…if it is giving, then give generously. Romans 12:8.
Let’s talk about the gift of the magi, but not the wonderful O Henry story.
Yesterday I was reading a bit in Matthew 2, the book & chapter that discusses the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus. You know the account. Wise men from east of Israel showed up in Bethlehem, looking for the Christ child. They were (presumably) astrologer ‘kings’ who saw a special star that they believed would lead them to the Messiah; Martin Luther thought they might have been learned men, perhaps professors even. We don’t know when they showed up, though scholars today (supposedly wise men themselves) seem to think it was while Jesus was a toddler. That would mean Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived in Bethlehem for a good long time after the Roman census was complete. In the end, we don’t truly know. The wise men presented three gifts we know of, though to be honest we don’t know if there were only three gifts. We also don’t know if there were only three wise men. Tradition has assigned them names of Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar (of Arabia, Persia, and India respectively), but we don’t specifically know that to be true, either.
What we do know is that the magi gave generously. The gifts they brought – gold, frankincense and myrrh – wouldn’t have been given to commoners in first century Judea. They weren’t things that common Jewish children received at birth. If kids of that time received anything, it probably wouldn’t have been those gifts because they were extraordinarily expensive and usually given only to wealthy or royal people. The makeup of the gifts themselves only adds mystery to the story. Years ago I heard a sermon where the minister wondered if Mary didn’t keep the three precious birth gifts from the magi to use in embalming and burying Jesus, especially given that myrrh and frankincense were used for embalming in Bible times. I suppose that’s possible.
Flash forward to Santa. Santa’s gift-giving reflects that of the magi. There’s no set rule saying Santa brings you only one toy; that, too, is open to tradition. He might bring you one, two or three. He might even bring you gold, frankincense, and myrrh, though I’m not sure those would compete well against a PS4 in today’s world. But the comparison still remains: the story of Santa is one of giving generously. Santa gives out of an abundance of the desire to give, to share agape love with total strangers and innocent children. Santa goes to whatever extremes are necessary to get you the gift you desire just to make your life a little brighter. It’s because of a Christ-like heart that someone gives generously.
My wife has over 30 nativity scenes in her collection. I think she loves the story of the magi even more than the story of the immaculate birth because of the wonder of three learned men from far away lands showing up to worship this holy child. The glitterati of the day saw something unusual in that star that they considered to be a miracle. They saw and they believed. This same wife of mine also still believes in Santa. It’s a game we play in our family. Say you believe in Santa and you get a cool gift from Mom and Dad (even though our children are grown and gone). Say you don’t believe and those gifts stop. Saying you don’t believe would be evidence of a generous heart growing cold, of starting to lose sight of the miracle that is Christmas. Saying you don’t believe in Santa is like saying you don’t believe in giving generously. Or in the gift of the magi.
For further reading: Deuteronomy 26:11, Matthew 2.
Lord, I believe in You. I believe in Your gift of giving generously. I praise You for the story of the Magi, and for inspiring a spirit of giving in the story of Santa and in each of us.