The Perfect Gift

By: Marcy Barthelette

Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. James 1:17 CEB

The gifts have all been opened, some may have already been returned, the wrappings thrown in the trash and some of the new toys might already be broken. But, if you were paying a lot of attention to TV ads before Christmas, or surfing all your favorite social media sites, or checking out every marketing message you received on your phone offering a blazing hot deal, you were likely drowning in commercialism and losing focus on our reason for all the gift giving.

As we know, our practice of gifting family and friends at Christmas is grounded in the presentation of gifts to the Christ Child by the Magi, those mysterious travelers from the Far East who followed the guidance of a very bright star to find the promised Child. They learned of this birth from prophecies found in the Old Testament.

All nations will come to your light, mighty kings will come to see your radiance. Isaiah 60:3

The story seems very straightforward in its simplicity: Wise Men (educated men known for their knowledge of the sciences of astronomy and astrology, agriculture, and sorcery) followed a star until it led them to Jesus, the newly-born King of the Jewish nation. On the way, they had an encounter with the current Jewish King, Herod, asking them to report back regarding the whereabouts of the Baby. Because they were warned in a dream of Herod’s evil intent to kill the child, they returned home by another route, though some believe that the different route was a metaphor for their conversion experience upon being in the presence of the Lord. And Joseph, also having been warned of the danger to Jesus, traveled to Egypt where the family lived until Herod died.

From that seemingly simple story, many theories have emerged. The truth is, we don’t know how far the Wise Men traveled, we don’t know how old Jesus was when they arrived, but we do know they were not present at the manger on the night of His birth. Likewise, we don’t know where the family was living at the time of the auspicious arrival of the Magi. We do know that these men brought gifts, each of which was very valuable in that day and not readily available for the average home.

Most theologians agree that gold represented wealth worthy as a gift for a King, frankincense was likely indicative of the priestly role that Jesus would exhibit during His ministry here on earth, and myrrh was a precursor of the sacrifice He would make on the cross to save us from sin. But there are also discussions about the usefulness of the gold in financing the family’s exile into Egypt. Obviously, Joseph was not wealthy and that abrupt change in plans would have proven difficult for a man of his means. Hence, the theory does have value. Frankincense has long been, and still is in various countries of the Middle East and Africa, known for its therapeutic value and could have been intended for that use, but even more likely, in its rarest form it was considered pure and holy, thus reserved for ceremonial use and may have represented the pure and holy life that Jesus was called to lead. And myr  rh was typically known as a perfume and one of the spices used at the burial of a dignitary. That would refer to the death of Jesus on the cross.


It was not suddenly or unannounced that Jesus came into the world.

The whole Old Testament is the story of a special preparation…only when all was ready,

only in the fullness of His time, did Jesus come.

Phillips Brooks, Minister in the nineteenth century, author of the lyrics to O Little Town of Bethlehem.

However it happened and whatever the timing, this beautiful yet fearful (because of the intended threat to Jesus’ life) portion of the Christmas story should teach us to pay special attention to the gifts we give. While gold doesn’t typically figure into that process, the value should be determined by how the giver honors the receiver. Our gifts to each other need not be expensive, in fact, they need not even be tangible. They can come in the form of kind words, a helpful hand when needed, a shoulder to cry on. After all, these are the very gifts that Jesus shared with everyone he met during His ministry here on earth and still offers to us now when we take the time to notice.

By offering these same kinds of gifts to family and friends, even strangers, we are giving to Him the very best gift we can ever give…our hearts.

Father, give us eyes to see Jesus in a fresh way this Christmas season. Help us to see him as he is—a king sleeping in a stable. Give us ears to hear the angels sing, give us feet like the shepherds to go swiftly to Bethlehem. Give us hands like the Wise Men to offer our best to him. Amen

Ray Pritchard, Faces Around the Manger

One Response to “The Perfect Gift”

  1. Rebecca L Grant says:

    Your writings always inspire me. This latest one is so good.

    Becky Grant

Leave a Reply