I’m going to tell you a story at the risk of one of my family members reading this and bringing it up at our Christmas dinner for a good laugh. In my early 20s, I bought my oldest brother Fred a puffy, red vest as a present. I put a lot of thought into what I purchase for others and was so excited to give it to him. I was just convinced that he was going to love it because puffy vests are awesome (amiright?) and red is a great color for the holidays.
Let me back up a minute. It’s worth mentioning that at the time, my brother was storing a few extra pounds from working crazy hours and, unlike me, he has very fair skin with pink cheeks. I hadn’t considered that the vest (both puff and color) wouldn’t be very flattering on him until he put it on and everyone burst out laughing. I was so confused. I was sure he was going to be thrilled and that I’d chosen just the right thing. Where did I go wrong?
I have learned so much about gift giving over the years and I know there is more to learn. First, I understand that, oddly enough, my love language is in the giving but not receiving. Sure, I like to get stuff but when I give something, the person’s reaction is what I’m focused on. It’s how I’m expressing my love so I really try to knock it out of the park. If they don’t have a big reaction, I get concerned that they don’t know just how much I love them. It’s silly and irrational but true.
Second, I’ve obviously learned that I need to think about what that person would want, not what I would want. The sentiment is there and I understand why people do it. I understand why I used to do it (and probably still do at times if I’m being honest). It seems like common sense to get something for someone that you would love. But that leads me to the third and most important piece that I’ve learned.
There is a difference between gifts and presents. To put it as simply as possible, let’s define a gift as something of true value that speaks to the recipient’s heart. For our purposes, let’s say that presents are fun and informal. But let’s be clear here… I’m not the Grinch! Presents are great, too! However, if you’re like me and your love is expressed in the giving, then your choice should reflect some more thought.
My favorite story about gifts is the three wise men arriving to celebrate Jesus’ birth with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I am fascinated by the many historical experts who have dissected the facts and debated some of the basic elements that we have been taught to be true. For example, some argue that the wise men were actually astronomers because they were able to travel so far using only the star of Bethlehem as a guide or that they arrived anywhere between Jesus’ actual birth and his 2nd birthday! The time of year that it took place is also widely discussed as well as how many wise men were in the caravan. There’s no real reason to believe it was 3 other than that it matches the number of gifts listed in scripture.
Some even say that the gold could’ve been golden turmeric or another yellow spice which would line up more with the frankincense and myrrh. What can’t be debated though is the thought behind the gifts. At the time, these elements were so rare and expensive that they were only given to kings and priests. In the book Healing Oils of the Bible by David Stewart, he speaks at length about the significance of why these were most likely chosen.
Frankincense was used as incense in the temple during prayer and meditation. It was also used for anointing newborn royalty. Ancient Egyptians would place myrrh in cones of fat on their heads. As it melted in the desert sun, the mixture would run down their bodies protecting them from bugs and infections as well as helping with body odor. At Jesus’ burial, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:39) brought 75-100 pounds of sandalwood and myrrh to prepare His body for the tomb. Today this amount of oil would cost $150,000-200,000. The significance of that expense gives me goosebumps.
In short, the wise men could’ve brought baby (toddler?) Jesus anything. Literally anything. They could’ve loaded their wagons with countless presents, clothes, and luxuries. Trust me, they had the money but these 3 gifts were what they carefully chose. In this article by Dr. Eric Zielinski he writes, “What joy there is in seeing the beauty of God’s design underscored with practical protective measures!” They truly came to him with gifts that were precious, fit for a king, benefitted his health and in enough quantity to last him a lifetime. How thoughtful!
If you don’t have a lot of money and it’s really important to you to give someone a gift that they will cherish, it’s ok to think outside the box. Actually, I think it’s preferred. You could spend an entire day visiting an older relative and really listen as you ask them questions about their past. You could offer to babysit for a tired mom of young kids. Oh, how I wish I had done more of that when I was single. You could make a meal for a friend who just had a surgery or simply pop a note in the mail telling someone that they’re prayed for and loved. Gifts can be extravagant wants or practical needs but the common denominator is definitely the selfless act behind them. It’s the consideration to look at it from your loved one’s perspective and get them something that really ministers to their heart.
Gift giving is so beautiful. I hope that in the next few days you get to be on the giving and receiving end of a few fantastic gifts. Merry Christmas. Our Savior is born!
*You can still give the gift of pure frankincense and myrrh today! Click here to find out how.