December 18, 2016   Matthew 2: 1 – 12   Gifts 


    Last week we talked about the Magi that traveled for months to worship this baby and to offer gifts.  They did not know where they were going they just followed that star which seemed to stop at Jerusalem.   They find out that the child was to be born in Bethlehem.   What do you think of when you hear the word Bethlehem?  What does the name mean?   Is Bethlehem mentioned in the Old Testament?   In Genesis 35 we read then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty.   And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.”    As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni.but his father named him Benjamin.   So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).   Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.

    It is interesting that Ben-Oni means son of my sorrow.  Jesus is known as a man of sorrows.   Jacob renames him Benjamin which means son of my right hand.  Jesus is at God’s right hand.  Jacob loved Rachel and she dies there.   Remember that he worked for Rachel for 7 years and they seemed like a few days because he loved her so much.  How does Jacob feel about Bethlehem?   Jacob probably does not feel too good about Bethlehem.  It is a place of death for him.  We see Bethlehem several times in the Old Testament.  I want to note that it is where Naomi lived which is mentioned in the book of Ruth.  There is a famine in the land and she moves to the land of Moab and her husband and her 2 sons die and then she returns to Bethlehem with Ruth her daughter in law.   Even though Naomi was bitter and terribly wounded God blessed her after she returns to Bethlehem. 

     In Matthew 2 we read when Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:  “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”   This was written some 600 years before and is prophecy of Herod killing the male babies in Bethlehem.  Rachel represents the mothers who weep because their sons are killed.  Bethlehem has had its dark places but we rejoice today because it is the place of the birth of Jesus.   Jesus is born in the place known as the house of bread and Jesus is the bread of life.  But there is some sorrow in this town.   Mary the mother of Jesus soul would be pierced as would Jesus side would be pierced with the spear on the cross.  This child was born to die and would be known as a man of sorrows.  Jesus took our sins and offered willingly his life.  Paul writes thank God for his unspeakable gift

    We think about gifts a lot at this time of year.  How are you doing with buying your gifts?   Are you all done shopping?   As time goes it gets less and less fun.  There is a rush in the air and after awhile we want to be done with it.  At this time of year the roads can be less than safe for travel and it is cold.  

    A woman was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall. She was tired of fighting the crowds. She was tired of standing in lines. She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles looking for a gift that had sold out days before.  Her arms were full of bulky packages when an elevator door opened. It was full. The occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks to allow a small space for her and her load.  As the doors closed, she blurted out, “Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and shot!”  A few others nodded their heads or grunted in agreement.  Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator, came a single voice that said: “Don’t worry. They already crucified him.”   — Homiletics, vol. 18  

   How long has giving been around and where does it come from?  We see examples of giving way back in Genesis.  We see tithing in Genesis.  That is way back in the beginning.  I suspect most Christians think that giving really comes from God.  God so loved the world that he gave.  Of course we think of the birth of Jesus.  Perhaps we think of the wise men and their gifts but there was a gift given before that which was very important.  There was a very precious gift given in Luke 1 where Mary said I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.  Mary offered her life.  She submitted to God’s will.  She did not have much but she had her life and she offered her life.  That is the heart of giving isn’t it?   I suspect that most of us are far more involved and interested in giving gifts rather than receiving them.  If we are in the true spirit of Christmas we are into giving.

    We think that gifts start with God but somehow it becomes all about us.  Did I remember to get everyone a gift?  How much can I spend on gifts?   Some families draw names to cut down on cost of buying or making gifts.  Many folk’s labor and worry about buying gifts.  What is the right size to buy?  Can I find that unique gift that will really meet a need?  

    Others only think about what they are going to get.   When I was a child we did not have much and my brother and sisters would always wake up early.   Children are certainly into receiving gifts.  A small boy was writing a letter to God about the Christmas presents he wanted. “I’ve been good for six months now,” he wrote.   After a moment’s reflection, he crossed out “six months” and wrote “three.” After a pause he changed that to “two weeks.” There was another pause and another erasure.   Finally, the boy got up from the table and went over to the little nativity scene that had the figures of Mary and Joseph.   He picked up the figure of Mary and went back to his writing and started again: “Dear God, if ever you want to see your mother again.    Ha 

     I would say all of us can give.  We may not have e a lot of money but we can pray.  Prayer is a gift.  When you pray you give your life.   For those that desire to give they will find some way of giving.  If you can give it is because God has blessed you.  I think a good prayer is Lord bless me so I can give.  We can learn how to share the gospel and pray that God would use us to lead others to Jesus.  We can learn how to share our testimony and pray that God would use that to bring others closer to himself.  As we think about gifts I am reminded that every good and perfect gift is from the father.  Is everything you have a gift from God?  Is your sin nature a gift?  Sometimes it may seem like curse.  God has blessed and gifted us. 

    Salvation and Jesus are gifts.  God has blessed us with the Holy Spirit.   God has blessed us with spiritual gifts.   Some of us do not know what those gifts are.  Unopened Christmas gifts do not have much value.  Unknown gifts do not help very much.  Hidden gifts are not realized.   Unused gifts collect dust.  God announced the birth of Jesus.  God sent his angel to Mary and angels to the shepherds.  God sent the magi.  God spoke of his gift thousands of years before Jesus came.  God’s gifts can sometimes come in strange packages.  Some of those packages may be people and it can come as a struggle.  The Magi brought Jesus precious gifts.  I suspect some of the Jews did not think much of the magi.  Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh were certainly expensive gifts in Jesus day and today.  They may have brought other gifts.   The bible mentions these 3 gifts. 

    The wise men or magi gave the baby Jesus gold.  In the early times gold was used for ornaments and for idols.  Lot took their gold ear rings and molded a gold calf for them to worship in Exodus.    Many tons of gold were used in connection with the temple.  David collected 3,750 tons of gold for the temple.  I could believe that Solomon added to that amount.    The temple room of the holy of holies was over laid with 23 tons of fine gold and that does not include the gold nails used and other use of gold in the holy of holies.   Gold is certainly valuable today.  Gold was the foundation of our economy in the beginning.    We see that the gold that was given by the Wise Men to the child Jesus was a symbol of his royalty and riches. Here was the very Son of God, the owner of all the cattle on a thousand hills, the King of the Universe, the King of all Kings.  He is the creator of all things, rich in mercy and grace.   Jesus is rich in love and compassion. We see the richness of his sacrifice and what an awesome salvation that we have through Jesus.  I am reminded that gold and money will not earn our salvation.  Gold is fitting for kings and it is fitting for the King of Kings and Jesus was given that at his birth.  There are many, many crowns made out of gold or have gold.

     The Wise Men also brought Jesus Frankincense.  It was one of the ingredients in the perfume of the sanctuary.  It is first mentioned in the bible in Exodus 30:34-37 which reads.   Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices—gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred.    Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the Ark of the Covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you.   It shall be most holy to you.   Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord.   Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people.”   In Leviticus 2 it was added to the gain offering.  The offering was burned and it gave off a fragrant aroma.  Jesus body was offered up to God and his body was a pleasing and acceptable offering to the Father. 

    And the magi brought myrrh. How many times was Jesus offered or given myrrh?  Myrrh is mentioned a few times in the bible and is mentioned most in Song of Songs of Solomon.  We see in Esther 2 that the oil of myrrh was given to the young women for 6 months that went in before King Xerxes.  In Exodus 30 it is one of the spices used to make holy anointing oil.  In Psalm 45 we read your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.    You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.   All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad.   Daughters of kings are among your honored women; at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir. 

    Jesus was offered myrrh on the cross mixed with wine to dull the pain but Jesus refused.  Jesus took all the pain.  He did not hide from pain.   Does anyone know the last time myrrh is mentioned in the bible?  It is found in John 19 which says.  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.  Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.   That was to be used to prepare Jesus body for burial.  Since myrrh was used in the holy anointing oil in the Old Testament it is fitting that the magi would give that to the baby Jesus.  God’s anointing and spirit were on Jesus. 

  I want to close with this illustration today.  Pete Winn shares just prior to Christmas, I went to the post office. After helping me, the pleasant postal clerk uttered what is surely her standard line: “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I quipped, “Can you help me pay for Christmas?”  Without missing a beat, she replied, “He has already paid for it.”  I was stunned. Pleased, surprised, a tad embarrassed, but most of all, stunned.   I murmured something profound in response — like, “He certainly did” — and left.  A simple phrase had put everything in perspective.   — Pete Winn, “Citizen Link Update”  I think it puts a lot of things in perspective for us today also.