The nation of Israel had been in the wilderness of the Judean desert for forty years. Pretty much a whole generation had died, and the new one needed its faith. Only Moses, Caleb, and Joshua survived this wilderness experience. The new generation hadn't seen the Exodus miracles, the Ten Plagues in Egypt, the locusts, or the Red Sea crossing. They had no corporate memory of God's goodness. Today, We would say, "God has no spiritual grandchildren," which was certainly true of Israel. Each person today needs to discover his or her Christian faith and also their doubts. To be uncertain about something, think that something may not possibly be right, or have no confidence in an idea, helps reinforce this doubt in the long term.✞
The Ark of the Covenant for the people of Israel was the symbol of the presence of God. Uniquely, God's presence was revealed by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night emanating out from the Ark. The people were, therefore, careful to keep their distance and respect God's dwelling place there. Today, people do not usually reverence God. In our highly technological society, many insist that they are in total charge of their destinies. They imagine they have come of age and no longer needed the so-called crutch of God. Yet Christian faith and doubt can be powerful tools in bringing us to know this Supreme Being. This concept is summed up in an old poem possibly by the American hymn writer Thoro Harris (1874-1955),
"Doubt sees the obstacles,
Faith sees the way.
Doubt sees the darkest night,
Faith sees the day!
Doubt dreads to take a step,
Faith soars on high.
Doubt questions, 'Who believes?'
Faith answers 'I'"
We can all say "Amen" to this sentiment!✞
The Wise Men brought Christmas gifts to the infant Jesus. They symbolized the three characteristics of the life of the King of Kings. There is a prophecy in Psalm 72.10-11 that Kings otherwise called "Magi" or "Wise Men" worship the Messiah. It begins, "May the kings of Tarshish and distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. May all kings bow down to him, and all nations serve him." These kings were called "The Magi," who were wise men leaders. They naturally went to the ruler of that area, King Herod the Great (BC 73-4), a cruel and despotic leader to enquire where the Messiah would be born. Later, in a desperate search for the new king of the Jews, Herod ordered all male children's massacre in Bethlehem's vicinity. The term "magi" meant "kings" or "wise men." and possibly followers of Zoroastrianism or Zaroaster, a religious caste who worshipped one God like the Jews. There were three gifts mentioned in Matthew 2 and therefore presumed as gifts from three wise men named Caspar king of India, Balthazar king of Arabia, and Melchior king of Persia, although early traditions name a fourth as "Patisar." Legends, however, identify different names for them. The Wise Men asked him where the new monarch was born to present gifts to him. Gold was the most valuable metal and highly prized even by rulers. It was an appropriate gift for Jesus as the coming King of Kings.✞
Not many great men or women in history can claim to have a star to herald their birth. Isaiah foresaw the coming of an unusually bright star on the occasion of the Messiah's birth. He wrote in Isaiah 60.3, "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." In those days, several luminary objects appeared in the sky. In 7 BC, a conjunction or a coming together in the heavens of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus occurred. Chinese astronomers also reported a bright star that melted away in 4 BC, and Halley's comet passed over that region in 11 BC. For such a gigantic earth-shattering event in history, God marked it with a firework show of his own! The frankincense gift proclaimed that God was worshipped here with a heavenly sign as much as in the Old Testament Temple. It was one of the unique and most appropriate gifts for Jesus, our God!✞
Christmas gifts for Jesus is a story about the significance of the myrrh presented to Jesus and the wine mixed with it at his death. On two occasions in the life of Jesus, myrrh was necessary. Myrrh is the resin from a small thorny tree used throughout history as a perfume, incense, and medicine. In Matthew 26.6-13, this pleasant smelling anointing oil was poured on Jesus' head by a woman at the house of Simon in Bethany. "While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. 'Why this waste?' they asked. 'This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.' Aware of this, Jesus said to them, 'Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."✞
Interestingly, Jesus referred back to a passage concerning the poor in Deuteronomy 15.11, which says, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land." Jesus astonished the disciples by explaining why the woman anointed him in Matthew 26.12 by saying, "When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial." During his crucifixion, the soldiers offered Jesus wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it. In Mark 15.23, we read, "Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it." Myrrh was not appropriate for Jesus until his burial. The Christmas carol, "In the Bleak Midwinter," was written by Christina G. Rossetti (1830-1894.) She was a delightful child in London and enjoyed Madame Tussaud's Waxworks, the London Zoo, and Regents Park. She explained in her poem what was the greatest Christmas gift she could offer to Jesus.
"What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man, I would do my part;
yet what I can give him, give my heart."
The most valuable gift of all for Jesus is to give him our hearts! The kings brought Jesus three Christmas gifts, but we can give him our hearts!✞