One of my best friends and his wife are expecting a new baby any day now. So I’ve been having fun doing a little baby-clothes shopping. Holding the soft sleepers and tiny blankets brings back memories of days that weren’t that long ago when my own boys were that small.
Most of the lessons of parenthood are things they truly have to learn on the job. No matter how much reading or preparing the nursery or talking to other parents one does to try to get ready for a baby, one is never really ready. A parent can only gain the wisdom they need by experiencing parenthood – being in the trenches, experiencing the sleep-deprivation, the complete disorder of once orderly lives, the complete surrender of schedules and priorities and resources to their teeny-tiny, demanding, unreasonable, yet entirely beloved baby.
Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Charles Osgood states, “Babies are always more trouble than you thought — and more wonderful.”
Leo Burke writes, “People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.”
And Theresa Bloomingdale once said, “If your baby is “beautiful and perfect, never cries or fusses, sleeps on schedule and burps on demand, an angel all the time,” you’re the grandparent.”
Whoever would have thought something as small as a baby could change everything. Yet it has always been this way.
In fact, that is a good way to think about today – because of course it is one baby’s birth in particular that we gather to celebrate this morning.
One of the stories about Jesus’ birth that I’ve thought a lot about in recent years is the story of the three wise men placing gifts before the baby Jesus and throwing their own little royal baby shower. Yet if you stop to think about it, the gifts are strange to bring for a newborn baby. There’s no soft blue blankets no baby toys, no diaper genie or onesies or an ancient version of any of these things.
Remember the gifts they brought? They placed at His feet gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Bible doesn’t tell us what Mary and Joseph did with Jesus’ gifts, but since having babies of my own every time I hear the story, I personally have to wonder what Mary really thought of those presents. Perhaps she understood their symbolic meaning – but I have a feeling that it could just as easily be that in her mind she is thinking, “Come on! Couldn’t these guys have consulted with their wives or even a sister and maybe come up with something a little more useful?”
However, the story seems to assume that the reader won’t think these gifts are strange at all – and when one pauses to look at what each gift represents, it makes all the difference in this story. I was recently reminded of what their meanings were – and I thought I’d share a little bit about these meanings with you this morning.
Gold – it is perhaps easy to guess why this was one of the gifts – because gold has always been a symbol of royalty. This gift signaled the wise men’s understanding of who this child was, and how we should receive Him. Because of this child, we are transformed from lowly paupers to royalty seated with Christ. He had to leave the perfection and grandeur of heaven in order to walk among us, trading His royalty for a time, but never losing His deity.
Frankincense. Incense was a symbol of His purity. Because He was born sinless and lived a perfect life, Jesus was that perfect lamb, without blemish, offered up for our sins. Incense was used as a fragrant offering to God. But the beauty of the scent couldn’t be released without being touched by fire. Jesus’ life became a fragrant offering through the flames of affliction. And in His death, we receive His purity.
Myrrh is the third gift – and this is the gift that no parent would ever want to receive – because it symbolized death. Myrrh was used for embalming in those times. As these men laid this odd collection of gifts at the feet of this child, a little shiver had to have run down His mother’s spine when that last one was placed before Him. Of course she had known that Jesus was no normal baby. The angel Gabriel had told her that Jesus would be great, and he would be called the “Son of the Most High, and the Lord God would give him the throne of his ancestor David and he would reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there would be no end.”
But when she said “Here I am, Lord, let it be with me according to your word” – could she ever have understood the kind of sacrifice this child would make? This gift of myrrh may have been her first clue about the inestimable amount of ways this baby was not only going to change her life, but change the world – through his life and ultimately through his death.
They were three gifts that together foretold the story of this new, sacred life.
They were three gifts that together foretold his royalty, his priesthood, his death.
They were three gifts that together foretold how every life from then on would be different. Every life.
Let us pray:
Living God, how do we sum up in a few words all that this day means to us? All we can do is gather together here in this quiet place and give you thanks for all that you are to us, all you have done for us, and all you are encouraging us yet to be. As we think about the wise men who brought their prophetic gifts to set before you, we humbly bring our gifts to you as well. Help us to use everything we have and everything we are to serve you.
And so we have spoken and sung of how we warmly welcome your birth. Now, we invite you to come home to live with us. Not just today, but every day. Not just this Christmas season, but every season. Make us different than we have been. In Jesus name we pray. Amen