Scripture Passage – Matthew 2:1-12
Description – Christmas 2009 Message
One of my favorite holiday experiences this year actually took place before Thanksgiving. It was the first of what I hope will be many East Noble Middle School Fall Plays.
The play was called, “O, Little Town of Christmas” by Pat Cook. A series of one act plays; it was both a humorous, and important, look at Christmas.
One of the acts featured three young men (one of whom you know) who were experiencing that universal feeling of anxiety before going on stage as the Wise Men for the annual Christmas pageant.
The one who was to present the gift of myrrh could not even pronounce the word and needed help learning how to say it. Another one, called Casper, had trouble remembering that he was a wise man and not the friendly ghost.
He also had to remember that he was presenting the gift of frankincense and not the gift of Frankenstein! The third one kept the other two from falling apart by reminding them that it was the “blessed babe” they were giving gifts to and not, “the dude.”
A week ago yesterday, the family and I were doing some Christmas shopping on the eastside of Indianapolis the day after ______’s family birthday party, and one of the stores we stopped at was a Family Christian Store. As I walked through the store, I spotted a nativity activity set for kids with this catching title:
(Slide 1) “What Does God Want For Christmas?”
Ever stop to consider this question, “What does God want for Christmas?” Made me stop and think about the title of this morning’s message: (Slide 1a) “How Do We ‘Gift’ God? How do we give the Lord the right kind of gifts every day of our lives?
Please turn to Matthew 2:1-12 and let’s hear a familiar story once again.
Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star as it arose, and we have come to worship him.”
Herod was deeply disturbed by their question, as was all of Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law. “Where did the prophets say the Messiah would be born?” he asked them.
“In Bethlehem,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘O Bethlehem of Judah,
you are not just a lowly village in Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Then Herod sent a private message to the wise men, asking them to come see him. At this meeting he learned the exact time when they first saw the star. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
After this interview the wise men went their way. Once again the star appeared to them, guiding them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house where the child and his mother, Mary, were, and they fell down before him and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But when it was time to leave, they went home another way, because God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. (NLT)
(Slide 2) Our main text is verse 11, “They entered the house where the child and his mother, Mary, were, and they fell down before him and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (NLT)
I believe this text indicates several gifts that God seeks from us not just during the Advent and Christmas season but also throughout the year.
(Slide 3) The first gift is the gift of the “bended knee” which is the gift of worship.
(Slide 4) The second gift is the gift of the “opened treasure chest” which is the gift of an open heart and life.
(Slide 5) The third gift is the gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” which are the gifts of our time, resources, and abilities.
A few days from now, if not already, we will be opening our gifts as well as giving ones others will open. If it is clothes, then perhaps a gift receipt will be in the box so that if it is too small, too big, too green, too loud, too soft, or just not cool enough, we can return it for something else.
(I will confess to you at this point, that several years ago, I exchanged a shirt that I did not want for a cordless drill that now needs a new battery pack.)
Gift giving is the plan of action this time of year. Some give gifts that are practical, some give gifts that are lavish, and some give a mixture of gifts that run the gamut between practical and lavish.
A survey conducted by the American Research Group last month indicated that people would be spending less this Christmas season on gifts than last year.
Those surveyed indicated that they would be spending $417 on Christmas gifts this year down from $431 last year. Interestingly, the total spent ten years ago was $939 and in 2004, it was $1,004! So spending is now over fifty percent less than just five years ago!
Gift giving can be costly and some, like I have just indicated, give lavish gifts without regard to cost; but I think many of us have moved away from the lavish side to the more practical side not only because of our economic situation but our belief about what Christmas truly means. However, I suggest this morning that God’s gift to us was very costly and that in gifting God, there is a price to be paid as well.
With this in mind, let us take a few moments and reflect on the gifts given by the Wise Men.
(Slide 6) The gift of the bended knee- Worship.
Let’s begin this segment with a review of what I believe are four important views of worship from the pen of Rick Warren.
(Slide 7) Worship…
… is giving God pleasure
… is far more than music
… is not for your benefit
… is not a part of your life; it is your life
The Purpose Driven Life
When the Wise Men fell to the ground, it was an act of worship! They came to adore the Christ child. I do not think they truly understood who Jesus was at that point but they worshipped Him. To worship means to reverence, love, and adore something or someone.
Warren’s four points remind us of this broad and deep aspect to worship that has so often become narrowly focused on what kind of music we are going to hear on Sunday morning and something we “go to” once a week.
Worship is an attitude that must be a part of our lives 24/7.
Worship is a costly gift. To bend our knee and bow before the Lord of Heaven and Earth means that we are not number one, God is!
When we gift God with our bended knee, when we worship Him, in spirit and in truth from the depths of our souls, our hearts become open to Him. It allows us then to gift God with (Slide 8) the gift of the open treasure chest – the open heart.
In Luke 12:34 Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.” I also like how The Message states this verse, “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”
Sometimes we use the expression, “So and so had their heart set on such and such.” This time of year, we find out around the Christmas tree whether the gifts given are what the hearts were set on, or not.
I admit this morning that sometimes my heart is not set on the Lord; it is set on other things. It is set on what I want, my desire for comfort, my hope for pleasure, and instead of me setting my heart on God and seeking His will, I instead seek to have God be set on my heart, my will.
The Wise Men put me to shame because their heart is set with such passion and desire to find the King of the Jews, that they travel many miles from their homes to open their riches in worship to Him. And, I sometimes have trouble taking a few steps toward God in worship with my riches.
Jesus also said, “It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.” (Luke 6:45 the Message.)
These men had generous hearts and their deeds were generous because they opened up their finest treasures and gave good gifts to a small Jewish baby whose family was not wealthy. They gave with full hearts and with hearts full of excitement because they found the baby, the King they were looking for!
There is a pattern here that I think that we are aware of today. When someone grabs our hearts (just ask any young man you know who might have a diamond ring in his pocket this time of year) we change.
We start paying attention to that significant other and look for clues on how to please and how to get closer. The heart is captured! (She stole my heart! He has stolen my heart!)
Out of that we give, we open our hearts and out comes the best we have to give. Sometimes it is reckless giving and those of us who are observing the giving think, “What has gotten into him? What on earth is she doing?”
We know what is going on! The heart is full of love and gratitude (and… passion) and we bring out the best.
What did the father of the lost or prodigal son say? “Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him.” He was glad to have his son, his lost son, home! There was no hatred or spite in his heart, there was love and there was joy! And there was a party!
So, on the bended knee, in worship of the baby King, and out of a joyful and open heart, the wise men then gifted God in the flesh, baby Jesus, (Slide 9) with the significant gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” that I liken to the gifts of our time, resources, and abilities.
A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art.
When the Viet Nam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.
About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands.
He said,” Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly.
He often talked about you, and your love for art.
The young man held out his package. “I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.”
The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture.
“Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.”
The father hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected.
The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection. On the platform sat the painting of the son.
The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?” There was silence.
Then a voice in the back of the room shouted. “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.” But the auctioneer persisted. “Will someone bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?”
Another voice shouted angrily. “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts. Get on with the real
But still the auctioneer continued. “The son! The son! Who’ll
take the son?” Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room.
It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford.
“We have $10, who will bid $20?” “Give it to him for $10. Let’s see the masters.”
“$10 is the bid, won’t someone bid $20?”
The crowd was becoming angry. They didn’t want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections.
The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD for $10!” A man sitting on the second row shouted. “Now let’s get on with the collection!”
The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.”
“What about the paintings?”
“I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets every thing!”
What I take from this story as it relates to gifting God, is that the father put up for auction the only thing of true value to him. Not everything else that he owned mattered to him though it had cost him thousands if not millions of dollars. It was his son, memorialized in that portrait, that mattered to him.
The gifts of the Wise Men; the gold, the frankincense, the myrrh; were costly gifts for them to give. The question of how much were they worth came up in my research and writing and I found at answers.com one suggestion as to the monetary value of the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh.
“Gold was probably worth the same or more [than it is] now, but the frankincense and myrrh probably reached its peak price during the time Jesus was around. Frankincense would have cost $500 per pound and myrrh would have cost $4,000 per pound.” (Source: http://www.answers.com)
This is one view and I could not substantiate it elsewhere. Nevertheless, it makes a valid point – that they were very costly gifts.
Part of me wants to believe that they gave these gifts often. They had the means to do so. But another part of me believes that it was only on special occasions, such as the birth of a king that they reached back behind the good stuff and got the best stuff out to give.
We often do the same, don’t we? Moreover, I have a strong hunch that some of us here this morning will either give something of greater value to someone than what is expected or we will get something of greater value than what we expect or both.
But money is only one measure of the value of what we give. And sometimes, perhaps more often than not, it is not the best measure of what we give.
I suggest this morning that the most valuable gifts that we give are not the ones given this time of year (though I certainly appreciate them and you do too!)
The most valuable gifts we give are our time, resources, and abilities. They are our “gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
To ‘gift’ the Lord with these three important gifts, is one of the ways that we honor Him as our creator and, when we give Him the most important and priceless gift of all, then we honor Him as our Savior and Lord.
(Slide 10) For the most important gift of all… is our self.
This is why Christ came to earth… He wanted to make it possible for us to come to Him.
His plan was to come to make possible once and for all the forgiveness of our sins.
Christmas is a costly holiday but Easter is more costly. The manger is empty but so are the cross and the tomb!
This morning, I invite each of us to give or re-give ourselves to God this morning. Tell the truth to the Lord this morning, confess your sins to Him today and either commit (or re-commit)your self to him and ‘gift’ Him well this Christmas season with the bended knee of worship, the open treasure of an open heart, and the giving of the priceless gifts of time, resources, and abilities. Most important though is to give yourself to Him.
Merry Christmas! And Amen!