Each day between December 1-25, we will look at one of the traditional symbols of Christmas, what these symbols mean and how they tell the Christmas story of our Savior’s birth.
When a birthday is celebrated, the gifts go to the birthday boy or girl. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Christ, the One sent by God the Father to rescue all of humanity from its worst possible fate – life and eternity apart from the one true God. So if Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, why do we give gifts to each other?
From the beginning of Christmas celebrations, gift giving has been a part of the season. The Wise Men gave out of their treasures, and the Shepherds gave of themselves. The angels gave the gift of song. Mary gave the gift of willing surrender to God’s plan, no matter the cost to herself. The innkeeper gave the gift of a stable.
Gifts for Jesus
One reason we give gifts on Christmas is to remind us of the presents that the Wise Men brought to Jesus: God, Frankincense, and Myrrh. These gifts were standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world.
Meaning of the gifts
- Gold is generally associated with kings and since Jesus is King of Kings, a gift of gold honors Him as such.
- Frankincense was a perfume or incense and sometimes used in worship.
- Myrrh was an anointing oil and also used as a perfume that is put on dead bodies. Since Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth was to suffer and die in our place for our sins, this gift was a prefiguration of his death.
In addition to the honor and status implied by the value of the gifts of the magi, scholars think that these three were chosen for their special spiritual symbolism about Jesus himself—gold representing his kingship, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming—an interpretation made popular in the well-known Christmas carol “We Three Kings.”
Unfortunately, we have traded the meaning of those original gifts for a commercialized version to rack in profits. The wise men’s gifts were given to honor Jesus—but all too often today, our gift giving has become self-centered and materialistic, or even burdensome. We have also lost sight that Christmas is about the greatest gift ever given.
The greatest gift
Christmas itself is really about the greatest gift ever given – Jesus! One of the most famous Bible verses, John 3:16, says: For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus left the splendor of Heaven, laid aside His glory for the purpose of humbling himself to become a human baby, born into poverty to an unwed, virgin girl. He was despised and rejected by the very people He came to save. Those very same people were responsible for the agonizing death on a cross.
But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose again in victory over sin and death so that as we placed our faith and trust in Him, admit our sin and need for Savior, and ask Him to forgive our sins, then confess Him as our Lord, we would have eternal life. This was his purpose for coming to earth – to be “the way, the truth, and the life.” He is our only way to God the Father. It is only through Jesus that we have the gift of eternal life.
Why do we give gifts to each other at Christmas?
Certainly, gift giving can be in part a remembrance of the wise men that brought gifts to Jesus. However, it is also an act of imitating God and an acknowledgement that what we do for others, we do for Christ. We can find this in two scriptures:
John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.“
Matthew 25:40: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’“
The main reason we give gifts at Christmas is because we are imitating God. Ephesians 5:1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
We give to each other because God gave us the best gift of all. Christmas is a season of sharing, giving, loving, being kind, and helping – all attributes of Jesus. This is particularly true as it relates to the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the sick, the weak, and the disenfranchised. As Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
What is your gift?
Jesus gave us the gift of eternal life. But each of us must decide what gift we will gift to the Savior of the world. The greatest give we can give Him, is the surrender of our hearts and inviting Him to be our Savior. If you’ve already done that, what gift can you give Him this year? I hope you’ll spend some time in prayer with the Holy Spirit and ask Him what gift you can bring to Jesus as we honor, remember, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
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What’s Inside God, Love and Marshmallow Wars?
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