The Gifts Of the Magi

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.


I have bad news: there are only five shopping days left before Christmas morning. If you’ve waited this late, you’re probably destined to give a lousy gift. Trust me. I have been among the downtrodden throng browsing hopelessly through retail shambles at a Walgreens on Christmas Eve, eyes glazed, feet dragging, hope spent, like consumer exiles who have lost all memory of home. No gift worth giving is purchased this late. 

But I also have good news. If you do happen to be a yuletide procrastinator with a bag of undesirable toys, you’re in good company. The first Christmas gifts were also useless. Matthew’s gospel tells us that wise men from the East brought three gifts to the infant Messiah — gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Jewelry and perfume. For a baby. Imagine bringing Chanel Number 5 to a sip-and-see. What were these guys thinking? What’s wrong with booties? Or bibs? Or a diaper cake for crying out loud? I wonder if Mary and Joseph felt guilty later when they hocked their son’s Christmas presents for a ticket to Egypt. 

But as funny as it is to think of bad-gifting-magi, all my best gift suggestions miss the point of these presents, which is their pointlessness. The wise men didn’t give offerings to Messiah to make him richer. 

In his classic book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote about a similar gift-giving scenario: 

when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to his father and saying, “Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.” Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.

The magi weren’t giving to someone in need. There was no “oh, I hope he can use this” banter in their caravan. They gave gifts to the God of the universe, the creator of all things. 

What do you get for a Guy who has everything? 

The wise men gave not to meet Messiah’s need but to meet their own. We humans are worshippers. We are built to worship. Like the young couple in O. Henry’s story, who each pawned a prized possession to pay for a gift for their beloved which was rendered useless by that beloved’s pawning — like the child in Lewis’s story whose father is delighted with the gift his own sixpence bought him — our role is to offer God gifts he doesn’t need: our money, our time, our service, our devotion. 

Our worship. 

There’s another way those first Christmas gifts were futile: they weren’t the first Christmas gifts at all. The first gift — the one that ignited the star the magi followed — was worth more than all the kings of the world could offer. When we give gifts in worship, we embrace our role as worshippers, but we also reflect, imperfectly, the nature of the greatest gift-giver. 

For God so loved the world that he gave.