Friday, 26 December 2014

Gifts: A Christmas Meditation

When we buy our gifts at Christmas, and indeed at any other time, we often ask ourselves what kind of gift is appropriate for the person? As a general rule, we don't buy after shave for toddlers, neither do we by cuddly toys for middle-aged men. Those gifts are not fitting.

Our sense of what is appropriate for them boils down to what we think will bring them pleasure, or at least be helpful. As mentioned above, we don't buy children's presents for adults or vice versa, but even amongst adults, there is wide variation. I know one middle-aged man, who would be thrilled if I got him a West Ham United season ticket for Christmas, but if I got it for his middle-aged friend, his middle-aged friend (whilst being from the same demographic) would be distraught - considering it an utter waste of money. The gifts that bring pleasure or are helpful to those receiving them are those gifts which resonate most strongly with a sense of who that person thinks they are or what they think they are becoming.

So when the (unknown number of) wise men come to Jesus and present their gifts to him, what do the gifts say about who he is and will become? Well, one helpful way of looking at it is this...

All the way down the Old Testament, the three big jobs (the proper term is "offices") which illustrate best who Messiah would be and what he would do when he came were those of king, priest and prophet. And each of the gifts offered are symbolic of those three offices.

1. Gold: The office of a King - 1 Kings 10:21

Gold is symbolic of power and glory. Power because it is rare and valuable, so to have it, you must be powerful. Glory because it is "solid light" and it shines like the sun.

King Solomon reigned at the height of the Israel's power and glory. In fact, you could almost call Solomon an emperor - not because he took an empire by military force, but because nations from all over the known world were behaving like an emperor's vassals and falling over themselves to send tribute to Solomon in the form of all kinds of precious things. So much gold was around at this time, that silver was considered of no value!!

Moreover, when the Queen of Sheba visits him (1 Kings 10), she can't believe how glorious the kingdom is, not only is the kingdom supremely wealthy, but the ruler of the kingdom is wise and has ordered everything in his kingdom in an understanding way such that his people are the happiest of peoples.

2. Incense: The office of a Priest - 1 Samuel 2:28

Incense was burned by priests in worship, both on its own and mixed in with the various food sacrifices. It symbolised the prayers of the righteous wafting up to God. It was forbidden for kings and prophets to burn incense at the altar.

Priests remained in the presence of God at the tabernacle / temple. They drew near to God on behalf of the people, and to people on behalf of God. They brought God "near" to the people by teaching them everything God had commanded them to do and brought the people near to God by offering prayers up to God on their behalf, but also helping them to offer right sacrifices.

3. Myrrh: The office of a Prophet - Matthew 23:30-39

Myrrh was used amongst other things to anoint the dead and is symbolic of death.

Prophets were not based in the temple, they went out into the world as the conscience of the people - they called wandering people and nations back to God by their words and their lives. The problem was that people would usually rather kill them than hear and receive their message. The likelihood was that in the Old Testament, if you were to be a faithful prophet of God, the best you could hope for was to be considered an utter wacko. More likely, you would be exiled or killed.


What can we say of this Jesus who, as a baby, received these three gifts?

1. That he was a king, but as God, he was a different kind of king.

His kingdom and power were not of this world, and so his definitions of power and glory were not either. He used that power to serve, to heal and to restore. The great glory of this kingdom was not to be seen in gold encrusted temples and palaces, but on a twisted wooden cross where love would find its deepest and fullest expression. The Glory of this king and his kingdom continues to flow into the whole creation, for by the power of an indestructible life, this King Jesus reigns and pours our his Holy Spirit into the world. Glory returns to him, but not in the form of gold, silver and precious stones, but in the form of something greater, the souls of men and women who are captivated by his beauty and swear to him their allegiance.

2. That he was a priest, but as God, he was a different kind of priest.

He lived constantly in the conscious presence of his heavenly Father for he himself was the true temple. He not only brought God near by teaching the people how to obey him, but he himself was God deeply desiring to draw near to his people. He would also draw near to God on behalf of the people offering up prayers to God. However, this priest would not teach people how to make food sacrifices to God, instead, he would become their sacrifice. He would not offer the blood of animals to God, but rather his very own blood, and in so doing, not just make people symbolically clean, but actually and thoroughly clean and righteous before God, enabling them to draw near to him, not just once, but for all time.

3. That he was a prophet, but as God, he was a different kind of prophet.

As a prophet he went looking for the lost sheep of Israel, speaking words and living a life that demonstrated the message: "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" The Lord is looking for those who will worship him in Spirit and Truth. However, he soon ran into opposition from those who saw his teaching and ways as a threat to their established order and after three years of plotting and a sham trial they crucified him. But the blood of this prophet was of a different order and spoke a better word that the blood of all the Old Testament prophets, for instead of calling our for justice to be executed on those who spilled it, this blood called out for their acquittal. Now, instead of bringing words of jusdgment and death, this prophet, speaking from Heaven, speaks words of eternal life, that through his body, the church, flow into the whole creation.

Through Christ and by the power of his Spirit, God has demonstrated his power and his glory, he has drawn near to us, made a way for us to be fit for his presence and sent his words of eternal life out to the ends of the earth to call all those who will hear him.

He has joyfully made his peace with us. Will we receive that peace and reciprocate that joy?

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