The Elephant in the room.

Day 15 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide

There will be many who can’t afford to give gifts to loved ones at Christmas. For them, giving their heart is the most precious, beautiful thing they can do. And then there are the millionaires, who can afford to give lavish, expensive gifts. Heck, they’re even expected to do so. Can you imagine the pressure? Those people have to work especially hard to give a gift rich in love. Because it’s not so much about the money, it’s about the thought and time and love that went into it.

Take the “wise men” from the nativity story. Boy, were they rich!

Imagine…. the Son of God has been born and they want to pay him a visit. They’re all ready to leave and one of them hollers –

“Hold your camels! What about a gift….?” They all look at one another, completely stumped…what does a rich man give to the newborn Son of God?

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Picture this, in “Naomi’s Alternative Nativity in Rock” script, Act I, Scene 3:

Wise man 1 – “Well isn’t it obvious? Pure gold of course. It shows how stinking rich we are and looks good all wrapped up. It’ll certainly make an impression on the parents. A bit heavy, but that’s what camels are for. Agreed?”

Wise man 2 – “Hmmm, yes, that’s a good choice, but we ought to bring a little touch of the Eastern aroma to tickle his senses… you know, a little local indigenous fare. It’s the done thing really. But it needs to be something that’ll travel well over hundreds of miles in the blistering heat. I know, how about a little frankincense and myrrh?

Wise man 3 – “Make’s frankin-sense to me. Geddit? Guys…?” 

Cue tumbleweed, eye rolling from Wise Man 1 and Wise Man 2, and shaking of head from camel.

Ok, I’m messing with you, I’m sure they were a bit more organised and serious than that, they were incredibly wise men after all.

Actually what they bought really was very thoughtful and insightful.

The wise men weren’t just loading their camels with stuff that might make them look kind and good and rich. They were giving practical, thoughtful presents that said an awful lot about what they believed about the baby Jesus, and how they felt about him. They had the means to bring lavish, extravagant gifts. But the point is, they didn’t just bring any old expensive treasure, their gifts contained an underlying, unspoken message that is from the heart.

Firstly, each gift was highly practical for the baby’s parents.

  • It’s quite possible that the gold came in very handy when Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt to bring the baby into a place of relative safety, because Herod wanted him dead.

  • Frankincense and myrrh were widely valued for medicinal purposes, as well as for their ability to make people smell nice if they couldn’t wash. Always a good thing eh? Especially if you can’t find time to take a shower because you’re running away from a nasty Herod who wants to kill your baby.

On a less practical, but more relational note, each of the three gifts were an expression about who they believed this baby was. Yes, I dug around a bit and discovered that gold, frankincense and myrrh say quite a lot indeed about this tiny baby’s significance….

At that time, it was apparently good manners that if you were visiting a royal in a foreign country, you brought a gift of gold. We know that the wise men regarded Jesus as royalty because it was recorded in the Gospel of Matthew that they asked for the “king of the Jews” when they arrived in Jerusalem looking for the baby Jesus.

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Putting one and one together, I’d say the wise men wanted to give a gift fit for a king. A gift of gold, the most precious of metals, would have made the statement that this royal babe was worthy of the most valuable thing they could offer.

So, that’s the gold, but what about the frankincense eh?

Frankincense is a beautifully fragrant resin when burned, often used during worship, as a symbol of the holiness of God.  It’s interesting that, even though these men from the East were of a completely different culture, and maybe had a background of worshipping other gods, we read that they said “we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him“.

And so the underlying message I see in this gift is their recognition of Jesus’ divine status. I see their worship of the Christ, in whom “there is all of God in a human body” .

The most bizarre of the three gifts was the myrrh. This spice was traditionally used for embalming dead bodies, because it was a perfume, and worked very well to mask the smell of decay. It was also used as a painkiller when mixed with wine and consumed as a drink.

Soooo, they arrive with a narcotic substance you’d normally find in an undertaker’s cabinet, and give it to the newborn, who was very much alive and kicking. Bizarre indeed.

Not good manners really is it? Especially when bringing said weird gift to a baby believed to be divine and royal. But there must have been a reason.

Incidentally, 30 odd years later, when dying on the cross, Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, but he didn’t take it.

And then when he’d died, his body was wrapped in a cloth saturated with embalming ointment made from er…. oh, that’s weird…..myrrh and aloes.

I think that myrrh was probably the wisest choice of all the wise men’s gifts, because it represented the true purpose for this royal babe’s 33 year visit to earth. To suffer and die.

Ooh, sorry, I don’t know what happened there, things got a bit, well, morbid, didn’t they? Rather serious. A little bit uncomfortable when we’re talking about a lovely newborn baby. But there it is, the elephant in the room. The dark twist in the story lingering backstage ready to shatter the illusion.

Ahem, moving swiftly on….it’s time for the Thought and Task for the day:

Thought for today:

So, what’s the moral of the story? Well, in a nutshell, by taking a look at the possible significance behind the wise men’s gift-giving, I have found a way to sculpt a new approach to gift-giving which I think has more meaning than my old attitude.

This year I’m going to try to give gifts to the special people in my life which are:

  • Practical – they can make use of it

  • Relational – it says something about who that special person is

  • It has my own character, culture, or personality stamped on them

And there we have it. It won’t always be possible. But it’s a helpful guide to have when choosing a gift, I think.

But what about a gift for the most special one in my life? Ah, yes, back to the elephant in the room. (Or the lamb, as it were….)

So, I’ve accepted Jesus’ gift to me. I did that a long time ago. And I’ve gotta be honest, it’s a cliché, but it really is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s like one of those magic boxes you hear about in fairy-tales – it doesn’t matter how many times you reach inside, there’s always more treasure to be found, more wonders to behold.

Sadly, all too often, we will take the gift, but then leave it on the shelf. Too many of us do that and we are short-changing ourselves. We want to be independent of our loving Father. We act like a toddler struggling to button up her coat, refusing help and declaring “I do it myself”.

Task for today:

Surely I have to give Jesus a gift back don’t I? Well, yes, I think I do. Firstly though, just to clarify, no, I don’t have to do him a load of favours. I don’t have to buy him gold or smelly spices.

Here’s what I’m going to give Jesus this Christmas…

  • I’ll give him my heavy load of cares and worries.

  • I’ll give him all the messes I’ve made.

  • I’m gonna give him all my pain, guilt, weariness and sorrow.

  • I’ll be wrapping up all my hurts and disappointments and handing them over to him.

He’ll love that. I know, it’s not very practical for him. What does he want all that stuff for? Well, he’s not going to be recycling that stuff next Christmas, I know that. He knows exactly what to do with it all.

But it certainly says something about who I believe he is, and it says something about me.

It says that I trust him with my deepest, darkest secrets because he is strong and true and faithful and trustworthy. It says that he loves me for who I am, no matter what. It says that I trust him enough to let go of all that stuff.

But I don’t think that’s enough. I want to give him more.

I want to tell him what he means to me. I want to express how much I love him. I want to just give my time, my thanks, my worship, my love.

I want to give him my heart.

And that is a beautiful, life-changing, scary, fulfilling, magical, daunting, non-conformist, risky-but-worth-it, costly gift to give.

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PS: Rock artwork mostly done by husband Jason, after I failed one too many times, nearly ran out of rocks (which my poor family and I had had to search for on a cold, dark beach one recent Saturday night, to throw together a last minute Sunday School plan) and broke down in frustration.  The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I painted the faces on, around 1am. Mary’s expression was so utterly hilarious that  we lost all control in hysterical laughter before painting over it in gold and trying again. Art is just not my thing.

Bible references:

Matthew Chapter 2 (the story of the wise men).

Colossians 2.9 Living Bible

Mark 15.22-23

John 19.39-40

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