Beautiful Gifts

Beautiful Gifts

Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

One of my favorite things about any holiday, or really anything else I love and enjoy, is snarky internet commentary. I can click through witty tweets about Harry Potter or Star Wars or Christmas for–let’s just say longer than I should.

So I really enjoyed the following tweet when I saw it before Christmas:

I laughed out loud when I read it.

And then, as I was starting to think about celebrating Epiphany, the coming of the wise men, I kept remembering this tweet–and chuckling again, but also thinking about this version of Mary, who looks at the wise men’s gifts and sees only their impracticality. This person isn’t the only one–I have seen so many comics and funny Christmas cards that also make fun of the wise men’s gifts. When I searched for my favorite online to share with you this morning, I found many, many options, although this one is my favorite:

I have not been able to find a source for this comic.

Often when we look at the wise men’s gifts, we see only how impractical they are. And don’t get me wrong: I, too, wonder what exactly Mary did with a jar of frankincense, besides keeping her baby and then toddler from drinking it. But also, I’m not sure if then we miss the point entirely.

After all, these were gifts fit for a king or a god. There is archaeological evidence of these three extremely valuable gifts being offered to kings, as gifts from dignitaries, and to gods, as temple offerings. And Jesus was both king and God. 

It’s poignant that these gifts are being offered to Jesus now, when He is still a baby, and when there is little evidence that He is a king: after all, He was born in the most humble of circumstances. He seems perfectly normal. The wise men have only the words of Scripture and the star they’re following to prove that Jesus is not a normal boy, but the Son of God, and therefore both a king and God. 

And it’s poignant, too, that these gifts were so impractical. That is worship: a pouring out of something valuable, and often something impossibly impractical. It reminds me of the story of the woman with the alabaster jar*: she comes to Jesus with a jar of costly perfume, worth three hundred denarii–so literally thousands and thousands of dollars–and anoints Jesus with it. This is an unnamed woman, who as far as we know did not know Jesus personally. But something moved her to take this perfume, which surely she had been saving for some special occasion, and anoint Jesus’ head with it. She sees Jesus and knows that He is the special occasion she’s been waiting for. When the disciples are angry at this so-called waste, Jesus says, “Let her alone. … She has done a beautiful thing to me. … She has done what she could.” (Mark 14:6-8)

And the wise men do the same. They have come prepared, with gifts fit for a king: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. These are the traditional gifts, and they are valuable, and they have guarded them all through their journey. They have followed the star, and when they reach their goal they find that this king they were searching for is not at all what they expected: He is a child, growing up not in a palace but in a peasant’s home. But they do what they can; they give what they have, and give gifts fit for a king. They know that Jesus is a king, no matter how it appears and what His living circumstances are. 

And God invites us to do the same. We all have valuable gifts to offer to God–probably not frankincense, but we have talents. We have bank accounts. We have food and time. Like the little drummer boy, like the magi, like the woman with the alabaster jar, we offer what we have. It may be impractical; it may be so impractical, even foolish. But God sees our gifts, and calls them beautiful.

Alleluia, and Amen.

*I’m thinking of the version in Mark 14:3-9, but there’s a version of this story in all the gospels: see also Matthew 26:6-13, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8 if you’re curious.

Given to Us