Monday, December 19, 2011

The Gifts


Rembrandt's Adoration of the Shepherds

On the night Christ was born ---- Mary and Joseph were present, there were shepherds and angels (the former having been invited by the latter), and there were likely a few animals sharing the manger with them. On the night of His birth ---- there were glad tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10). But on that night, there were neither presents nor wise magi from afar. 

On that first starry night, when the Christ child looked up at the stars He had created, no wise men had arrived yet...

It was one to two years after Christ's birth, when the Magi (wise men) arrived bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12).

The manger scene we depict is actually not accurate. We have combined Luke 2 and Matthew 2 into one neat scene ----but it is important to remember accurately, the facts that surround that special night when God's Gift breathed air.

Christ was born in a manger, not in a house or inn. It is believed he was born in warmer months, not in the winter months. Shepherds were in the fields tending their flocks at night (in colder months, shepherds usually brought the flocks in to the manger at night). Angels visited the shepherds, inviting them to welcome the One who had come for all men. So they came to the manger on the very night of Christ's birth.
It was months later before the wise men arrived. They journeyed "from afar" on camels, it was a slow trip. When they arrived they found Mary and Jesus in a house... not a manger (Matthew 2:11).

Rembrandt's Adoration of the Magi

These wise men, two thousand years ago, were among an elite group of scholars who trained, guided, and "made" Kings. Kings who had been born into kingship by the blood in their veins. The wise men knew this baby was the prophesied King, He had been foretold, they had been watching for Him --- from above the world not from within it. When they arrived in Jerusalem they asked,“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) They saw HIS star, they came to worship HIM, they knew the King of the Jews had been born. Herod was horrified at their revelations. Many Bethlehem babies died because they came, they asked, and Herod believed. (Matthew 2:16)
Imagine if the wise men had not inquired of Herod. If we could stick to Luke's telling of the story, where no wise magi are even mentioned and Herod's frantic efforts to destroy the infant king could be erased. Only in the book of Matthew is there a remembrance of the gifts and the horrors that happened months after Christ was born.

The birth of Christ as told by Luke, is the humble, peaceful remembrance where "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2: 19).
However, Matthew, the ex-tax collector, looks at the remembering in a more complicated way. For Matthew, the visiting of wise men, wealth, and gifts is worth noting --- but with their part of the story comes the horrors of Herod's fearful response to the birth of the prophesied King of the Jews. Could we trade in the gifts from the magi for the havoc their visit caused in Bethlehem? It wasn't their fault. They didn't trust Herod either. But if they had never come, would Herod have remained oblivious to the birth of the King? Their visit ultimately cost the parents of Bethlehem their baby boys' lives, therefore, we should glean all we can from their part of the story.  They came, they searched for the prophesied One, and they brought gifts. The gifts must have mattered, a huge price was paid at the time of their arrival.

Why these three gifts for the Christ child?

Gold is very valuable and it was in those days as well; it is superior to other metals in many ways. It's a precious metal that is resistant to corrosion and is the most malleable metal in the world. So --- this shiny, valuable gift, would not "rot", would speak of "royalty", and would whisper of the Saviors ability to transform from God-child to son of man back to Son of God. To find gold, you have to dig, mine, blast, search. The most valuable gold has been refined --- it's endured the refining fire --- the furnace.

Frankincense is tapped from the very scraggly but tough Boswellia tree by slashing the bark, called striping, and allowing the draining resins to bleed out and harden. The hardened resins are called tears. Frankincense trees are also considered unusual because of their ability to grow in very unforgiving environments, sometimes growing directly out of solid rock. Once processed, one popular use of Frankincense was burning, whereby its smoke and aroma rising upwards represented prayers being lifted to Heaven.

Myrrh had (and still has) several medicinal uses but in early Egypt it was most often used for embalming or anointing of the dead. Myrrh was associated with mortality, suffering, and sorrow. Typically less than one pound of myrrh would have been used during Israelite funeral preparations. However, when Christ was entombed Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing around 75 pounds. (John 19:39) It is worth noting that over the years, the value of Myrrh has fluctuated greatly, but there have been times when myrrh was more valuable than gold. Myrrh is harvested from a tree grown in Yemen, Somolia, and Ethiopia, by wounding the tree and gathering the resin that bleeds out.

It takes my breath away to realize ----- the three gifts given to the Baby Christ were all items found in nature and acquired through such means as :wounding the tree, bleeding the resin, slashing the bark, stripping the tree, and purifying through fire. 
Those are painful words ----- wound, bleed, slash, strip, and purify.
All were later lived out by Christ.
The Passion of our Christ.

Our Savior did not receive royal robes (soft and elegant) or a kingly crown (polished and commanding of respect). He received gifts of great value yes, but still they were gifts that echoed of suffering and death.
His first gifts ----- foreshadowed His final gift.
The gift that gives us life.

Makes me want to shield my eyes from the gifts we pass around this time of year ---- and focus --- with deep sincerity.

All gifts come with some sort of price.
The more valuable the gift ---- the greater the price.
The first gifts our Christ received came at a high price ---- we could ask the mothers and fathers of Bethlehem about that. Those same gifts foreshadowed the ultimate gift our Savior was preparing for us.
May we measure carefully our response...

Luke 2: 8-20 (NIV)
 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 910 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 1718 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,

Matthew 2: 1-16 (NIV)
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
   who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 16 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.

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

No comments:

Post a Comment