“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” If you are anything like me, this very line triggers warm memories of the holiday season, a time of the year for family to get together over elegant meals, games, laughing, presents, and of course pumpkin pie and black coffee! Sadly, as Perry Como sings in this holiday classic, the emphasis during this season has taken a strong turn away from focusing on the advent of Christ to materialism. A 2014 article reports, “The United States’ retail industry generated over three trillion U.S. dollars during the holidays in 2013 (http://www.statista.com/).”
Certainly, I am not saying the consuming of retail products to be delivered as gifts to friends and loved ones is a bad idea, or even inherently sinful. In fact I would argue, in light of Matthew 2:11, it is a biblical practice to give gifts to the ones you love. Even Jesus says in Matthew 7:11, you and I, who are sinful (evil), know how to give good gifts to our loved ones. Yet, He continues, if we know how to give good gifts, how much more will our Heavenly Father give to us? That being said, let’s examine the Matthew 2 passage.
We must understand first, the Magi were men of nobility and influence coming from the east. As they traveled they brought with them their cultural norms; particularly, in the context of the passage, this is shown in the giving of gifts to an individual of higher nobility. Additionally, the noblemen from the east prostrated themselves before one of higher rank. That is, the Wise Men fell to the ground in worship of the toddling King of the Jews, Jesus. This illustrates an Old Testament concept of worship for us to consider.
Consider briefly the idea of sacrifice. The first six chapters of Leviticus address various sacrifices that are to be presented before the LORD; these culminate in the Day of Atonement found in Leviticus 16. We see throughout Leviticus, God calls for specifics in sacrifice, and not just in the sacrifice, also in the Law. The obligatory keeping of the Law became such a problem, Jesus himself addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount, but that was not the first instance of a tension between the letter of the law and spirit of the law. For example, the book of Isaiah says in the eyes of God, the empty act of sacrifice as worship is worthless to God. Even more, He hates them; they are a burden to Him (Is. 1:10-17). Amos chapter five echoes what the prophet Isaiah is saying. This is because His chosen people had regularly played the harlot and sacrificed to other Gods. Yet, we see in Deuteronomy 10:12-13 exactly what the LORD requires… the heart. If the heart is not changed, neither will the soul be changed, and if neither the heart nor the soul are changed then the life will not be changed.
Yes, you can have perfect church attendance. You can sing the latest contemporary worship song or the oldest hymn in the hymnal. You can even sacrifice your weekends to help the needy, but if you are only doing these things out of obligation in keeping some expectation, you are going to fall woefully short according to the standards of Christ. Those things do not matter to God. God does not care if you sing Amazing Grace the way John Newton wrote it in 1779, or the way Chris Tomlin did it in 2007; God wants your heart! God does not care if you can write a check to pay off the church debt or barely have enough to pay rent; God wants your heart!
How does this pertain to the Magi? Here is how. The men of nobility, who had traveled a great distance, brought the best physical gift they had to offer (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), but it was the emotional gift that was most important that day… their hearts! “And they fell to the ground and worshiped him (Matthew 2:11b).” The wise men demonstrated more than compulsory actions, they demonstrated true heart-felt worship to the Savior.
This Advent Season, enjoy giving gifts to your loved ones, enjoy receiving gifts from those who love you, but remember the reason for the season truly is the infant King of Glory, Jesus Christ. Have you given Him the greatest gift… your heart? After all, He gave His life for you. Merry CHRISTmas beloved.