Have you ever been to a party for a family who's about to have a baby? Typically, most of the guests are women.
They'll play a few games, have some refreshments and talk about parenthood. The highlight ofthe event is when the guests pass the expectant mother their colourfully wrapped packages. She opens them and holds them up for the admiration of the audience: adorable infact outfits, baby toys, perhaps even a basinet and cradle, gift cards so the parents can buy what they need most.
About 2000 years ago there was a suprise baby shower for an Infant in Bethlehem, but it wasn't at all like the one I just described. The guests? They weren’t friends or even neighbours. We know little about them. The Bible identifies them as scholars from a distant land who’d travelled countless miles to find the infant Jesus, their search guided only by a star they’d sighted and their study of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Some wit has quipped that if the wise men had been wise women, they would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and brought practical gifts! Instead, these visitors to Bethlehem (probably all men) brought odd, unconventional gifts. But their gifts had meanings that tell the story of salvation.
Myrrh, Frankincense and Gold
Myrrh was an unusual gift. Ancient myrrh was an aromatic resin that probably came from a species of the mimosa plant that’s usually rendered into a strongly scented oil. Back then, it was very valuable. But what interests us is its use: it was an ingredient for embalming a dead body.
The gift of myrrh reminds us that at the moment of joy at the beginning of a new life, death was already awaiting Jesus. Lyricist Mark Lowry captured this conflict in his popular Christmas song: “Mary, did you know,” he asks, “that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?”
That’s the paradox of Christmas:
For even as He was born, fresh and pink and precious, Jesus was already marked as a sacrifice, like the lambs in the Hebrew tabernacle service.
It was Jesus’ death that made Him our Saviour. The apostle Paul said that God sent “his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3). “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly,” he wrote. So we are “justified by his blood” and “reconciled to [God] through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:6, 9, 10).
Jesus’ death means that:
- We are saved by Jesus’ merits, not our own. “When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4, 5).
- Salvation is a gift, bestowed only on those who believe in Jesus. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
- We can live with the assurance of salvation. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, italics added).
Frankincense is an aromatic resin burned by the priests as a symbol of prayers ascending to heaven (see Psalm 141:2). After Jesus became our Sacrifice, He returned to heaven to become our Priest. Hebrews 4:14 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Jesus can do what no earthly pastor or priest can: He takes our requests directly to God and speaks on our behalf.
With Jesus as our Priest, we can:
- Come to God without fear. We “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
- Ask God to forgive our sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- Have the assurance that God doesn’t reject us, even though we aresinners. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2).
Gold. Years ago, I visited the Tower of London, where the crown jewels of the British royal family are kept. Gold is so valuable that ordinary people will see only small quantities of it throughout their lives: rings, bracelets, a collectible coin, a dental filling. But on display in the Tower were massive quantities of pure gold: crowns, sceptres and jewellery worth billions upon billions of dollars! Gold is the symbol of monarchy and this gift identified Jesus as a King. Yet even though Jesus was descended through the lineage of King David, He refused every invitation into earthly politics (John 18:36). Instead, He became the King of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Because He’s our King:
- We want to do what He asks of us. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). ◗ Through His spiritual generosity, He gives us power to overcome. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. . . . But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us” (Titus 3:3–5).
- We’ll spend eternity with Him. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
It’s unlikely that Jesus’ poor family was able to keep these valuable gifts. They would have helped Mary and Joseph protect Jesus when they were forced to flee from the murderous Herod. And so Jesus grew to be our Saviour, Priest and King.
Christmas reminds us that Jesus was born on this earth to be our Saviour. We become His followers through a kind of birth, too. “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again,” Jesus told one seeker (John 3:3). Going back into his mother’s womb and being squeezed out again? Preposterous! But Jesus explained that being born again was a metaphor for a new life. This came about through water and the Spirit (John 3:5). The picture Jesus brought to mind was His own baptism beneath the water of the Jordan River (Mark 1:9–11). As He came up out of the water, God’s Spirit identified Jesus as His own Son.
When you join Jesus’ family through baptism, you, too, begin a new life. So what are your baby- shower gifts? God’s Spirit, strengthening you and challenging you to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Forgiveness for the new Christian, so you can live with confidence and peace.
Best of all, you become God’s child, a spiritual sibling of Jesus. “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. . . . Now if we are children, then we are heirs— heirs of God and coheirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14, 17). God’s family has its local chapter here on earth: it’s called the church and it’s where people who have accepted Jesus gather to celebrate their salvation, in preparation for their inheritance of eternal life.
The wise men from the east might have originated the custom of giving Christmas gifts, but their strange gifts to Jesus were only symbols of the far greater Gift God gave us in Him.
And that’s what we really celebrate at Christmas, isn’t it?