Day 23: Saturday 23rd December – Matthew 2:9-12 ‘They opened their treasures’

Matthew 2:9-12

Our best wedding present was in many ways the most unlikely. Like most couples we’d received a lot of wonderful gifts to start a new home. Shortly after we’d arrived back from honeymoon we received one final gift, which came in an unmarked brown cardboard box, wrapped up with brown parcel tape. For those of you who like bows, tags and hospital corners on your wrapped edges, this would have given you palpitations. What on earth was it?

However, when we opened it (with some difficulty), we discovered inside a beautiful crystal lamp – like a larva lamp only much prettier – and an amazing poem written specially for us and our wedding. It was a unique gift: in fact, two unique gifts, both of which were among the best we’d ever received, and from the same dear friend.

The theme of unusual but well-chosen gifts sits at the heart of our reading for today. I guess if you’re going to trek 600 miles across the world, you’d better bring something with you. And as the Magi finally get to meet the new king they’d come so far to see, and after they had knelt in his presence in worship, it was time to crack open the chest and offer the (now obligatory) baby shower presents.

Much is made of the meaning of the presents and their prophetic significance: gold for a king, frankincense for an offering to God, myrrh foreshadowing what Jesus came to do i.e. his sacrificial death. And that’s all true – we can interpret the outline of Jesus’ life and ministry purely from those extraordinary treasures. But today, let’s observe very simply that these were unexpected gifts. After all, there was no reason to assume that this unknown king needed any more gold; frankincense was for priests, not kings; and myrrh was the equivalent of bringing a food-poisoning testing kit to a dinner party.

But God used those unexpected gifts, and did something wonderful with them. And not just as a prophetic sign: the gold probably kept the family alive as they fled into exile. Frankincense might have helped sustain their home prayer life as they left behind the familiar festivals and rituals of their home country. And myrrh could remind them of their unusual visitors and the greater sense that God was up to something special.

This Christmas some of us will share fewer gifts than usual. That is rightly a cause of sadness and regret. But let’s take heart from today’s story and pray instead that we would give and receive unexpected gifts. Anything offered to Jesus can be used for his glory. What treasures might you open as you worship the newborn king?