Dear Brothers and Sisters, I want to tell you the story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. They were a remarkable group of individuals who used their God-given talents to overcome tremendous adversity to build a legacy that has burned bright for more than a hundred and fifty years.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I don’t know about you, but I love this festive time of year. Our tree is decorated and smells wonderful. The stockings and the lights have been put up. Some of my favorite carols are on the radio. Most evenings during the Christmas season, I can be found in my favorite chair near the fire with a cup of hot cider. I pull out my Bible and work my way through the story of Jesus’ birth each year. I find it helps me keep “the reason for the season” fresh in my mind. Reading Matthew’s account this time around, I’ve been struck by a few aspects of the story. I’d love to share with you what I’ve noticed.
Often, the emphasis of Christmas can be on receiving – getting shiny new toys or something we’ve been eyeing on the store shelf all year. But right there in the first Christmas story, we see two major instances of giving. First and foremost, of course, we have the Incarnation itself. Jesus is the ultimate gift humanity has ever been given. We did nothing to earn God’s generosity, and yet he gave himself to us. He came down, to live and die as one of us, so that we could be welcomed into his family. God loved us before we even knew him, and expressed that love in the most precious gift of all – the gift of his Son.
The story of Jesus’ birth has some literal gift-giving, as well – the gifts of the Magi. In a time long before airplanes or GPS, these “wise men from the east” traveled countless miles to find the Messiah, without knowing who he would be or even where they would find him. Talk about faith! These wise men were so convinced something wonderful had arrived on earth, that they dropped everything to find and worship the one “born the king of the Jews,” the Messiah (Matt. 2:2-3, NIV).
You probably remember the gifts they brought to Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold is the gift we’re probably most familiar with today, a precious metal of great value, and one which was easily used as currency across nations at that time. Frankincense is a sweet-smelling resin. It is still used in perfumes, but in Jesus’ day was used primarily in incense, and often associated with worship. Myrrh also smells good, and comes from a small thorny tree. It is a balm, used in traditional medicine. Historically, it was associated with burial, but also with healing. If you’re like me, and have read this story many times over, it can be easy to forget what strange gifts these are to give a baby, born to a poor family from a small town. Gold is a rare and precious gift, fit for a king, and frankincense and myrrh would make more sense to give to a priest than a carpenter.
We don’t know what Joseph and Mary did with these gifts for Jesus. Perhaps they were kept untouched, to recall the wonderful visit from the wise men. Maybe the poor family used the gold to help them escape to Egypt when Herod in his jealousy tried to find and kill the infant Savior. It’s possible they offered the incense at the temple when they visited with their young son, and he astonished the religious leaders with his spiritual insight. Perhaps the myrrh was used when the child Jesus fell and skinned his knee, or got a splinter working at Joseph’s side. We don’t know what happened with the gifts, of course. And neither did the Magi. What they did know was that Jesus was worthy of the best they could offer, the most precious things they had. God revealed to them that this was the Messiah, and they stepped out in faith to worship him.
What struck me as I read the Christmas story this year is that it isn’t so different for us today. When we are called to give, whether to support our local congregations or to meet a specific need in another part of the world, we do so in faith. We don’t know how God will use what we offer. But just like the wise men, we know God is worthy of our best. The Magi gave extravagantly as an act of worship to respond to the great gift we all were given – the gift of a Savior.
You who give to GCI have been especially generous this year, and have given in many ways. You didn’t always know exactly how your gifts would be used, but you know that God did, and you were faithful to offer what you could. Whether you gave little or much, you gave as a way to honor Christ out of your means – and that’s as precious as gold in his sight. You have made it possible for us to send effective disaster relief and assistance around the world, sponsor 24 summer camps, and allowed us to train and support 13 promising new pastoral interns. In addition, your gifts have enabled us to hold conferences in Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe, Mexico and the Philippines and the United States. These gatherings equip and prepare our denomination and members to share the transformational gospel of God wherever they may be.
My prayer for all of us during the Christmas season is that we remember the example set for us by those very wise men in the gospel story. Let’s be gift-givers this Christmas. Not just to our friends and loved ones, but to those for whom a gift could open a door of opportunity or plant the seeds for a better future. In a culture often distracted by consumerism, let’s give from the best that we have to honor God in a time when we celebrate together the birth of Jesus Christ, the greatest gift the world has ever known.
Celebrating the gifts of the season,
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