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What Can I Give Him?

It’s one of the enduring images of the Christmas season.

The Wise men are travelling by camel through the star-lit night. One star dominates the sky as they arrive on the crest of the hill overlooking Bethlehem.

It’s been a long trip from a country far away in the east, but the journey is almost over. The wise men look down from the star in the sky to the building lying below, bathed in its light.

This is where they will find the newborn king of the Jews.

This picture of the Magi is found on Christmas cards and in nativity scenes. I’m sure you will have received a Christmas card with that exact image imprinted upon it in the past few weeks.

But the wise men don't really belong in the manger scene.

There are several indications in the one biblical story which tells this episode—Matthew 2, verses 1 to 12— that they arrived some while after Jesus’ birth.

  • It refers to Jesus as a child—not a baby.

  • We hear that the wise men found the family in a house.

  • Then we read that Herod ordered the slaughter of boys under 2.

Whilst we don’t know the date, it seems likely that the events of the Epiphany occurred some months after the birth of Jesus.

It’s good that we have Epiphany—and we can talk about the Magi visit distinct from the birth narrative. And appreciate the powerful symbolism and significance of this event which often ends up being something of a Christmas afterthought.

So, what do we know about these wise men? Well, there are many things that we don’t know

  • how many there were

  • what their names were

  • where they came from exactly

One fact that Matthew does give us is that they came with gifts for the newborn king.

Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gold, frankincense and myrrh gifts.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh—what strange gifts for a newborn baby.

I’ve heard women comment that if the visitors had been Wise Women—rather than Wise Men—the baby Jesus would have received practical gifts—baby food, nappies and a casserole for the parents. And not a useless lump of gold and two bottles of perfume.

These have been popular interpretations of the wise men’s gifts, but Matthew doesn’t explain why they brought these strange presents.

The gold, frankincense and myrrh of the wise men are useless for God.

He has ALL the gold, frankincense and myrrh he ever needs. After all, he is the creator of all these gifts in the first place.

But as “useless”—in human terms—as these gifts are, they are a sign of the way the wise men gave of themselves.

We are told, " when they saw the child with his mother, Mary, they knelt and worshipped".

There isn’t a gift that would be sufficient for the king of kings.

So, the wise men gave what they had.

And when we think about the question: What can we give to Jesus?’ It’s the same answer – the best that we have.

All the gifts that we offer in the church:

  • our praise, our music and singing,

  • the words of our liturgy,

  • our bowing and kneeling,

  • The words we sing or mutter in prayer,

  • the bricks, the glass, the steel and timber,

  • the offering envelope we drop on the offering plate

Just tiny gifts in comparison to God’s goodness and love toward us.

The best gift that we can offer him is the gift of ourselves.

At the start of this New Year and having heard about the wise men's gifts, this might be an excellent time to take another look at our response to God.

How well have we given ourselves to God in response to his extraordinary gift?

The Bible tells us that the wise men went home from Bethlehem by another road.

We, too, can walk a different road this year,

  • where we aren’t just people who go to church but people who ARE the church

  • where we aren’t people who think “someone will do it” but people who step up to the plate

  • where we aren’t just here for what we get out of it but for what we can give

Are we ready for the challenge? Are we ready to respond with daring determination?

May his love be reflected in our lives as we offer him all we have. That’s our gold, frankincense and myrrh.

What can I give him?

Poor as I am

If I were a shepherd

I would give a lamb

If I were a wise man

I would do my part

But what I can, I give him

Give him my heart

(Christina Rosetti)


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