Summary: The first of a four part series that focuses on the birth of Christ


John Maxwell


Please turn with me to Matthew, Chapter 2 for the reading of the story. It’s one that we’ve read and heard hundreds of times. And yet true to not only the story of the spirit of Christmas, but to the tradition that I think we’ve had at Skyline for the last few years, these messages will be very simple.

The beauty of Christmas is that it’s a profound message, yet so simply given. And I’ve always felt that the best way to preach a Christmas message is to take the obvious and then pull truths for daily living out of it. And in the story of the wise men in Matthew, Chapter 2, I think the Lord will help us do that.

Let’s stand this morning for the reading of God’s Word. Matthew, chapter 2, beginning with verse 1. "Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold Maji from the East arrived in Jerusalem saying, `Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the East and have come to worship him.’ And when Herod, the King, heard it, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, `In Bethlehem, of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, and you, Bethlehem, land of Judith, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd my people, Israel.’ Then Herod secretly called the Maji and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and he said, `Go and make careful search for the child and when you have found him, report to me that I too may come and worship him.’ And having heard the King, they went their way. And lo, the star, which they had seen in the East went on before them until it came and stood over where the child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the child with Mary, His mother, and they fell down and worshiped him and opened their treasure. They presented to him gifts of gold and Frankincense and Myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way." You may be seated.

The wise men started it all. When I talk about starting it all, I’m talking about gifts. Giving gifts, receiving gifts. In fact, I would like you to note a couple things about this simple story just as a way of introduction. I guess I’m impressed by the fact, first of all, that their gift was personally given. These were wealthy people. They were from another country. In fact, they were from Iraq. They could have sent the gift. I guess I’m impressed by the fact that they really felt that they were on a mission and they personally wanted to bring these gifts to the Christ child. In fact, when you read this story, the personal part kind of pops out at you. Look at verse 2, "We saw His star in the East and have come to worship Him." Look at verse 9, "They went their way." Look at verse 10, "And when they saw the star, they rejoiced." Verse 11, "They came into the house. Opening their treasures, they fell down and worshiped Him. Opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts." It personally was given.

The second thing I notice is that it was properly given. When I say, "it was properly given," it was more than a gift and I think that’s probably what I want to talk to you about this morning. More than just gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. But it was a gift with worship and adoration and glory, and honor and praise to Jesus.

Now, there are three kinds of gifts we give at Christmas time. I got to thinking about gifts and I wrote down three different kinds of gifts that you and I give at Christmas or can give at Christmas.

1. The gift for a gift, gift. You know what I’m talking about. Every one of us has done this before. It’s the gift for a gift, gift. And, basically, what the gift for a gift, gift is that we get a gift from somebody and so we kind of figure out how much it was and so we go down to the May Company or somewhere and we buy a gift of about the same kind of a price and it’s a gift for a gift, gift. And every one of us has given a gift for a gift, gift, gift.

Now, the characteristic about a gift for a gift, gift, gift is, this person that does this keeps a long mental picture of what that value of that gift was. Have you ever heard anybody say, "Oh, yeah. I got them something nice and they didn’t get me anything in return." They keep long scores. This approach feeds the cash registers of our department stores. You know what, every Christmas Eve there are literally thousands of people in San Diego county going to Christmas stores quickly because they just got a gift for a gift, gift and they’ve got to get a gift for the person who got them a gift, for the gift, gift, gift. Happens every year.

It’s the kind of person that we rush out and, "Oh, my goodness we’ve got to get a gift because they gave me a gift and I wonder how much it costs. And I hope this is about the same cost." Kind of a tit for a tat. Just kind of meshing together. The same way with Christmas cards, by the way. Every time you get a late Christmas card, it’s probably because the person that you got the late Christmas card just didn’t expect you to Sunday them a card. Nothing’s worse then getting a Christmas card on Christmas Eve from somebody that wasn’t on your list. And, "Oh, my goodness. What do I do?" It happens every year. We do it. It’s called a gift for a gift, gift. And we’ve all done that.

2. A gift for a favor gift.

What a person is that gives this gift is they don’t expect a gift in return, they just give you a gift and boy, by giving you that gift they expect you to do some nice things for them. They don’t expect a gift in return. This is the kind of person that loves to keep score. They love to have I.O.U.s out. Every year, companies do that. You know, at the end of the year they give the employees a ham or a turkey, or a cash bonus or something and they don’t expect the employee to turn around and give them a turkey in advance, although wouldn’t that be funny. Now, they don’t do that. But they give you the gift and, basically, they give you the gift and they pretty much say, "Okay, I don’t expect a gift back but I do expect you to well, keep your mouth shut, would you? Be a good employee, be nice, be positive. Be smart." You know, just don’t get into any trouble. Boy, about March if you say something nasty about them. They say, "Didn’t we if I have them a turkey last Christmas?" We’ve done that before. We’ve given gifts before and we didn’t really expect to get back but, boy, we just did expect to have some kind of a little favor down the road sometime somewhere.

3. Well, there’s another kind of gift and it’s a third gift I want to talk to you about today. It’s a gift that the wise men teach me. It’s what I call a grace gift.

Now, the grace gift, the best way I can describe a grace gift and I think you need to put this down. The best way I can describe a grace gift is, it’s unrepayable. You can’t pay back a grace gift. Now, I take that term, obviously, from God through his son, Jesus Christ, who loves us so much he gives us eternal life which is a gift of God and it’s a grace gift and we don’t work for it and we can’t work for it and we could never, ever, repay it. And so when we think of God, we think of grace and we say, "There’s no way I could ever repay."

Well, that grace gift that I’m talking about, as God’s children, we can give a gift that just can’t be paid back. How do I describe this? My wife, Margaret and I, got a grace gift about a month ago from our daughter, Elisabeth. One day I came home about 6:30 in the evening. I went in and sat down in the bedroom for a moment and Margaret came over and gave me a two-page letter. And she said, "John, I want you to read this and as you read it be prepared to cry." And I opened the letter from my daughter Elisabeth, and I cried.

As you know, our children are adopted, and she did an incredible, on her own, sometime letter of how she could have been in any family in the world, but how through the grace and the goodness of God, she got Christian parents. And how that we had taught her to love God. When I got done, I put it in the files and I’ll cherish it forever. Absolutely, no way that I could ever give a gift back for the gift that I received. It’s a grace gift. You don’t pay them back. It’s non-repayable.

Let me mention a couple of the ways to give a grace gift and a couple things about it. When I think of a grace gift:

A. It’s impossible to measure the cost of this gift.

For example, there’s a lady in our church by the name of Haddie Graham, she’s in her 80s. And from the moment that we moved out here, our kids, of course, are away from their grandparents. She’s, every Christmas, baked them cookies. And I tell you, our kids, they just look forward to those cookies of Haddie’s. It’s a grace gift. I don’t know, you don’t repay it. It’s just a dear old lady who saw a couple kids whose grandparents were a few thousand miles away and just kind of became a grandmother to them and gave them cookies. It’s a grace gift.

My mother makes the Christmas gifts. My mother’s very good in crocheting and knitting. And every year for Christmas all the gifts that we receive from Mom are grace gifts. She works all year, literally, she works 12 months a year when she travels with Dad when he speaks, in the car, or wherever she is, she keeps her knitting and crocheting and she just does all the things, and she makes them and by the time it comes, she never went down to the May Company to get it, it’s just her. And it’s the best gift that we always get is from Mom because we know that there are, literally, hundreds of hours that she spent making that grace gift. Several years ago she made us a bedspread. And I don’t know what she did, she either knitted it, or crocheted it, or embroidered it. Are they the same? I’m in trouble. Call Margaret. Well, she did it. Whatever it is, Mom did it. And I’ll tell you what, it’s special because of the time.

I have a friend back East that’s done a lot for me. His name is Tom. When I was a young preacher, he kind of mentored me and loved me and believed in me and he’s given me a lot of opportunities in life. He’s given me opportunities in life that I would have never had if it wouldn’t have been just because he loved me. I didn’t deserve him, I didn’t ask for him. He just loved me. And several years ago I was trying to think, how could I repay him. I never could repay him in into way until one day I was on a plane and I thought about the book that I was writing back in 1983 on Your Attitude, Key to Success, and all of a sudden it hit me, I can dedicate that book this to him. I was so ecstatic. I got home and I said, "Margaret, guess what I’m going to do for Tom?" And I told her and we were both ecstatic because we knew that was something I could do for him that he could never do back. He could never give back.

You see, this whole thing, I’m here to tell you, folks, I don’t know what we’ve done with Christmas, but we need to turn this thing around. We need to quit running down to the department store every time we think of somebody. We need to begin to pass on some grace gifts that will really last. Let me tell you something else about these grace gifts.

B. They’re usually non-material.

1) Togetherness gift.

Over the Thanksgiving holidays I went home Wednesday night, Margaret didn’t realize it, and I said, "Honey, I’ve cleared the calendar. Thursday and Friday and Saturday, it’s just us." Tears welled up in her eyes and we just spent three of the most wonderful days together. I didn’t go anywhere and I didn’t see anybody and we just put up the tree. And I’d look at her every morning and ask her what she wanted to do, and whatever she wanted to do was what I wanted to do. And she’d say, "What do you want to do?" And we just did nothing. It was great. Well, we did some things, but it’s none of your business. But anyway. It’s just a togetherness deal. That’s what it is. It’s a grace gift.

A few weeks ago she talked to me. She said, "John, I want to go to Florida. I want to see my grandmother." Her grandmother is 96 years old. All of Margaret’s grandparents have lived to be at least 90. They’re just a bunch of long livers. I mean they live long. I know why she’s going down there. She’s just going do get on a plane and go down and spend about three or four days with her grandma and just tell her that she loves her, and wait on her, cook some meals for her. It’s a grace gift.

2) Sometimes it’s not only through maybe being together, but sometimes it’s a service gift.

It’s doing something for somebody. In my last church in Lancaster, I remember one day I had an appointment and I’ll be honest with you, when I saw he was on the calendar I wasn’t too happy because, well, I was busy. And this person that was coming to see me was not a -- well, I was just busy. I would consider him to be a one-talent-type person. And I never will forget.

Brent walked into my office and he sat down and he got his Bible out and he said, "Pastor, let me read something to you." And he began to read to me about the body of Christ and how the body is different and how each part needs another part. And he said, "Pastor," he said, "I think you need me. My gift is helps. Would it be all right if I came to your office about once a week and the secretary could just give me a list of errands that I could do for you? And I’d like to give you an afternoon once a week of my life."

For the next seven years that guy would come by the office and go wash the car and do the dry cleaning. And I would hug him. He gave me something that I could never give him back. It was a grace gift.

Paul Vanny is a good friend of mine and Paul comes over to the house some. And Paul’s very handy with tools. And you know what I am. Although I did learn the other day, I know now the difference between a screwdriver and pliers. I’m doing better now that I’ve learned the difference. Well, no I’m not. But that’s another story. You know what Paul does when he comes over to my house? He always has his tools in the trunk. Margaret loves to see him come. And as he’s over, we’ll do other things, but he’ll just get the tools and he’ll just kind of fix things around. It’s a grace gift. You can’t pay that back. You just love it and accept it.

We have a lady in the third service by the name of Beth Meyers. Beth always waits around after the end of the third service. I’ve watched her. I’ve never even talked to her about it. But I notice it. After the third service, a lot of people want to see me because there’s not another service. So I usual spend about thirty minutes just hugging people and just saying hi and praying with people and trying to help them any way a can. When they’re all gone when I’ve no one else to hug, I hug a telephone pole and I go home. I watch her out of the corner of my eye. She stands in kind of the peripheral. But almost every Sunday she’ll come up to me, give me a big hug and just whisper in my ear a few words of encouragement, and she’s gone. It’s a grace gift.

The greatest gifts I’ve ever received are not gifts that would have a price tag on them. They’re those kind of gifts.

Now, I’m done with the introduction. Let’s go to the message. It’s such a simple story, but the wise men teach me 5 things about giving.

1. Give an unexpected gift to someone.

The wise men teach me to give an unexpected gift to someone. You see, no one’s going to expect a wise man to give this gift. They’re not Jews. They have nothing in this. All they have done is heard about -- they’ve been studying the skies. I mean, you talk about a surprise. When the wise men came to Jesus, I mean, you would expect; in fact, when they stopped at Herod’s house, you’d think that Herod would go down to see Jesus. No. Totally unexpected, this visit of the wise men. Nobody would have ever said that three Maji would come and work their way, literally, weeks and months to the place where Jesus was born to bring -- no one expected that.

I’m here to tell you that the best gifts are unexpected gifts. There’s been somebody that’s done something for you in your life and maybe it’s been way back. You know what you need to do? You need to think about it and you need this year; in fact, I have a little place in there for you to put a name, you need to think of somebody and you need to say, "This year I’m going to do something for somebody that it’s going to come clear out of the blue. I mean, they’re not going to expect anything from me. And when they get it it’s just going to be a grace gift. And I mean, it’s just going to be me doing something for somebody and I expect nothing in return and they wouldn’t never expect me to give to them."

I’ll tell you a story. Yesterday, I tell this story with a certain amount of apprehension. I tell this story because I don’t want any of you to try this on me. But yesterday, after the second performance, I was out over here to the side. A couple, cute, little black kids came up to me, little boys, one was about 8, one was about 9, 10. And they looked at me. Didn’t say anything, just kind of hung around me. I was talking to people. And I just noticed they were just kind of my little shadows. Finally, I stopped and I turned around and I got on me knees and I said, "Hi, boys." I said, "What can I do for you?" And they said, "Are you the pastor of this church?" I said, "Yeah, I am." They said, "Is that the living Christmas tree?" I said, "Yeah, it is." They said, "Boy, we’d sure like to see that." I said, "Hang around with me. You just walk where I walk and keep on walking." I walked them right in that door, brought them down, set them down in that fourth row and I said, "You boys enjoy this." I forgot all about it. After the end of the performance, people gathered around and these two little guys, bless their little heart. They made their way through the crowd and they got up to me and they gave me the biggest hug. I got me two friends for life.

So the best gift that you ever received and some of the best gifts I ever received, were those unexpected gifts. Let me give you another one.

2. The second thing I learned about the wise men is they gave a gift with genuine joy.

When they gave this gift, they did it with such joy. I mean, they rejoiced when they saw the star. They rejoiced when they saw Mary. This gift was burning, boy. They could hardly wait to give it to the source to which they were to present it to.

Richard Foster is one of my favorite writers and I read this out of one of his books. Listen carefully. "Giving with a glad and generous heart has a way of routing out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money or some other treasure does something within us. That something is it destroys the demon, greed." Isn’t that true? I had one guy pray, "God, you can have anything that you can pry out of my hands."

They gave with genuine joy.

3. Their gift was personal.

It was a personal gift.

4. I will encourage you to give a gift that will last.

The gift that they gave that year. That story’s been told now for two thousand years. People still know the gift that the wise men gave. Give a gift that will last. And when I talk about a gift that will last, again, you can’t go down and buy one of those gifts. Those gifts wear out. They break, they get lost.

There are two gifts that you can give at Christmas that will last forever.

1) The gift of good memories.

Nothing like giving the gift of memories. Wow! Make sure this Christmas that you do some things that will create memories. I know why Margaret’s going to see grandma, memories. One of the things I’ve been doing, I’ve been having a lot of fun of the last few months, I’ve been going to the Sunday school classes just at one of their fellowship times to try to get with them.

The other Sunday I went to have a potluck, it was right before Thanksgiving with one of our classes. One of the senior citizens classes. I mean all these Grandma’s there. And it was potluck. It was incredible. Right before Thanksgiving. I mean, sweet potatoes, yams, corn, turkey. I mean, these ladies have been cooking all their life. It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. And Grandmas are great. They want you to be fat. I normally wouldn’t have gone back for five helpings. But it’s just something about the food and the Grandmas that made me keep going back. It was great. It was wonderful. These people can cook.

Now, the night before I’d been at a young married party. The food was terrible. They said it was potluck and I didn’t have any luck at all. It was awful. Those young people, they just need to make love and have babies. That’s all they can do. I tell you right now. Let the Grandmas cook.

We got done eating at that Grandma party, and they went around the room and they told about the memories that they had over Thanksgivings of past, and they talked about the Thanksgiving that was the most memorable to them. And I tell you it was the warmest time, I enjoyed myself. They talked about a great uncle maybe that got to see them on a farm in Iowa that they hadn’t seen in many years. They told childhood memories and again it instilled in me -- listen, folks, the only thing that’s ever going to last for your kids, the only thing that’s ever going to last for your spouse, are great memories. Spend your time making memories with the people that you love.

2) There’s another gift that will last and that’s a Godly heritage.

It will bless you for generations, that’s what the Bible teaches us. We had our prayer partner retreat the other day and one of our young married guys who just has one child, when they were going around asking what we’d pray for, he said, "I don’t have any Christians on my wife’s side or on my side." He said, "Her and I are the first Christians in our families." And he said, "I want to have a Godly heritage for my kids and for my grandkids. I want to be the one who starts a Godly heritage for our family life."

That’s the kind of gift that will last.

Let me say one more thing about giving before I wrap this thing up. The last thing I would say about gifts is:

5. Give that gift now.

Give it now. Don’t wait. Did you see in your sermon section, Samuel Johnson said, "He who waits to do a great deed of good all at once will never do anything.”? I believe that. Give it now.


Can I read something to you? Listen real carefully.

"They were going to be all they wanted to be, tomorrow. None would be braver or kinder than they, tomorrow. A friend who was troubled and wearied they knew, would be glad for a lift and he needed it too, and on him they would call and see what they could do, tomorrow. Each morning they stacked up the letters they’d write, tomorrow. And thought of the folks that they would fill with delight, tomorrow. The greatest of people, they just might have been. The world would have opened it’s heart to them, but, in fact, they passed on and faded from view and all that they left when their living was through was a mountain of things that they intended to do, tomorrow."

My father, who has had an incredible influence on my life, taught me something as a kid that if I’ve heard him say it once, I’ve heard him say it hundreds of times, and, now, every day that I live it becomes more meaningful to me; in fact, as a kid it wasn’t very meaningful. My Dad, if he said it once he said to me a hundred times, "John, keep short accounts." All he was telling me was, don’t be one of those kind of people that some day you’re going to do something and some day you’re going to love somebody, and some day you’re going to give something to someone and some day you’re going to help someone, my Dad taught me that right now you reach out and you love and you care, and you give.

Those wise men, I’m telling you, they weren’t about to go back home until they got those gifts to Jesus. They pressed through opposition. They pressed through time. I’m sure they were discouraged. I’m sure people said, "Turn back. You’re never going to find Him." And I’m sure they said, No, we want to give it now. Listen to me. The saddest thing in life and I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times in hundreds of funerals I’ve done is to see people look at their loved ones and wish for one day back where they could say something or do something.

Listen to me very carefully, my friends. Listen to me. I love you. Why wait? "Oh," you say, "but the gift I want to give is expensive." Forget that expensive gift. The best gifts are memories. Don’t wait till your kids are grown. Go home and have some memories with them right now. Go forget work, take a day off and play ball with your kid, take them on a trip. The most important thing you can give your family is time, their love.

The other day I went home and Joel Porter and I shot the bow and arrow. Almost killed to passengers going by. Both times I had to send him out in the street to get those arrows. I’m here to tell you, I’m sounding today like an old man, which I’m not. But I’m here to tell you that this Christmas like the Christmases I try to spend every year, I am not going to miss an opportunity to love somebody and hug somebody. I’m not going to say, "Well, when I retire I’m going to do this. When I get over here." No, no, no. Some of you need to reach out touch someone today.

That letter that you should have written, that phone call you should make. Hey, listen. This afternoon, go make it. Go give a hug. Go give a love. In fact, I want to say something to you before we get out of here. I love you. The joy of Sunday mornings for me to get up, the absolute joy is to know that I’m going to spend an hour with you, and we’re going to worship the Lord together as we did and to reach out and touch Jesus, but to know that I’m going to also be able to preach with you and love you. And I want you to go, but before you go I just want to tell you I love you now. "We love you, John." I love you.


"A Gift Worth Giving"

Matthew 2:1-12

The wise men started it all. Their gifts were...

1. _______________________________________ given.

2. _______________________________________ given.

Kinds of gifts we give at Christmastime:

1.The "______________________________________" gift.

2.The "______________________________________" gift.

3.The "______________________________________" gift.

More about "grace" gifts...

1. It’s impossible to ____________________________ of these gifts.

2. These gifts are usually __________________________________.

A. ____________________________ gifts.

B. ____________________________ gifts.

C. ____________________________ gifts.

What the wise men teach about giving:

1. Give an ______________________________________________.

Someone I’ll give to this year:____________________________

2. Give with ____________________________________________.

"Giving with a glad and generous heart has a way of rooting out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money or some other treasure does something within us. That something is it destroys the demon, greed."

Richard Foster

3. Give something ________________________________________.

4. Give something ________________________________________.

Gifts you can give that will last forever:

A. ______________________________

B. ______________________________

5. Give _________________________________________________.

"He who waits to do a great deal of good all at once will never do anything."

Samuel Johnson

"They were going to be all they wanted to be, tomorrow.

None would be braver or kinder than they, tomorrow.

A friend who was troubled and wearied they knew,

Would be glad for a lift and needed it too,

And on him they would call and see what they could do, tomorrow.

Each morning they stacked up the letters they’d write, tomorrow.

And thought of the folks that they would fill with delight, tomorrow.

The greatest of people they just might have been.

The world would have opened its heart up to them.

But in fact, they passed on and faded from view,

And all they had left when their living was through,

Was a mountain of things they intended to do, tomorrow."