Gifts of irrational generosity

Included in many Christmas scenes are three kings. Usually these figures are dressed in royal robes and each carries a gift–gold, frankincense or myrrh.

The Bible really doesn’t tell us much about the Magi, sometimes called wise men or kings. Only in Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story are the learned star-gazers even mentioned. That version doesn’t say how many, what their position in society was, where specifically they came from or even if they were male or female. All the details–that there were three, the camels they rode, that they were kings–all are traditions which evolved over centuries.

None of these details are the important part of the story. The most important part of the story are the parts written between the lines. How, for example, did these non-Jewish travelers come to follow this star? Obviously they must have known some Hebrew teachings even though they were most likely from the Persian Empire. Didn’t they find a moving star strange? And the gifts! What strange and curious presents for a baby!  Myrrh was a perfume used in burials.

Imagine what these well-educated people thought when they found the new king, wrapped in plain, handwoven cloth, living in poverty. Surely they must have wondered about their calculations and the directions given them. Do you suppose they wondered if this poor family would use their gifts well? Would they squander the gold, waste the frankincense, lose the myrrh? Did they ask for documentation proving the royal lineage?

The Wise men did not seem to question the incongruity of the situation in which they found the new King of the Jews. They followed through and left gifts, valuable and fit for royalty.

Martin Luther, in one of his many Christmas sermons, points out, “The world would not have done so, but according to her wont would have looked for a velvet cushion and a host of servants and maids. The world makes presents to those who already have enough, and, to provide them, snatches the bread from the mouths of the hungry who have nothing but what they earn with their bloody sweat.”

Luther continues, “If we Christians would join the Wise Men, we must close our eyes to all that glitters before the world and look rather on the despised and foolish things, help the poor, comfort the despised, and aid the neighbor in his need.”

How often we measure what we do by the world’s wisdom. What is profitable? What will provide us with security? Will I have enough for myself?What will I gain? Who will be in control? Will my charity be squandered by others? Will the person I help take advantage of my generosity? Are they truly needy or who they claim to be? Did the recipients of our generosity say, “Thank you?”

No one knows if the Wise Men asked those questions as they placed their priceless gifts in the hands of a poor carpenter and his wife. They probably didn’t know that the gifts they brought were the means which allowed Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt and to save the baby Jesus’ life.

What is important is that they did it. Their unquestioning act of generosity changed the world.
Copyright © 2012 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains

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