This time of year, you are bound to hear the Christmas carol, "We Three Kings of Orient Are." Every child, of course, knows the variation: "We three Kings of Orient Are, tried to smoke a big cigar. It was loaded, it exploded, BANG!" The real song, you remember, goes like this: "We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts, we traverse afar. Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star."
Matthew, in his gospel, tells us they were wise men, not kings. The best modern equivalent would be to call them "professors." They probably were learned men who sought to interpret the stars to guide the government. The traditional number of wise men is three, although Matthew doesn't tell us how many there actually were. Give these men credit. They were spiritually curious. Whether sent by their government or making a trip on their own, they want to find this new king and pay him homage.
Matthew wants us to know about the gifts. The wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn king. Gold, of course, was valuable as currency. Frankincense is a valuable perfume. Myrrh is a precious ointment often used in the burial process.
When the wise men came to Bethlehem, after a stop at Herod's palace, they found the new king in the humblest of circumstances. They did not scratch their heads and say, "Really? A king born to this poor family? I think we must have made a mistake." Instead, they believed in the sign of the star and believed this child was the promised king. They presented their gifts and, we are told, they worshipped him. That is faith.
To a carpenter's family, even if they came from royal blood, these gifts were beyond extravagance. Joseph probably never before held gold in his hands. He would have been paid with denarius, which would have been a silver or copper coin. Mary only would have caught a whiff of frankincense if she brushed against a wealthy person passing through Nazareth. Myrrh was for the burial of the rich and the powerful, not the poor.
What happened to the presents?
Most of us are like Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character in the movie Jerry Maguire: "Show me the money." Shouldn't there be a few verses in the Bible about what happened to the gifts? The wise men went to great lengths to bring these gifts. They were valuable. No doubt they were received with awe and gratitude. You would think Matthew would tell us what happened to these three amazing gifts.
No one knows what happened to them. Matthew only tells us the wise men brought them. There is not another word in scripture that tells us what happened after that.
There are legends, stories. One legend says the thieves crucified with Jesus had stolen the gold given him at birth. Another says that Judas was made custodian of the gifts and he sold them and pocketed the money. There is a story that the myrrh given to Jesus as a child was used in his burial. A more practical story is Joseph used the presents to finance the family's flight to Egypt. None of these stories are in the Bible.
So, what happened to the presents? Why doesn't Matthew tell us what happened to the gifts?
Because Christmas is not about the gifts we bring; it is about the gift God gives.
It is as if God is telling us, "Gold, frankincense and myrrh are nice, but not all that important. What matters is the gift I have for you. My gift is the gift of my son, myself. My gift is the hope of the world. My gift is the gift of grace. While you were still a sinner, Jesus was born into this world, died for your sins and was resurrected to give you power."
I know how important it is to give the right gift. Many of us are anxious and eager to say just the right thing with our gift. In the midst of choosing and wrapping, pause. Remember that our heavenly father has a gift for you. His gift is worth more than all the gold, all the frankincense and all the myrrh in the world. It's not a gift you can buy. This gift can only be received.
This Christmas make sure you receive the gift before you worry about giving a gift.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church.
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