Biblical Gift Giving

Posted on December 22, 2011. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , |

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There’s only a few days left before Christmas, which means there’s not too much time to do that last-minute shopping (men). There are a lot of resources dedicated to helping you to determine the perfect present. But did you ever wonder what the Bible has to say about giving gifts? If you think about it, it’s actually natural to look there. After all, one of the theories behind why we give gifts at Christmas is because the wise men gave presents to Jesus. If you read to story of the magi coming to check out little JC, it actually gives two pretty good tips for gift giving:

# 1 Give a gift for the recipient, not you.

We all know them: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But why on earth would the magi give a small child these gifts? They sound like gifts that the wise men would want, not a little boy. I bet he wanted a race-car bed or at least a nice dradle. But these gifts are actually pretty well thought out and were themselves probably based off of prophetic scripture that described Jesus and his life.

One of the Old Testament prophecies was that the Messiah would be a descendent of King David (2 Chronicles 6:16, Isaiah 9:7). That would of course make Jesus of noble blood. What was, and still probably is, the gift to give royalty? An iPod loaded with the President’s speeches. Just kidding, that would be gold.

On to the next gift. Incense has been associated with religious ceremonies, sacrifices, and praying to deities for thousands of years. Catholics today continue to use aromas during mass. Daniel 7:13 claimed that the Messiah would be both man and God on earth. The frankincense reflected that the magi knew the child was holy, as well as human.

Myrrh. I’m sure Mary was thrilled that these guests came bearing gold and incense, but as a mom the last thing I would want to be reminded of was how my son going to die. Myrrh was associated with funerals, so bringing it might be today’s equivalent of giving an urn at a child’s birthday party. “Gee…thanks.” Obviously, everyone dies, but prophecies told that Christ’s death wouldn’t be a minor event, nor would it be ordinary (see Isaiah 53). Instead, it would be the pinnacle of history until his final return.

Great gifts that were well-thought out for Jesus. But, as we all know, even when you try your hardest, the gifts won’t always make the cut, bringing us to the next pointer:

#2 Don’t be crushed when the recipient re-gifts.

So, the wise men came, gave the gifts, made camels out of balloons, and left. After that Mary and Joseph put the gold in a 529 plan, burned some frankincense in the nursery, and saved the myrrh for later. Wrong – “After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Matthew 2:13). Verse 14 indicates Joseph didn’t mess around and instead left that night.

One problem though, they weren’t rich, as indicated by Joseph’s sacrifice of two pigeons at the temple (a poor man’s sacrifice Luke 2:22-24, Lev 12:8). A trip from Israel to Egypt wasn’t going to be cheap. If only they had something worth its weight in….Of course this is just speculation, but many scholars believe that those lovely gifts didn’t stay in the family long. It’s more likely the gifts were resold to pay for the trip and costs associated with living in a foreign land for a few years, something the new parents wouldn’t have been able to afford on a young carpenter’s income.

There’s no way of knowing if the magi knew their gifts would be sold. But if they were wise (hah) and knew Herod was out to kill Jesus, it makes sense they brought gifts fit for a god, a king, and a martyr that would also fetch a good price on the road. Almost like it was meant to be. I doubt they would have been too upset or pouted that they could have just gotten a gift card and saved themselves the trouble.

Bottom line, when it comes giving gifts, remember it’s always about the recipient.


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4 Responses to “Biblical Gift Giving”

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[…] they read contained the signs and prophecies for Christ’s birth (in addition to some great gift-giving advice). Numbers 24:17 claims a “star will rise out of Jacob,” Jesus’s forefather […]

Enjoying your thoughtful posts. (o:

Thanks, plaidoak. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for topics in the future.

[…] they read contained the signs and prophecies for Christ’s birth (in addition to some great gift-giving advice). Numbers 24:17 claims a “star will rise out of Jacob,” Jesus’s forefather […]

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