Thought for the Week 3rd January 2021

Gift-Wrapped

(by Rev Paul Graham)

Read Matthew 2:1-12

Many years ago, we held a “Bad Present Game” as part of a broader New Year’s Eve get-together with friends. The premise of this jolly jape was to rewrap a present that had been received for Christmas that was (to put it politely) not to the recipient’s taste. The unwanted presents were then piled in the middle of the room and everyone took it in turns to pick up what they thought looked like a decent gift. They then had a chance to swap with someone else before the great unwrapping began and everyone would marvel at the sort of thing that people would either give or reject.

But there was a spanner in the works; the unexpected arrival at the gathering of one of our friend’s in-laws led to a sudden dash to the pile to retrieve the present that those same in-laws had given. Much inadvertent hilarity ensued as the gift was hastily grabbed and hidden, with one very red face while the rest of us gently rocked with laughter and the in-laws looked baffled.

I sometimes wonder what Mary and Joseph thought when the wise men presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold, a very useful aid to fund their future, but a weight to bear on their subsequent flight to Egypt. Frankincense certainly would have been useful to mask the aroma of the stable, but as the visit occurred at any point within the first two years of Jesus life, it’s unlikely that they would have stuck around in the stable for that long. Myrrh was a spice used for embalming, so, though deeply theologically prophetic, not the sort of thing any parent of a child wants to receive, particularly in an era when infant mortality rates were high enough without Herod’s murderous response.

Maybe Mary and Joseph would have appreciated the chance to swap some of these for something more useful. There’s a cartoon doing the rounds of the “Three Wise Women”, who bring more practical presents such as nappies, a week’s worth of casseroles and formula milk, none of which of course existed in first century Palestine. Be that as it may, it made me think about the sort of gifts that I would bring to the infant Jesus.

We know that last year didn’t offer us very much, but we can start the new one with the intention to give, particularly as so much was taken from us during 2020. But, even if it is just for today, we are allowing ourselves to be more positive, more forward thinking and forward looking. We might even find that there is something from last year that we want to take into the new year with us (aside from the scars that we don’t have a choice over).

So, what gifts do I give?

If we take the final line of Christina Rossetti’s popular carol In The Bleak Midwinter at face value, then presenting the baby’s parents with a vital internal organ would be a messy gift, but I’m not so obtuse to think that Ms Rossetti was proposing the heart as a literal alternative to the shepherd’s gift of a lamb[1]. However, it does provide a useful gift suggestion for us: a commitment to follow Christ with all our hearts. To make not just an intellectual decision to find out about this God Baby, but also to respond to his call to love, something that the heart is commonly linked with.

But of course, the wise men bought three gifts, so what else could I offer to make up the numbers?

Time is a precious commodity to us all, and giving that to Jesus would be, I hope, a worthy present. Time to spend with him, in reading about him, learning from him and hopefully doing a better job at following his example than my previous attempts (and predecessors). I think I’ll offer him time as a second gift.

It’s a bit of a cheat really, but what I’d really like to offer Jesus as a gift is a continuation of something that I’ve really enjoyed doing in the last few months (if I’m allowed to have enjoyed anything at all during this pandemic). You’re currently reading my gift; I would offer to him more of the written word to bring his Good News to others. There’s a lot to be said about the spoken word, and preaching is certainly still a vital part of a minister’s traditional job description, but there is something powerful about the time spent with fingers dancing across a keyboard, conveying a message that won’t change as memories fade and potentially alter what has been heard. It’s lovely when someone says how much they appreciate what you said in a sermon, even more so if you actually said it! Though there is always room for interpretation in writing (just ask any student of Shakespeare), there is at least a record of what was written to fuel the discussion.

So, those are my three gifts (with due deference to Ms Rossetti for supplying one suggestion): heart, time and writing.

What three gifts are you willing to offer the infant Jesus? You can use any of the ones given here, but you probably would rather be more creative (and I’m glad there is no penalty for plagiarism). Answers on a postcard…

Amen.


[1] C.f. In The Bleak Midwinter (Christina Rossetti, 1872)


(Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash)


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