Summary: The Bible presents us with the amazing story of Jesus birth – God’s gift to mankind – and we need to remind others that this is the real reason we celebrate Christmas. It’s more about receiving Christ the greatest gift of all and then giving a gift to oth
Christmas Eve Service:
Video Illustration: The Nativity from wingclips.com of the wise men giving gifts to baby Jesus.
Sermon: The gift of giving
The wise men gave gifts to Jesus in the Christmas story from Matthew 2:1-2 and 11. The practice of giving gifts at Christmas is traced back to this event in history. The presentation of these specific gifts to Jesus along with their long and perilous journey served as a wonderful example of what it means to give generously and sacrificially.
Over the next 2,000 years this example would become restructured and even distorted by mankind and the greed of the world. It would create a retail industry that was all about getting rather than giving.
Even before Christ was born there were gifts being exchanged throughout the Roman empire in honor of Saturnalia. The ancient customs of winter –solstice holidays pushed the custom of trading presents with others for the purpose of getting good fortune for the up and coming year.
During the first few centuries of Christianity the records reveal that most Christians continued to practice this tradition. When the fourth century rolled around and Dec. 25th became the chosen day to celebrate Jesus birthday the Solstice died out and Christmas took over its place.
The Romans continued to exchange gifts around the first of the year and Christmas gift giving progressed along a slow growth process. Christmas and Christians exchanging gifts would make a wonderful story but the truth is it never really took off or really became associated with Christ until 100’s of years later. Giving gifts for the New Years became the tradition rather than in honor of Christ and Christmas through the Dark ages and the Middle ages of society. It was not until certain events within Christianity happened that transformed the gift of giving in Christianity.
The first event was the rise of a man named St. Nicholas the bishop of Myra. The legend of Saint Nicholas speaks of him riding across the region of Asia Minor giving away gifts to poor children. This happened in the beginning of the 4th century and out of his true life story we have Santa Claus and Christmas Stockings arising as symbols of Christmas. He became so loved by many people that when he died on Dec. 9th many would exchange gifts in honor of this man of God’s generosity.
The sad fact is most of the European rulers after his death ignored the intent of his example and instead ordered their subjects to give them gifts or tributes at Christmas time. Instead of blessings the poor the rich ordered that they be revered and the poorest had to give gifts and tributes to the richest in the land. Of course this did not set well with the people and Christmas became a burden and not a blessing. The idea of exchanging gifts became frowned upon rather than embraced.
In the tenth century a Bohemian Duke named King Wenceslas reversed the process and instead of demanding gifts he gave gifts to his subjects instead.
The practice changed back to its original intent under the influence of Wenceslas and William the Conqueror.
During the era of the Reformation and under Martin Luther’s leadership they followed the examples of St. Nicholas and Wenceslas and began giving Christmas gifts anonymously. The practice of giving gifts secretly spread to the Dutch and Netherlands where they would leave hints for the kids where to find their gifts and the search would be on for hours. The excitement spread to other nations and cultures and became directly linked to the game of hide and seek and the giving of presents to kids on Christmas morning.
Today shoppers spend more than 4 billion dollars per Christmas shopping day, or about 2.8 million each minute, during the holiday season. The average person in the USA spends more than $1,000 on Christmas gifts according to a 2002 census.
While much of Christmas giving is distorted and misguided and excessive it can be used to teach our children about the real meaning of the holiday which is Jesus. The greatest gift you could ever get.
The Magi recognized that Jesus was the greatest gift to mankind and that’s why they presented him with specific gifts. They recognized his royal birth with the gifts.
T.S. - Let’s look at each gift and understand the significant meaning and message of each one:
I. The gift of Gold
a. Gold: The gift of gold was often reserved for royalty or kingship and to show their eternal value.
b. The Magi told King Herod that they had come to see the one born King of the Jews. It is clear that they recognized Jesus as being royal but the question is why? The reason is the star of Bethlehem. The Magi had seen the star and they recognized the importance of the star in the sky as a sign of a spectacular birth. The Magi brought gold in some form, whether it was jewelry, coins, or just pieces, we are not told. The importance of the gift was that it represented the fact that Jesus was of royal blood and lineage.