The Gifts from the Giver

Here are extended notes from the sermon I preached at Stoneleigh Baptist Church, Surrey on Sunday 24 December 2017, being from Matthew 2: 1 - 23

What presents are you expecting tomorrow? Will it be new clothes, toys for grown-ups, books, games?

The best presents are not wrapped up in pretty boxes, but lives bowed in adoration to Christ the King and lived out to His glory.

In her advent post, ‘Resisting Christmas,’ English professor Jennifer Holberg describes humorously adamant refusal to give in to ‘holiday guilt’ (e.g. pressure to decorate, send cards, bake, many gifts). Despite the risk of being called a grinch, every year she chooses do little regarding the gifts and the glitz, stating: ‘Every year, the busyness of Christmas is always lamented. But nothing ever changes – somehow folks seem trapped into doing things they appear to take little joy in…a Merry Christmas is not dependant on any of that. You know this deep down.’

1.    The Arrival of the Gift

The Gift, Jesus came silently, into a backwater nation in the vast Roman empire.

People knew He was coming and where he would be born

E.g. see Isaiah 9: 6 – ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’

And Micah 5: 2 – ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will rule over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.’

We know that God gives good gifts out of His generosity as Psalm 50: 10 reminds us that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills; but Jesus was His ultimate gift.

God knew what doing in coming from the highest heaven to the lowest point on earth.

We are reminded in Philippians 2: 5 – 6 – ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

As I keep saying: the centre of His life, of our history was the cross.

What is our response? Graham Kendrick's song ‘Seekers and Dreamers’ about magi, states at the end of the chorus: ‘Longing to bring you our treasures/ Lay at your feet the most precious / Gifts that our hearts can bring/ Oh how we long to be there.’

We should be longing to be in the presence of Jesus – how are you walking with God today?

We can be so full of the parties and presents, tinsel and toys, food and festivities that we forget Who and What we are celebrating.

2.    The Giving of the Gift

The magi came, expecting to give but instead they received.

From the God that owned everything, they gave back a small portion.

It was usual to present gifts to a king – myrrh usually meant anointing, frankincense given as a perfume and gold as item of wealth.

Church later developed the symbolism so gifts taken to be prophetic – gold representing Jesus’ kingship on earth, frankincense as symbol of His priesthood and myrrh (as an embalming substance) as symbol of His death.

However, there are problems with this development: frankincense was only one of several ingredients used in temple worship (where were the other ones?) and Jesus never fully embalmed (which was the purpose of the women going to the tomb). Also, myrrh also had other uses such as providing a general pleasant smell around the house and as an anaesthetic – embalming was only one of its purposes.

True meaning is the practicality, which is why it is important to read the whole passage (a text out of context is a pretext). The  wise men brought what was necessary for the exile, basically money and a first aid kit from scratches and bruises to other common childhood illnesses (myrrh = stimulant and antiseptic for whole range of illnesses and medical issues; frankincense = used internally for bronchial and urinary infections).

The wise men were prompted by God to be involved in His mission – the Son would be soon a refugee. The Bible is starkly realistic, Mary and Joseph would have probably known families where boys killed, we see sin and Satan at work
Christmas is more than presents and even wonderful music – it is the start of the journey that would lead to the cross.

I am reminded in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (15 minutes in) tune for ‘O Sacred Head once wounded.’

Christmas narrative is meant to direct us to salvation at Calvary.

As we accept Jesus Saviour, we must accept Him as Lord, which is the title used most times in the New Testament.

I am reminded of the leader in this church who was dressed up as ‘down and out’ and the impact it had on the church –  never forget how it impacted you. When talking about hungry, thirsty, strangers, sick, prison (Matthew 25: 40), Jesus stated ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Jesus gave His all be ‘incomprehensibly being made man’ to die to bring us back into relationship with Him and so we should give our all to Him, We can only give our all to Him if we bow before Him, otherwise it is only our own efforts for own glorification.

Our ultimate worship must be for the One who gave Himself for us

3.    The Impact of the Gift

Herod the Great had great insecurities, for he was trying to be popular with building projects for the Jewish people and currying favour with the Romans, attempting to make himself god – a truly modern man.

Herod's worst nightmare come true as wise men proceeded through defensive barrier to announce that a new king had been born.

Greek word ‘disturbed’ was not about truth but about opinion – can be what feels good rather than what God says.

Materialistic and secular lifestyle which taints us can lead us being more concerned with television guide that the life guide (Bible), social media rather than socialising with God.

Malcolm Muggeridge wrote: ‘Never forget that only dead fish swim with the steam.’

Bringing God’s kingdom values is countercultural – the world does not know how to handle it: can be disturbed (verse 3) and/or try to destroy it. The world can end up ridiculing or belittling you.

When I was growing up, there was an acid test put before us: if you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? The Holy Spirit should be changing us radically.

An unknown Anglican bishop stated: ‘You know, wherever Paul went, there was either a revival or a riot. Everywhere I go, they serve tea.’

The biggest gift we can give God is worship, which can only be out of relationship with Him.

Hebrews 13: 15 – 16: ‘Through Jesus, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for such sacrifices God is pleased’ – note: we can only please God with our works if have previously owned Him as Lord and Saviour.


Conclusion


In 1993, two Americans were invited by the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in public buildings, including an orphanage. As it was close the festive period, the orphans heard the traditional Christmas narrative about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem, and about Jesus being born and placed in a manger.

Throughout the telling, the children listened in amazement, grasping every word. As a follow-up activity, each child was given three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Then they were also given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins that the children tore into strips and carefully laid in the manger to represent straw. Small squares of flannel from a discarded nightgown were used for the baby’s blanket. Pieces of tan felt were used for the doll-like baby.

As they made their way around the room to observe the children, one of the Americans noted: ‘All went well until I got to one table where 6 year-old Misha sat. He appeared to have finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see, not one, but two babies in the manger! Quickly I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger.’

The observer noted Misha recalled very accurately the story that he had been told until he came to the part where Mary put Jesus in the manger. Misha then started to ad lib.

Misha’s words: ‘And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked if I had a place to stay. I told Him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with Him. But I told Him I couldn’t because I didn’t have a gift to give Him like everybody else did.

‘I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. So I asked Jesus if I kept Him warm, would that be a good enough gift? And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep me warm, that would be the best git anybody ever gave me.’ So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and told me I could stay with Him – for always!’

As Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon or abuse him, someone who would stay with him – for always!


We are all orphans needing the Father, so turn to Him and worship Him this Christmas, long to worship Him eternally!

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