How many Christmas parties do you need to attend this year? And how many of those require you to bring a gift?

Isn’t it amusing how we would find ourselves in many Christmas gatherings involving different permutations and combinations of our family, friends, and acquaintances, that lead us to buying gifts apt for different party themes? In the end, we find ourselves with a mix of items we’d  (a) like to keep, (b) give to another relative or friend, or (c) recycle for another gift-giving activity. (Let’s all be honest here, shall we?)

A friend and I were having a good laugh when we thought, “What if we all decide to not exchange gifts one Christmas, and save all the money for ourselves so everyone can get exactly what they want?” Practical.

But practical isn’t always meaningful, and it is so easy to lose the essence of gift-giving amidst the chaos and merriment the season brings. Yet if we look back at the very first Christmas party, we’d see that not only was there a meaningful exchange of gifts, but even a costly one.

The Wise Men

It actually happened when Christ was born and the wise men brought gifts (Matthew 2:1-12). With them were gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and tradition says that they were only offered to royalty. To give these they traveled by land for weeks, leaving their families and responsibilities, exchanging the comforts of their homes for the dusty road, enduring a long camel ride, and only to be on their knees in a manger. Quite an impractical thing to do for the wise men. Or is it?

Well maybe we can consider that they were called wise men for a reason. Historical accounts would refer to these men as the Magi, interpreters of the Eastern practice, one of the most learned men of their time. But their wisdom surpassed the earthly kind when they saw through the heavenly irony of that baby wrapped in a cloth and birthed in a stable. While there was no account of them living long enough to see Jesus perform miracles, or hearing of Him ascend to heaven after He rose from the dead, they went ahead to give gifts fit only for a king anyway.

Exchange Gifts

How could they have known? I do not claim to have the answer. The Bible goes as far as saying that “they saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-2, NASB). Besides this, the knowledge we have of the Magi can be pretty vague. However, there is one thing I know for sure today: when the wise men worshiped Jesus with their costly gifts, what they offered paled in comparison to what the Son of God came to bring.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

The wise men brought expensive gifts, while Jesus came to give eternal life. And for who? For the lost, and for the undeserving sinners of this world. The gift that came to us through the womb, to the manger, to the house of a carpenter, through thirty years of waiting until he was finally able to unravel the very present he was meant to do. In the last three years of his life he ministered, loved, healed, and finally died the most gruesome, most painful death, again, for sinners like me and you. It is quite an impractical thing to do for an all-knowing, all powerful God, if we really think about it.

But this who he is. He lavishly gives to those he loves. The great exchange of his holiness for our sin, his pain for our freedom, his life for our salvation, and all he wants in return is for us to give him our hearts.

We can either see this to be the mark of an impractical God, or we can just gratefully receive the lavish love and lavish him back with all he asks in return. We may not have gold, but we can give him devotion. No frankincense, but we can give him repentance. No myrrh, but we can give him our service. If the birthday celebrant himself was the first to give us incredible gifts, would it be too much to ask to honor him back with all weve got?

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