Is there someone in your family who wraps presents better than everyone else? Growing up, the meticulous present wrapper in our family was my father. Dad loved the Christmas season. He enjoyed putting up lights outside on the house. He made the garage door look like a Christmas present with wrapping and ribbon and bows. Often to my mother’s chagrin, he bought presents specially selected for each child. Annually, a young boy’s gleeful eyes drank in a wood-burning set, eXacto knives, or two tickets to the ABA all-star game.
Dad spent as much time wrapping the present as he did picking it out. The paper was always measured, folded and cut perfectly for every box. He would make creases in the paper that would look like the pleats on a well-ironed pair of pants. While he always placed a label telling to whom the present was intended, he never scribbled who it was from. The gift’s wrapping was the only signature needed.
No pair of scissors ever touched the wrapping paper roll when my father wrapped presents; the foil was surgically prepared by his over-sized and over-sharpened pocket knife. Scotch tape was applied only at the box’s edge. The paper on the side formed two perfect triangles, touching at the point. Even the ribbon was measured — six inches too long and curled by a swipe from the knife’s blade.
When I was younger, the wrapping-unwrapping ratio was minutes to seconds. For every minute that it took my father to wrap the gift, it took me a second to open it. But as I got older, I would often pause to behold the wrapping masterpiece that was placed before me. I marveled at its exquisite perfection. I got to where I wanted to try to unwrap the present by not tearing an inch of the paper, undoing step by step the process my father had started. Opening the gift meticulously somehow seemed to honor the one who had wrapped it.
Allow your mind to wander back to that small house outside Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. Prior to the journey, the gifts from the wise men had been carefully wrapped, prepared for the long trip ahead. Crates were built out of sturdy wood. Straw was added on the bottom, the gifts laid as carefully on top as Mary had laid her child on the manger. Additional straw and packing surrounded each gift — carefully, adoringly groomed.
The wise men recognized Jesus Christ as the Messiah while he was still a child, and traveled thousands of miles to worship him. They doggedly followed a star which led them to Jesus. By the time they met Jesus, he was in a house and was a child, not an infant, implying they arrived a year or more after his birth. In a very real sense, their gifts symbolize Christ's identity and mission. God honored the wise men by warning them in a dream to go home by another route and not to report back to King Herod, who would have surely put them to death.
Not a gift card, the first gift mentioned was gold. Gold was the usual offering presented to kings by their subjects, or those wanting to pay respect. When the wise men presented gold, they were honoring Jesus with the very best they possessed, and they also were recognizing that Jesus was king. In ancient times, only royalty was allowed to possess gold.
Frankincense was a very costly and fragrant gum distilled from a tree. The process resulted in an incense that burned easily and created much smoke. It was used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God. It also was used as medicine and as perfume. It was the task of the priest to offer pleasant aromas to God in worship through the burning of sacrifices.
While frankincense represents sweetness, myrrh represents bitterness. Myrrh is an aromatic gum and is obtained from a tree in the same manner as frankincense. When it was burned, it created a harsh fire, producing a bitter aroma with a smoke that would inflame the eyes. In Jesus’ time, it was used chiefly in embalming the dead (John 19:39).
Symbolically, the bitterness of the myrrh also represented the work of a prophet. The Old Testament often describes the words from God as bitter in the mouth of the prophet. Today, as two thousand years ago, not everyone is willing to accept the words of Jesus the prophet.
This Christmas, as you wrap all of your perfect gifts for each individual, be challenged to give one more gift — a gift that represents the true meaning of the season in your life. Perhaps it should go to your favorite charity. Maybe you know a father up the street who is out of work. Show true wisdom this holiday by giving in a godly way.
— Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.