Sunday, 25 December 2011
I wonder what you think about when you think of Jesus. Is it:
A 6lb 8oz baby boy like Ricky
A man with a beard like Chip
A party Jesus like Cal
A gentle man holding a lamb like in many pieces of art
I’d bet good money that at this time of year at least, the image that most of us have of Jesus is the little baby, helpless in a manger, surrounded by lowing animals. It’s a thought that makes us feel warm, comfortable and nostalgic. Most of us rejoice over the birth of a baby, even if we don’t feel very comfortable around them. They make us think of family and future. This is even more so with special births. Recently I became an uncle for the first time and have never been more excited over a baby. She was more then a baby, she was a gift, a hope and a purpose.
Well every birth is worthy of such excitement but I wonder whether this is where we often stop with Jesus too. A lovely story of a baby being born in remarkable circumstances, made even lovelier by the pretty animals around and the presents given by the wise men. I’d like to suggest though that if we stop at thinking of Jesus as a cute baby, or a man with a beard, or as a mate to go to parties with or a suspiciously Caucasian man who cuddle lambs then we miss the point of Christmas and who Jesus really is.
At Christmas we all like to give and receive gifts and the Christmas story is no different as the wise men brought their gifts to Jesus. These were no normal gifts though, rather they told us about who Jesus is. I’d like to spend the next few minutes then having a look at the gifts the wise-men bought to help us see who Jesus really is:
The first gift was that of Gold. For millennia, gold was the thing that captured the desires of all people. It was that thing which all people wanted but was unattainable. There was one exception: kings. What the wise men saw in that famous star was the birth, not of just any other baby, but of a new king. You may remember the darker side of the Christmas story where Herod slaughters all the infants: A king haunted by fear and constant suspicion of having his power usurped and here were men telling him on the birth of a new king!
There are two responses we can make to a king: to accept and follow, or reject and go our own way. The same is true of Jesus. Will you choose to accept him as the rightful king of the world, of you, or will you reject him and hail yourself as king?
The second gift was that of frankincense. You may have seen that this has been in the news this week. The world’s supply of frankincense is running low. For millennia this tree resin has been highly sought after and used by many people in the east. It’s been particularly notable in worship. For millennia Frankincense had been used in the temple in worship towards God. It was a very apt gift then for Jesus. The gospel writer Matthew reminds us of what God had promised long before though the prophet Isaiah, that Jesus would be Immanuel, or ‘God with us’. He was to be ‘mighty God’. We are told that the wise men, on seeing Jesus, even bowed down and worshipped him.
This baby then is more remarkable then any other. Not just a baby, but God with us. In Jesus then we have proof that God is not some far off deity looking down scornfully upon us, but is among us and to be worshipped. Will you follow suit and worship him?
The third was of myrrh. Pound for pound is worth the same as gold. Quite a costly gift and a very suitable one for a baby king. Today it is mainly used for its fragrance and antibiotic properties in toothpastes and soaps but in the ancient east it was far too expensive to be used so menially so instead it had two main uses. The first was a pain killer. First century Israel knew nothing of Paracetamol and Ibuprofen so other sources had to be found. Occasionally, those who were rich enough put a little myrrh in their wine to ease their suffering. The second was for embalming. When people died, bodies were treated rather differently then they are today. They were wrapped tightly in cloth and various different chemicals, including myrrh to slow decay and to cover any smells.
We see both of these uses in the death of Jesus. On the cross he was offered wine with myrrh to ease his pain, although he did not take it, and when he died his body was prepared for burial using, along with other things, myrrh. It might seem an odd thing to think about when we think of Jesus’ birth but he came to die. Not because he deserved it but to make us right with God. He died to pay the price we owe, to redeem us from our sin. Unable to save ourselves he stepped in and rescued us. This is the wonder of Christmas. Jesus was born as a baby, not to be pampered and set in a palace but to suffer and die for the sake of each of us, to rescue us from sin. Now that’s a king that I want to follow!
The wonder of Christmas then isn’t gifts and decorations but is this: God has not left you, God has not forsaken you–behold! a virgin shall conceive and bear a son! So, when you open your presents tomorrow, give a thought for the gifts those the wise men gave and what they say about Jesus: our king, God and rescuer. After all, Jesus is the reason for the season.
Till Next Time!