Related study... Who were the Magi?
As parents of four children, we have invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in the quest to make Christmas gift-giving meaningful. A few years ago, we stumbled into an idea that has instilled creativity, courage, and enthusiasm into a task that can easily become a chore (and gift-giving should never be that way).
Clark did a study (some call it a flight of fancy) one year on what we know about the magi - the "wise men" who visited Jesus. It is a fascinating study and you may want to spend the time to go through it. That study helped us remember why we give gifts at Christmas. It is NOT because the magi brought gifts to Jesus, it is because God GAVE US Jesus. The magi simply honored that Gift by giving Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We learn from that study that there was real meaning in those three gifts. Gold was a gift fit for a king. Frankincense was used at prayer times to visually remind people that their prayers rose up and mattered to God. Myrrh was a reality of life - an imbalming spice, reminding us that Christ came to experience a human life and to die a human death. And we should not miss the fact that Jesus got another gift that first Christmas - swaddling clothes!
Those four gifts now form our family's gift-giving focus each Christmas. Each child knows that he will get four very special gifts. Rather than mom and dad hurriedly rushing through Toys'R'Us hoping to find some battery operated doo-dad that will barely last through Valentines Day, we now have a structure and a true purpose to our giving. The boys each make out their wish list as other children do, but they start with gold, frankincense, myrrh, and swaddling clothes as their outline.
Gold is a gift of enduring value. Gold reminds us of what great price God paid to afford us a king. We must cherish Him and adore His preciousness. The gold gift may not always be the most monetarily expensive gift, but it will be something that is intended to be cherished long after the wrapping paper has hit the landfill. One year we gave our four year-old two books - treasuries of favorite children's stories that have stood the test of time. We read to him from those books and create memories that will spring to life as he holds those books in years to come. For the last two years, we have given our oldest son the gift of time (his love language) with dad. The two of them take off for a day of shopping, eating, arcading, movie going, capped off with some major sporting event. One son with a fascination for all that flies received his first pilot's lesson for Christmas. Sometimes the Gold gift is not a tangible one that will sit on a shelf, but it is a gift that has already created enduring value - greater than any amount money could buy.
Frankincense is a gift that celebrates our spiritual connection with God. In scripture, frankincense was always burned when prayers were offered. The sight of scented smoke visually rising heavenward remind us that, so too, our prayers rise up to God. The frankincense gift reminds the boys of their relationship with God. For a five year-old, the gift might be a Veggie Tale video. An older boy might receive a cd of his favorite Christian group or a witnessware t-shirt that helps express his faith. Each year as parents, we find ourselves taking inventory of our children's faith maturity as we consider what Frankincense gift to select for them. It is an important thought process.
Myrrh is an expression of our human condition. Myrrh was used to embalm bodies - the last condition of the human condition! Myrrh is the category where the boys get "the fun stuff." With quite some persuasion, Clark recently convinced Alyse to allow paintball guns as an "human condition" kind of gift. A scooter, a basketball, football, soccer ball set, a foosball table, a guitar "stompbox", a video game, etc. are all examples of gifts that have been tagged as myrrh gifts.
Although the magi only bore three gifts, we observe from scripture that Jesus also received swaddling clothes on His birthday. Our fourth gift to the each child may be a favorite team's jersey, a multi-pocketed fishing vest, or some nice church clothes - whatever seems to be a desire of the child. Some children groan at clothes for Christmas, but our boys know that this is a special thing, not just mom and dad's excuse of restocking a thread-bare wardrobe.
Here's a little poem that summarizes the four gifts:
Gold, we give a gift of enduring worth
Frankincense, a prayer reaching God above
Myrrh, all the wonders of life on earth
Swaddling Clothes, surrounded in your parent's love
Each year it is exciting to see the delight the boys have in completing their wish lists. Four gifts may not seem like much to your family's way of gift-giving at Christmas. Our experience has definitely taught us that "less is more." The children pay more attention and place greater value on fewer gifts than they did when the tree disappeared behind a mountain of gifts. Alyse manages to cram enough goodies into stockings so that there are plenty of yummies and little delights. Our Christmas gift-giving has become richer through this concept not poorer. And the best part of all, every Christmas is about Christ. Gold, frankincense, myrrh, and swaddling clothes remind us all that the Gift was given gifts. Our Christmas gifts remind us that the blessings of God are purchased for us by the love of Jesus, our Savior. Those gifts are precious, prayerful, playful, and protective - and so is our gift-giving Father.
No matter what time of year you read this, no matter when you start - or complete - your Christmas shopping, now is a good time to consider your children (and family and friends) in light of the gifts that Christ received. We remind you of the late Victor Buono's (King Tut on the old Batman series) words, "It's Christmas time, not once again, but still."
Clark and Alyse Smith were married in 1983 and have lived primarily in the Midwest since then. Both are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives. They are the parents of four boys born between 1985 and 1995.
Please visit the mothership for more from Clark H Smith.