Advent Reading Day 19 – The Gifts We Bring
“10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” Matthew 2:10-12
It can be hard to convince people that you haven’t lost your mind when something costs you greatly. Many people in our lives struggle to make sense of choosing what seems like the more difficult path. It could be that you turned down a promotion to spend more time with your family. It could be that you made a decision like good friends of ours to leave a very successful career, take early retirement and plant a church. Just when things could have gotten “easier” for them they chose to take a very difficult path. It could be that you decided to take a short term mission trip and people think you’re wasting your life chasing dreams. Or, you’re moving halfway around the world and friends and family want so desperately to hold on to you that they struggle to understand how this could be God. Or, maybe you’ve chosen to take a more simple approach to Christmas while those around you are all decked out and not sure how you could have turned your back on this festive season.
Anytime that you have done anything that has cost you because of your convictions in following Jesus, you find yourself in good company. The Bible as well as history is full of people who did the ridiculous, the stupid and the nonsensical because God put something in their hearts. When there was a time for them to take the easy road, they chose a path filled with difficulty, challenge, uncertainty and…Joy.
Consider the Magi. These guys have gone down in history as the Three Kings of Orient who bearing gifts traveled so far…or we used to sing a version which included “smoking on a royal cigar” 🙂 We read of these men who brought the gifts of Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold to the Christ child. However, for just a minute put yourself in their shoes and the ridiculousness of their story…and how much it cost them to take this journey to see the Baby King.
They were sky watchers who saw a star appear in the sky that somehow marked for them that an event of cosmic proportions had happened. They knew that a prophecy was being fulfilled and that this event required their presence. So, they kissed their family goodbye and told them that they are off on a journey of their lives to travel until they find what this star is marking. Sound crazy, yet? Imagine being their friends or family members who think that there’s a bit of lunacy mixed in here. They packed their caravan and set off on a journey that scholars believe may have taken them almost two years to complete. They loaded up and set off on a quest to meet this King and to worship Him.
Along the way they met the then current political ruler, King Herod – a man of great power and influence who told them that he, too, wants to worship this new King. He also was an extremely ruthless ruler who was known for having murdered numerous family members for standing in his way. To not listen to him would mean sure death. However, in a dream they were told to not go back to Herod, but instead to go home a different way. They risked their lives to protect this New King…Craziness? Lunacy? Ridiculous? Absolutely. Their quest for this King had taken them on the impossible journey and now after meeting Him they would do all they could to keep their allegiance to Him…even risking their lives. And what did they have to gain out of the deal? They had nothing of physical value to gain whatsoever, but what they could gain was of immense intangible transformation.
What I read in the story of the Magi is a radical giving of their lives to Jesus. There have been endless commentaries on the meaning behind the giving of Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh by these Magi. There certainly is prophetic meaning to the gifts and the expense of the gifts show an acknowledgment of Jesus’ Royalty. Yet, what I think impressed God the most was not the gifts that were given, but the giving of themselves. The sacrifice was not in the gifts offered, but rather the true sacrifice was in the radical giving of themselves to get to Jesus and worship. The true gift was not in the gifts, but rather in the journey of getting there to offer the gifts and then their response to Him. The image I have of that worship at seeing Jesus is a radical kind of worship. Verse 10 tells us that when they saw the star they were overjoyed. This is perhaps an understatement by the NIV, for the language here is so strong that overjoyed just scratches the surface on the depth and emphasis of joy here. Perhaps exhuberant or overwhelmed with joy…or maybe we don’t quite have an English wording that can contain the level of joy the text shows. And then in verse 11 they bow down, fall prostrate and worship fully. We read of these grown men, wise men, learned scholars, and scientists of the day in the most illogical pose of bowing before this little Baby in worship. They did not put their allegiance in the logical tangible power of Herod, but rather they put their allegiance in the True Power of the True King with an Everlasting Kingdom. They gave themselves…radically, fully, emotionally and intellectually as their long journey came to its climax and they worshipped and adored The King, Their King. The Baby King had gotten ahold of them and they were fixated.
For us this Christmas season, I think there is much to learn from the Magi about what true worship looks like. It is not in the gifts that we bring to Jesus, but it is in the offering of ourselves. It is too easy today to take a casual view of faith and a consumeristic mentality, but with that we also lose a depth of worship and a depth of joy. The quest that cost the Magi so much also left them full of joy, worshipping deeply and willing to lay it all on the line. May we be deeply moved to worship The King this Christmas season in that same way. May we be willing to appear a little “out to lunch” to those around us in order to chase after the One who convicts our hearts and minds with things that seem a little crazy. May we be willing to jump into the fully devoted quest of faith that leads us out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary…for it is there that we will find ourselves full of Joy and full of worship towards the True King to whom we owe all of our allegiance. It is in that place that I believe we also find ourselves truly human in the way that God first designed us to be. May Your Christmas quest be full of joy and worship this year.
Prayer: Jesus, I thank you for the Magi who laid it all on the line to come to worship you. They risked their logic, their time, their energy, their safety, their reputation and ultimately their lives to leave their homeland and cross endless deserts to bring you an offering of gifts, and ultimately themselves in worship. Help me to chose to follow you when the struggles and difficulties come and I start looking for an easier way. Help me to courageously take the quest towards deeper intimacy with You and to chase after what You put in my heart and mind no matter the cost. And, help me when I start complaining about needing to cross town to worship You and remember those Magi and the ultimate cost they paid to bring You themselves in worship. Amen.