As of December 13th I have a new niece. Her name is Scarlet, and although I haven’t met her I’m confident that she’s sweet and beautiful and perfect. Hopefully I’ll get to confirm all that with an in-person encounter before too long.
Christmas provided a great opportunity to compensate for my absence with an exceptional present… but this is tricky with babies. Normally we select gifts based on what the recipient most likes, which in a newborn’s case is pretty much eating and pooping and sleeping (often in that order). So I tried to go with what her parents liked. I looked for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers onesie, or a Tampa Bay Rays bib. Unfortunately, everything I saw failed to fit either my budget or my taste. I gave up and bought something that fits with one of those few things a baby likes to do:
But what if I knew more about the person Scarlett will one day become? If I had that ability, I could pick out a really amazing present – and it’d be worth blowing the budget over. If she’ll become a Rays superfan, I could stalk Evan Longoria for a “Future Rays Fan” autograph. Then, as an adult sitting in the stands (assuming the Rays are still in Tampa Bay), she’ll treasure that piece of paper. Or maybe she’ll grow up to be a doctor like her great-grandfather. In that case, I could get her an early edition of Gray’s Anatomy (the textbook, not the TV show). I can just see her going off to medical school, placing that early edition of medical illustrations in a special place on her bookshelf.
If I could get Scarlet a gift like that, it’d be amazing!
Which is exactly why the wise men’s gifts are so significant.
They’re strange baby gifts – nowhere near the practicality of diapers. But they’re awesome baby gifts because they say, “We know who this little guy’s gonna grow up to be.” Many Bible readers have found meaning in each item: gold is for royalty; the scent of frankincense was used in worship; myrrh was used to embalm the dead. If we go by what Matthew tells us, it’s likely that these wise men weren’t aware of how well their gifts would match up specifically. What they know is a more general idea about Jesus’ future, one made clear by the radical question they ask around town:
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”
It’s not Herod, who’s on the throne in nearby Jerusalem. It’s not Caesar Augustus ruling long-distance from Rome. It’s the baby born to average parents in an average place; that’s the one who will be the king of the Jews.
The gifts from the wise men anticipate that destiny. They are expensive gifts appropriate for a king.
We might not be able to predict the future lives of our nieces and nephews (or anyone else), but we can give the perfect gift for one particular newborn this Christmas. We know who Jesus will grow up to be. We know it even more specifically than the wise men, who may have been shocked to see the kind of king Jesus became. King Jesus won by losing; King Jesus ruled by serving; King Jesus showed a personal preference for the ones that most people prefer to avoid.
If we want to give gifts to the Christ child, then our gifts ought to match the king he became. We might even view Matthew 25 as his “wish list”:
“Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:34-36).
So come, worship the baby Jesus. Bring your gifts – not of diapers and wipes but of generosity and servanthood. You can feed the hungry by volunteering at a free community meal – one like the “Welcome Table” that happens each Thursday night here in Andrews. You can clothe those who lack the basic components of a wardrobe by cleaning out your closet and giving away the things you never wear to a reputable thrift store near you. You can visit the sick by going to a nursing home; check in at the front desk and they’ll tell you which residents would love to see someone walk through the door. You can care for the men and women in prison through ministries like Kairos (http://www.kairosprisonministry.org/).
In the Christian year, Christmas continues for 12 days. You’ve still got time. (Really, thanks to grace, you’ve always got time.) So start now. Give the baby Jesus the perfect gifts that he deserves, ones fit who he will be as an adult: our compassionate King.