selected to receive the first gift of Christmas. He asks for and receives a sleigh bell from Santa’s reindeer team. The bell can be heard only by those who believe. Faith then is the basis for the acceptance of the gift.
As Christians, our first gift of Christmas is Jesus Christ. Mankind’s relationship with God was broken with Adam’s original sin. God gave us his Son to restore man’s relationship. Because of Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, our relationship with God was restored. We need only to accept, by faith the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ.
The Christmas tradition of gift giving originated with the gifts given to Jesus by the Magi. We often refer to the Magi as the “Three Wise Men.” The assumption that there were Three Wise Men is based purely on the fact that there were three gifts. The Bible does not speak to how many there were. They did not worship the God of Israel, but were followers of Zoroastrianism or Zoroaster. And yet, they sought out, and worshiped the Christ.
Matthew 2:11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There was profound significance in the gifts given.
Clearly, gold, frankincense, and myrrh were widely available when the Magi visited the baby Jesus. These gifts would have been considered practical gifts with many uses. The gift of gold signifies the returning to God that which is his. The gold was acknowledgment of Jesus Christ’s deity. Indeed, as written in Haggai 2:8… “and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”
The expensive resins; Frankincense and Myrrh beyond being highly valuable, were symbolic as well. Frankincense, also called olibanum, is an aromatic resin used in incense. It is obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia. Frankincense, which was often burned, symbolizes prayer rising to the heavens like smoke. This gift recognizes Christ’s role in reestablishing Man’s relationship with God. Today when we pray, we do so directly to God; not through any intermediary.
Leviticus 2:1 Now when anyone presents a grain offering as an offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour, and he shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it.
Myrrh, which was often used for burials, symbolized death. Accordingly, a mixture of wine and myrrh was offered to Christ during his crucifixion. In this gift, the Magi were acknowledging at the time of Jesus’ birth his death, and ultimate sacrifice for our salvation.
John 19:40; So, they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.
While unlikely, there is no way of knowing that the Myrrh the women brought to the tomb were not provided originally by the Magi.
For more than 400 years, the nation of Israel prayed for and anticipated the arrival of their Messiah. And yet when he was born, who was it that greeted his birth?
The Shepherds; keepers of lambs used for Temple sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins were among the first to greet the Lamb of God. Like the Shepherds, share in the joy of spreading the good news of Jesus birth. By sharing the goods news with the Shepherds first, we know that Jesus came for all of us. Even the plain and ordinary.
The Magi were there. Their gifts; described as Treasures were not given frivolously or without reason. They knew, and acknowledged that they were worshiping the King of Israel.
And while he did not visit, King Herod was clearly aware of the significance of his birth, and sought to kill him.
Where were the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and Rabbis? They knew from prophesy where Jesus would be born. And yet, I find no mention of them seeking him in the Gospel’s account of his birth.
As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birthday, take time to consider the significance of the true first gift of Christmas.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the wisdom to recognize the significance of the birth of Jesus Christ in my life. May I have the clarity to see what is truly important about this Advent Season.
Written by Tom Gilsdorf