Gifts of Honor
In a thoughtful response to the retelling of the Christmas story, and especially the reference to the wise men bringing gifts, a friend noted that the gifts the wise men offered, the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, were essentially symbolic gifts of honor, not practical ones, written into the Jesus narrative to represent what the biblical writers believed were the essence of the meaning of the birth of the Messiah. The gold honored their expectation of Jesus’ as leader/king; the frankincense represented his divinity; and the myrrh honored his mortality, or the humanness, of the baby Jesus. This ancient story of the wise men’s gifts established the tradition of Christmas gift giving, and I want to acknowledge and celebrate that tradition this evening.
On this Christmas Eve/Day it is good to be reminded that the heart of our gift giving is intended to be an honoring of the one to whom we offer a gift, just as the wise men offered gifts to the baby Jesus. The most special Christmas gifts given and received are always those carefully selected to match the gift itself with our recognition and honoring of the special quality or interests of the person to whom we give our gifts, or in recognition of some special relationship between us. And the most precious gifts we receive are those that affirm the giver's relationship to us. For example, when our twelve year old grandson visited us for a week last summer he became deeply interested in birding. He learned to use a telescopic lens to capture the beauty and grace of the birds, and he had an app that helped him identify any bird he saw. And I enjoyed a special morning accompanying him to sites on Whidbey to see the variety of shore and forest birds, and the morning that also included an hour long visit with friend well established in Audubon who hosted us in her backyard bird sanctuary while chickadees pecked seeds from our hands. Birding became a strong bond between us, so bird-related Christmas gifts to him this year honored his interest in birding and the bond birding created between us - and to the delight of us all!
Ideally, then, each gift we give and receive this Christmas could symbolically also represent the honoring of the special quality of the life and relationship we share. That hand-knitted sweater or jar of special jam; or those photographs, paintings, or poems; or that special toy or addition to one’s hobby or interest; or maybe a commitment to spend regular time together for a meal or a walk: these are all gifts honoring the love and bond between us. May our gift giving this season remind us again of the intention of the gifts of the magi as the origin of the tradition of Christmas gift giving and the personal honoring that our gifts are intended to express.
The holiday spirit of Jesus’ birth at best commemorates rebirth and renewal of hopeful beginnings. And just as the Jesus’ narrative also includes reference to the context of poverty, political oppression, and travail that also surrounded the time of Jesus’ birth, our hopes are tempered by the hardships of many across the planet. But this day, at this time, let us celebrate the message of hope the story of Jesus offers, and let us sing our hymn of joy to the world and the wonder and mystery it offers to us all.
Peace and blessings to you, my friends,
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