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 miracles at the Exodus, the ten plagues in Egypt, the locusts or the crossing of the Red Sea. They had no corporate memory of God's goodness. We would say today, "God has no spiritual grandchildren" and that was certainly true of Israel at that point. Each person needed to discover his or her Christian faith and also their doubts. Being uncertain about something, to think that something may not possibly have been true or just to have no confidence in an idea helped 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 a Supreme Being.✞
Yet Christian faith and doubt can be powerful tools in bringing us to know this Supreme Being. This 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!✞
Jesus' Christmas gifts were brought by the Wise Men Kings 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" will 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 the massacre of all the male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem. 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, so-called, asked him where the new monarch was to be born so that they could 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 have claimed to have a star to herald their birth. Isaiah foresaw the coming of a special star on the occasion of 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 were spotted in the sky. In 7 BC, there was conjunction or a coming together in the sky of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. 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 gift of frankincense proclaimed that God in Jesus was being worshipped here with a heavenly sign as much as in the Old Testament Temple. It was one of the special and most appropriate gifts for Jesus our God!✞
Christmas gifts for Jesus is a story about the significance of the myrrh presented to Jesus but also as wine mixed with it at his death. On two occasions in the life of Jesus was important. Myrrh was the resin from a small thorny tree and has been used throughout history as a perfume, fragrant incense and as a 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 very expensive 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 the reason 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 body was being prepared for burial. The Christmas carol, "In the Bleak Midwinter" was written by Christina G. Rossetti (1830-1894) who was a very happy child in London and enjoyed Madame Tussauds 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!✞