GOD'S GIFT OF LOVE: An Advent Celebration

Matthew 2:1-12

Who Invented the Christmas Present?

Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents’ house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. The younger one began praying at the top of his lungs: "I

PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE..." "I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO..." His older brother leaned over, nudged him and said, "Why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf." to which the little brother replied, "No, but Grandma is!"

Children have a way of controlling our life do they not – I heard about a young boy who received a harmonica for Christmas from his uncle. After the first of the year he saw his uncle for the first time since receiving the harmonica. With a large smile he said, “Thanks for the harmonica you gave me for Christmas," "It’s the best present I ever got." "That’s great," replied his uncle. "Do you know how to play it?" "Oh, I don’t play it," the little fellow replied. "My mom gives me a dollar a day not to play it during the day and my dad gives me five dollars a week not to play it at night!"

Since Christmas is really about Christ one should go back to the story of His birth to figure out where gift giving came from.

The idea behind giving someone a gift is to express your love and appreciation for them. It may be a birthday or graduation or it may be that someone is sick and you want to cheer them up. In reality, giving gifts is an expression of love.

You may not always feel that way when you are fighting the crowd of people and traffic jams. A lot of us would rather take a beating than go shopping.

It was a few days before Christmas on the Oregon coast. Two men whose families lived next door opted to go sailing while their wives went Christmas shopping. An unexpected storm surprised the weekend sailors. Before long, the sea became angry, and the two had a difficult time keeping the sailboat under control. While heading toward the harbor, the craft hit a sandbar and grounded. Both men jumped overboard into the icy water and began to push and shove in an attempt to get the sailboat into deeper water. Knee-deep in mud and repeatedly bounced against the hull by unfriendly waves, the one said to the other, “Sure beats Christmas shopping, doesn’t it?”

I want to tell you three short stories today. They are all about gifts of love.

Story 1:

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,  “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.  He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
 are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
 for a ruler will come from you
 who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” 

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” 

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
Matthew 2:1-11

Who invented the Christmas present? You might think that it was these men who came from the East bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.

No doubt from your earliest recollection of the Christmas story, you recall hearing of the wise men that came to visit the newborn Christ Child. Each of us has sung many times the carols that tell their story. We can visualize them. - The wise men riding their camels through the desert sands, dressed in their colorful kingly robes.

In my home, from my earliest recollection, we had the same Nativity scene. Someone made them in ceramics class and my mother painted them. When this came out of the box it was a sign that Christmas was on its way. I spent a fair amount of time as a kid looking at these figurines. Friday I visited my Father and confiscated the Wise Men from the scene! I assured him that according to most scholars they didn’t arrive for about two years after Jesus birth anyway so it would be okay. I brought them for you to see.

But who were they? Of what do we really know of them?

a. We do not know who they were.
b. We do not know where they came from.
c. We can only surmise as to how they knew to follow the star.
d. We don’t even know how many there were.

They seem to come out of nowhere, pay their respects to the Christ Child and then disappear.

The gifts they brought do seem to have some significance. They brought Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

Three small boys were in a Christmas play at school. They represented the three wise men and they were to give their gifts to baby Jesus. The first boy stepped forward, held out the gift in his hands and said, “Gold.” The second boy stepped forward, held out his gift and said, “Myrrh.” The third boy stepped forward, held out his gift and said, “Frank sent this.”

Cartoon Picture

Gold:  Gold is a gift fit for a King. While we do not know what these men knew it is pretty evident that they were following a bright star which suggested to them that something really big was happening. They did identify the goal of their search as being the “king of the Jews.”

They brought gold to a King that would reign not by force but by love. He would rule over men’s hearts, not from a throne but from a cross.

Frankincense: Frankincense is the gift for a priest. It was in the temple that frankincense was used. Priests functioned to open the way between God and men. Their name literally was interpreted in Latin as “bridge builder.” Jesus was and is the bridge builder between God and man.

Myrrh: Myrrh is a gift for one who is dying. Myrrh was used in the embalming process! There is no other way to say it but Jesus was born to die. It was His greatest purpose in coming to earth. 

Is it because of these men that we show our love by giving gifts to one another?

Story 2:

There is a second story and it doesn’t come from the Bible but it reflects the spirit of giving gifts at Christmas.

I remember when I first heard the classic short story by O’Henry entitled "The Gift of the Magi" Known for writing short stories with a twist at the end this one is probably the most well known.

The story is about a young married couple who are very much in love. Christmas is approaching and neither one has enough money to buy the other a Christmas gift. Each one does have one prized possession that they hold dear to themselves. Something they treasure very much -Della, the wife, has beautiful waist length long hair. - Jim, the husband, has a beautiful gold pocket watch that belonged to his grandfather.

In her love for her husband, Jim, - Della goes to a wig maker and sells her hair in order to buy for Jim a beautiful extravagant gold chain for his watch.

Jim in the mean time sells his watch in order to buy Della a beautiful set of combs and hair brushes for her hair.

Each one out of their love for the other sacrifices the one thing they prize the most for the other. Here is the last paragraph in the story:

" The magi, as you know, were wise men - wonderfully wise men - who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all those who give gifts, these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi."

A young African boy listened intently as the missionary teacher explained why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas Day. ’An expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our love for one another’. When Christmas came the boy brought the teacher a very beautiful sea shell. ’Where did you find such a shell’ He told her how there was only one spot, several miles away where they could be found. ’You shouldn’t have gone all that way to get a gift for me!’ His eyes brightened as he said, ’Long walk was part of gift’.

It is these stories of sacrifice that set us up to hear the final story.

Story 3

It is the ultimate story of love. It is the story of Christmas. It is the story of Christ and His coming to this earth.

We have so clouded the message of Christmas that we really almost miss it completely. We make lists, we plan to attend dinners and parties, some people decorate and hang lights all over their houses.  We give gifts. We express our love for our family and friends by giving them a gift. It really is an interesting phenomenon. 

I am not so old that I can’t still remember the excitement and anticipation that I felt as a young boy waiting for Christmas to come. My first recollections of reading a newspaper are of a little box that counted down the days till Christmas. There was almost something magical about it. I remember the excitement of a Christmas morning where surprises awaited. I remember school gift exchanges and wishing that I could have gotten the little book of eight to ten different rolls of lifesavers instead of a plastic egg filled with silly putty.

Christmas is about gifts! I don’t think that the story of the wise men was inserted into the Bible so that we would spend about 450 billion dollars a year in America on Christmas gifts.

Christmas is about one gift and one gift alone. It is the ultimate gift of love.

There is a famous painting of Christ when he was still at home as a young man. He is standing and stretching out his arms. As he stands in the doorway behind him on the wall is a shadow of a cross. In the background Mary sees the shadow and is taken back by it.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

The greatest love story of all is found in the Christmas story.

It was the greatest gift of all for the Son of God to come to this world for one reason and one alone.

He came to give us the gift of salvation. This is The Gift. This is the first present with any real meaning.

I want to ask you point blank today, have you ever received this gift?

Do you know that you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior?

Why do we worship the Christ child? Why do we take His name and call ourselves Christians? Why do we submit our lives, our wants and our wishes as well as our future to this man named Jesus Christ?

Jesus was talking to the first disciples around the end of His life on this earth and he spoke this sentence: “ There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

 It was February 1941, Auschwitz, Poland. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan priest put in the infamous death camp for helping Jews escape Nazi terrorism. Months went by and in desperation an escape took place. The camp rule was enforced. Ten people would be rounded up randomly and herded into a cell where they would die of starvation and exposure as a lesson against future escape attempts. Names were called. A Polish Jew Frandishek Gasovnachek was called. He cried, "Wait, I have a wife and children!" Kolbe stepped forward and said, "I will take his place." Kolbe was marched into the cell with nine others where he managed to live until August 14. This story was chronicled on an NBC news special several years ago. Gasovnachek, by this time 82, was shown telling this story while tears streamed down his cheeks. A mobile camera followed him around his little white house to a marble monument carefully tended with flowers. The inscription read: IN MEMORY OF MAXIMILIAN KOLBE HE DIED IN MY PLACE. Every day Gasovnachek lived since 1941, he lived with the knowledge, "I live because someone died for me." Every year on August 14 he travels to Auschwitz in memory of Kolbe. "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends" (John 15:13). Source: Victor Knowles, Peace on Earth Ministries. Adapted from Crossroads Family Circle.

We call it the Incarnation: Christ came to this earth and became flesh and lived among us.

The mystery is almost too much to process. He came as a baby and subjected himself to the whole human experience. He experienced life as one of us. He knew the vulnerability of being a child and He knew the challenges of adolescence. He knew the questions of a person in their twenties as they face the future and the sense of calling in His life.

He came to offer the gift of a right relationship with God.
He came to offer the gift of forgiveness for your sins.
He came to offer the gift of an eternal home.