This is my contribution to the December issue of the Fishkill United Methodist Church newsletter.
I began this piece with an image of a well-lit and decorated Christmas tree with many presents under it. No doubt I was influenced by the number of pre-Halloween Christmas sales.
For as long as we have celebrated Christmas, we have been giving and receiving Christmas presents because Matthew wrote that the Magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as presents to the newborn Christ-child.
Tradition tells us that the gold was used to finance the family’s escape to Egypt when Herod issued his edict to kill all the newborn children, whom he saw as a threat to his power. The frankincense and myrrh were to be used to prepare Jesus’ body when he died.
But the edict to kill the newborn did not occur until after the Magi left and I do not think the frankincense and myrrh would have lasted the thirty-some years between Jesus’ birth and death. (And we should also remember that Jesus was quickly placed in the Tomb on Good Friday, without the proper preparation; this was why the women went to the Tomb on Easter Sunday).
We also need to remember that Matthew, writing some seventy years after the birth, would probably not have known what the Magi brought with them when they visited. Yes, there were probably gifts that honored a new king, for that is what the Magi felt they saw in the stars that guided their travel. But we will never know if the gifts they did bring were the gifts that Matthew recorded in his Gospel.
And what must the first readers of Matthew have thought about such expensive gifts being given to the child of a simple workman and his wife?
We live in a society and a time where our focus is more on the gifts themselves than why the gifts were given.
How do we see the gifts under our tree? Our attention is almost always drawn to the fancy wrapped presents, the ones that glitter and shine.
Is what is inside that wonderfully and beautifully wrapped present something I will love?
Is it something that I need?
Perhaps it is something that will allow me to do something I have wanted to do?
Or is it that fruit cake I gave to my cousin last year and which he is giving back to me this year?
Until we open it up, we do not know what it is.
And for all the preparation and anticipation, it is all over. We have the gifts we want, the gifts we need, and we can’t wait until we can send our cousin that fruit cake. We gather all the wrapping paper together, saving what we can and putting the rest in a garbage bag. We make plans to undecorate the tree and put it away if it is an artificial one or out by the curb for the trash crews to come by and get (unlike that one year when the snow came and came and came and came and the tree wasn’t picked up until March when the snow finally melted).
But there is always one present that remains tucked under the tree. Because the wrapping is rather plain, it is almost unnoticeable. Some years it doesn’t even get opened and ends up in the storage area, to be brought out the next year.
But this present is the real and existing presence of Christ. It was the present given to us that first Christmas some two thousand years ago. Despite the plainness of the wrapping, the contents continue to shine every day.
Star Light, Star Bright | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2008/01/05/star-light-star-bright/
“The Presence Under the Tree” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/the-presence-under-the-tree/