Christmas Day December 25, 2022
“Gifts Of Meaning” Matthew 2:1-12
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I stole the title for this sermon. In The Denver Post, on December 4, section “D”, the lead story was titled “Gifts of Meaning”. Immediately I knew I’d try to make that phrase into a sermon. We’ll see how it goes.
At Christmas time sometimes we think hard and get a gift that means everything to the one we shopped for, but sometimes we don’t try that hard. “I don’t know what to get them.” “They can always return it.” And sometimes we don’t even try that hard. Giving a gift of significance and meaning takes some work.
The text I chose for this message is from the twelfth day of Christmas – the Epiphany – the Gentiles Christmas – the day we recognize the coming of the Magi to see the newborn King of the Jews – Jesus. When they came they brought gifts of meaning.
I brought the three gifts of Christmas with me today. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Through the years some have said that gold is a gift for a king, frankincense is a gift for a priest and myrrh is a gift for one who is going to die. The gifts given to this young boy were gifts of meaning.
If I have this account correct, I believe that the star appeared to these astrologers, these Magi, possibly as far away as Babylon on the night when Jesus Christ was born. They believed it to be a sign that something great had occurred. They gathered up gifts, rather expensive ones, to take to this king of the Jews. None of the gifts were products of their country. These were not gifts that were just hanging around their house. There is no gold native to Babylon. Frankincense and myrrh would have come from India. All the gifts had to be imported.
Seeing the star, gathering the gifts, beginning the journey of about 900 miles – at a rate of 10-15 miles a day – would have taken them months. But what joy they had in their arrival. The star they had seen on that night months ago, reappeared. “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11)
Gifts of meaning – gold for a king, incense for a priest and myrrh for one who was going to die. Jesus is king, Lord, master. He wasn’t a king like Herod who they visited first on their arrival. A different king, one who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” A king who would have a sign over His head on the day when He was crucified, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
In the Nicene Creed we recognize that the gift of gold given to this child was not a mistake. We confess with the whole Christian Church, “[We believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” The book of Revelation says that this one that the Magi saw was wearing a sash on His thigh and His robe that said, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” (Revelation 19:16)
They brought Him incense – a picture of prayer – the calling of a priest. This Jesus is not just a king to be adored and worshipped, He is a working priest – praying for those who are His. I know that you pray to Jesus. But did you know that He prays for you? He brings you and me before the heavenly Father. In I John we read, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (I John 2:1) Then in Hebrews, the calling of Jesus as priest, the advocate for us, is spoken of like this, “But because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:24-25)
The final gift given to Jesus by the Magi was quite an odd one, though highly significant. It truly was a gift of meaning – possibly a gift to signify not only the importance of his life but more so, His death. Myrrh was used to embalm the bodies of the dead. Jesus said of His purpose to living, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
In that article that became my sermon title it had nothing to do with religion. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times writes, “Instead of giving your Aunt Sue and Uncle Bill one more scarf and tie to languish in the closet, how about making contributions in their names to help children in need?” He speaks about feeding the hungry in Africa, helping the poor children in our country needing glasses so they can see the lesson in front of them, helping a child read or becoming a tutor for those who just need a little guidance. Those are gifts of meaning. They impact the life of another in significant ways.
Consider the gifts of meaning that you can give to others this year. It may take sacrifice. It may cost you something. But it isn’t just gifts of things or even gifts of money that become gifts of meaning. Gifts of meaning may be a gesture of kindness to someone who you have had difficulties with in the past. A gift of meaning may be calling someone you haven’t spoken to for some time. A gift of meaning may be showing someone, even anonymously, that they are treasured by others. Gifts of meaning make a difference in the lives of others…and they will make a difference in you. In Acts 20, Paul is addressing the Ephesian pastors and says, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Verse 35) Consider how God wants to make the lives of others better through you being a giver.
You are my Christian brothers and sisters, consider the gifts of meaning that we have received from our God. He brought us into this world at the exact time He wanted our life to begin. We have had material goods, a place where we call home, safety and security. Each one of us have been given talents and abilities. We have families and friends. And you have been graced by being a baptized child of God. God has given you His word that tells you how He cherishes you. Our sins – gone. Our promise that we have a home in heaven – certain. We have gifts of meaning given to us joyfully and faithfully from our awesome God. What a gift God has given us in Jesus.
This is the best time of the year to hear music – there are so many Christmas songs that bring a gift of deep meaning to our souls. One that I heard just the other day was “In the Bleak Midwinter”. It was written by Christina Rossetti around 1872 and then Gustav Holst gave it some notes about 30 years later. In the final verse the question of what kind of meaningful gift can we then give to the giver of gifts is answered.
What can I give Him, Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man I would do my part,
Yet what can I give Him, Give my heart.
Gifts of meaning are gifts that change us as receivers or as givers. Gifts of meaning are meant to change the people that we love. This year receive the gifts from God that are meaningful, life-changing, permanent or eternal. This year fully receive Jesus and His gifts. This year give somebody a gift that is a gift of meaning – give them your heart. Amen!!