One of the ways we “real-ize” (yes, that is an intentional hypen) Christmas is through gifts. It’s how we express love tangibly. Yes, physical gifts are a good way to bring meaning to the words we say at Christmas.
In fact, one Christmas Julie gave me Matthew Wests’s new Christmas CD. She knows how much I like the seasonal sounds, so she showed me her love by giving me that gift. (Nice, honey!)
I also recall another gift that is quite a bit older—the watch she gave me 26 years ago (which also served as a wedding gift since we were married the week after Christmas). Both are very different, yet both hold a similar quality in that show me Julie’s love. They help me see how real her love is. In that way her gifts help me “real-ize” her words.
The wise men were these kind of men. They real-ized that first Christmas when they made it tangible and physical. How? Through their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11)
A few general words about these gifts are in order. Not only were these gifts the physical expression of their worship, I believe these gifts may have also been profitable to them in that may have been used to help Mary and Joseph financially when they fled to Egypt. They were also prophetic. Specifically, gold spoke to Christ’s royalty, the frankincense to his deity, and the myrrh to his humanity, especially his death. For even though myrrh was often used in biblical celebrations, it was also often an embalming spice, ointment, or perfume.
But more importantly, the gifts speak to me principally, teaching me something about “real-izing” Christmas (i.e., making Christmas real, not merely redundant or ridiculous): We must give in a way that is costly and concrete. Truly, that’s what worship is—a costly and concrete giving of all that we are and have to all that God is and does.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Todd, I plan to have a very real Christmas when I give some some costly gifts in a concrete way. Isn’t that making Christmas real?” On a horizontal level and from a chronological perspective, I think so. It’s what we do for those we love each year at this time.
But the worship this passage describes has far more than a horizontal goal. It is vertical in its nature. It’s the costly giving of concrete things to Jesus. Granted, he was right there in human flesh, so it seems they had it easier than us in actually giving something costly and concrete to Jesus. Yet, I think the text lays out a principle that we cannot escape: True worship is both costly and concrete. It was for them, and it should be for us.
The answer to that question really can’t be answered without at least one more question, the one most of you are asking right now: How do you give to Jesus in a costly, concrete way? After all, you’re reasoning, he’s not here, and he doesn’t really need anything. So how do you give to God when he isn’t visible or needy? Simply put, you give to his kids who are exactly that—visible and needy! That’s right—you give to God in costly, concrete ways by giving to his people in costly, concrete ways.
Jesus actually taught us this when he said in 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.’”
· When you give to help our Zambian team build, in partnership with the residents, a well in the village Chishiko so the families there can build a sustainable living environment, you are worshiping God in a costly, concrete way.
· When you donate to our benevolence fund to help FF families that are going through difficult times and need help from the body, trusting the deacons as they administer these monies, you are worshiping God in a costly, concrete way.
· When you bring in clothes and food every fifth Sunday that go to help local families in need and also aid the clothes closet at our local men’s and women’s prisons, you are worshiping God in a costly, concrete way.
· When you give your Saturday—or any other day—to roof that house of a friend, make that meal for a neighbor, visit that family, help that sick person—you are worshiping God in a costly and concrete way.
The point? One of the best ways to give to God is by giving to his children. That’s how it is costly and concrete.
Incidentally, this is exactly how God gave to us. Consider the costliness and concreteness of John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…”
Now that’s a costly, concrete gift—a son!
Paul echoed this in 2 Cor. 9:15 when he said, referring to Jesus, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
And it’s precisely that gift—Jesus—who gave just like his Father. No doubt the cross is the evidence that Jesus gave in a costly, concrete manner as well. And he provides all the reason we need to give just like he and his Father gave: in a costly, concrete manner.