Commercialisation makes it easy to forget, what the festival of giving ‘Christmas Presents’, is all about.
The Christian justification for giving presents, was found in the Biblical ‘Magi’s’ act of bearing gifts to the infant Jesus, and in the concept that Christ, was a gift from God to the world, bringing in turn the gift of redemption and everlasting life. The Magi, also referred to as the (Three) Wise Men or (Three) Kings, were a group of distinguished foreign dignitaries who, after following a bright Star, visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The gifts provided to Jesus were symbolic and generally speaking, had the following meaning:
Gold is fairly obviously explained for value and prosperity, Frankincense is a perfume, and Myrrh, is an anointing oil.
The three gifts also had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity or God, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of mortality.
There are other interpretations, sometimes described more generally as; ‘Gold’ symbolizing virtue, ‘Frankincense’ symbolizing prayer, and ‘Myrrh’ symbolizing suffering. Whatever the interpretation however, these gifts contrast with the Jews’ traditional offerings of ‘sheep’ and ‘calves’, leading to the assertion that the Magi worshiped Jesus as God!
Incidentally, there has also been suggestions that Joseph and Mary used the gold to finance their travels when they fled Bethlehem, after the magi had warned them about King Herod’s plan to kill Jesus. Another story proposes that the myrrh given to them at Jesus’ birth was the very lotion used to anoint Jesus’ body after his crucifixion.
So what would be a modern equivalent of such gifts… ipads? mobile phones? the latest greatest camera? All of these are gifts that are a spin-off of the technological age. Perhaps indicative of communication, yet their use could be quite the opposite. Promoting isolation and a lack of social interaction. This would be the opposite of the teachings ascribed to Jesus and the prophets of the past seeking to promote social closeness and mutual love and respect for each other.
Well, Gold is an obvious choice and any item of jewellery could be a modern equivalent. As for frankincense, any item from a perfume shop should suffice.
Myrrh, as a symbol of mortality, is a different matter altogether, and needs some careful thought if not to be morbid. It would be fair to suggest, that a suitable alternative may well be a scarf or body covering of some sort, (i.e. as a form of shroud), as the thought of embalming fluid as a Christmas present is not attractive in the least!
So what gift to give then…? I would leave you with your own thoughts on that matter. Perhaps this question is rhetorical, but throughout history you can see that the value of the gift is NOT necessarily relevant. Jesus through his own Christmas story has taught us that it is the joy of giving that is the greatest gift of all!
Thank you and Merry Christmas!
Love and Peace from AlanC