Making This Christmas Count part 1
Give the Right Gifts
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
November 30, 2008

Main Passage: Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)

Well, this is the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas will be here before you know it. How many of you are ready for it? Anyone have all their shopping done? Do you have your baking done? How many of you have a to-do list so long you need a telescope to see to the end of it?

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the busiest time of the year. And it’s easy for it to come and go, leaving you gasping for air and wondering, “what was the point?”

Well, we want to help you with that this year. Beginning today and for the rest of the Sundays leading up to Christmas, we’re going to be talking about How to Make This Christmas Count.

We’re going to talk about handling the hectic pace of the season, we’re going to talk about understanding what Christmas is all about in the first place, we’re going to talk about taking in all the content, such as the music and the decorations and the cards. We’re going to talk about all of that, but we’re going to start today by talking about the gifts.

The passage that Chris read for us a few minutes ago and that the puppets sang about tells us where this whole practice of gift-giving got started. The wise men started it all. Giving gifts, receiving gifts. We’ve taken it to a whole new level, but it all got started with them. So you can either thank them or blame them… that’s up to you.

As we start here, I want to recognize a couple things about how the wise men gave their gifts. And then we’re going to talk about some different kinds of gifts. In your Sunrise Update this morning, you’ll find some notes you can use to follow along and fill in the blanks. So first of all…

How were the gifts of the Wise Men given?

A.    They were given personally.

And that’s a significant thing here. Remember, these were wealthy people. If Bill Gates were to ever give you a gift, for whatever reason, would you expect him to show up at your door personally or do you think he’d have someone else deliver it? Bill Gates doesn’t know me, he lives in Seattle, I live in PEI… I expect that if he ever had any reason to send me a gift he would just FedEx it to me.

Well, here you have the Wise Men. We don’t really know much about them, but we’re pretty sure that they were wealthy people and they traveled some distance from a land to the east to personally deliver their gifts to the newborn Jesus.

Actually, there’s a lot we don’t know about these Wise Men. We don’t even know if they were wise. I mean, they’ve been called kings, they’ve been called Magi, they’ve been called astronomers or astrologers, they’ve even been called magicians or sorcerers… but Wise Men seems to be the most common and most accurate.

And we don’t know how many of them there were. The popular Christmas carol says “We Three Kings”, but all we really know is that there were three gifts. Maybe it was like a wedding where a lot of people showed up giving the same gifts. You know, a couple toasters, three or four blenders, nine bottles of Myrrh.

We’re told they came from the East. But what’s to the East? [PowerPoint] Maybe they came from Iran, or Syria, or maybe even India. A lot of people think they came from Iraq, which is certainly possible. The Israelites of the Old Testament had spent time in captivity in the area of modern-day Iraq, so maybe these Wise Men were familiar with the prophecies about Jesus and they were watching for a sign.

In fact, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world is found in Iraq. They’ve been there for nearly 2000 years, so maybe the Wise Men took news about Jesus back with them and paved the way for the Jesus’ message of hope and forgiveness to be received there.

The point is, they came from some distance away. But why? I mean, they could have sent the gifts. They could have been delivered by the Camel Express. But they didn’t. They took it upon themselves to personally deliver the gifts.

In fact, when you read this story, the personal part kind of pops out at you. Look at verse 2… Read it aloud with me.

Matthew 2:2 (NLT)
We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:10 (NLT)
 “When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!”

Matthew 2:11 (NLT)
They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Each of them presented their gift personally.

B.    They were given with joy.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you were invited to a birthday party so your parents went out and bought a gift and wrapped it up for you to give but you really wanted to keep it for yourself so they just kind of forced you to carry it in pushed you from behind until you stepped up and finally, grudgingly, just tossed the gift over and said, “here!” What, is nobody else as dysfunctional as me?

Well, the gifts of the wise men were properly given. I mean, they were more than just gifts in a box. It was more than just gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Take another look at verse 11…

Matthew 2:11 (NLT)
They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

They each gave their gift with worship and adoration and honour and praise to Jesus.

Now, when you think about Christmas and the gifts we give, there are really three different kinds of gifts we give. Here they are. The first is…

Kinds of gifts we give at Christmastime:

1.    The “gift for a gift” gift.

You know what I’m talking about. Every one of us has done this before. It’s the “gift for a gift” gift. Basically, what the gift for a gift, gift is, is that we get a gift from somebody and so we kind of figure out how much it was and so we go down to Wal*Mart or Zellers or wherever and we buy a gift for them of about the same kind of price and it’s a “gift for a gift” gift. Hey, I’ve been there and so have you. I expect every one of us has given a “gift for a gift” gift.

Now, the characteristic about a “gift for a gift” gift, gift is, the person who does this keeps a long mental picture of what that value of that gift was. Have you ever heard anybody say, “Oh, yeah. I got them something real nice and they didn’t get me anything in return.” They’re keeping score. They keep accounts. This approach feeds the cash registers of our department stores. And you know what, every Christmas Eve there are thousands of people rushing out to Christmas stores quickly because they just got a “gift for a gift” gift and they’ve got to go out and get a “gift for a gift” gift for that person. Happens every year.

2.    The “now you owe me” gift.

The thing about a person who gives this gift is that they’re not looking for a gift in return, but they’re going to call in the favour someday. They’re going to expect you to do some nice things for them.

This is the kind of person that loves to have IOUs out there. A lot of businesses do this. At the end of the year, they give their employees a ham or a turkey, or a cash bonus or something. They don’t expect the employee to turn around and give them a turkey in return, although that would be pretty funny. No, they don’t do that. But they give you the gift, and they pretty much say, “Okay, I don’t expect a gift back but I do expect you to, well, work hard and keep your mouth shut, be a good employee, be nice, be positive. Be smart. You know, just don’t get into any trouble.” And then about March, if you slack off or say something nasty about them, they say, “Didn’t we give them a turkey last Christmas?”

We’ve all done that before. We’ve given gifts before and we didn’t really expect to get back but, we did expect to have some kind of a little favor down the road sometime somewhere. I see this in marriages all the time. Hey, I’ve done it. It’s when you give a gift to your spouse or you just do something nice for them, and then you figure they owe you. “They’d better not complain about me leaving my dirty socks on the floor, I gave them flowers.” Or, “They’d better not ask me to take out the garbage, I just did the dishes.”

That’s the “now you owe me” kind of gift. But there’s a third kind of gift, and it the kind of gift that the wise men teach us about. It’s what we’re going to call…

3.    The “no strings attached” gift.

These Wise Men came to Jesus and they gave Him very expensive gifts of gold, incense and myrrh (which was used in expensive perfumes and oils). And they presented these gifts to Jesus… who when He was born was laid in a manger full of hay because he didn’t have a proper crib. They gave the gifts to the illegitimate son of a teenage girl and a carpenter. They gave these gifts to a child and to a family that had nothing to give them in return. At least, not that they knew about. As far as they knew, there was no way their gifts could ever be repaid, and they weren’t asking for them to be.

That’s the very best kind of gift to give. That’s the kind of gift that flows from pure generosity and not from selfish ambitions. That’s the kind of gift that’s really a gift.

Of course, the best example I can give of this kind of gift is the gift of salvation that God gives us through His grace. Check this out…

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.

Salvation is a gift of God’s grace. It’s a gift that we don’t work for and we can’t work for… and we can never, ever, repay it. The gift of God’s Son that first Christmas, the life He gave for you and for me, and the hope of salvation and eternal life that are offered to us because of what He did… all of that is a free gift that we don’t deserve, we can’t earn, and we can never repay.

You and I can never repay and we can never match the gift He gave. It’s a free gift that He offers to us, and all we can do is accept it. We can never repay Him.

But what we can do is learn from His example. What we can do is learn from the example of the Wise Men. What we can do is pass on that kind of generosity to others.

So let’s look at five things that we can learn from these Wise Men about giving…

The Wise Men Teach Us To…

1.    Give an unexpected gift.

You see, no one would expect these wise men to give gifts. I mean, they’re not Jews. They have nothing invested in this. All they have done is study the skies.

Now, you might expect Herod to be there. I mean, He had as much information available to Him as the Wise Men did about the upcoming birth of Jesus. His own advisers were able to tell him that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And even if he wasn’t watching for the birth, when he found out it had occurred don’t you think he would have gone to see for himself?

But no. Totally unexpected, these wise men from a far off country showed up when the local leader couldn’t be bothered. Nobody would have ever expected that three Magi would come and work their way, for literally weeks and months to the place where Jesus was born just to bring Him gifts. No one expected that.

And that’s the way it is with the best gifts. The best gifts are unexpected gifts. Maybe you’ve experienced a gift like that. Maybe there’s been somebody that’s done something for you in your life… maybe recently or maybe a long way back. But you know how meaningful that kind of a gift is.

Who can you give an unexpected gift to? Maybe it’s the kind of gift you can put in a box and wrap up, maybe it’s the kind of gift that you do something for them… whatever gift it is, who can you give an unexpected gift to?

In fact, in your notes I have a little place in there for you to put a name. You need to think of somebody and you need to say, “This year I’m going to do something for them that’s going to come clear out of the blue for them. I mean, they’re not going to expect anything from me. And when they get it it’s just going to be a gift. And I mean, it’s just going to be me doing something for somebody and I expect nothing in return. I’m not looking for them to give me a gift, I’m not looking for them to owe me something, it’s just a grace gift… I want to bless them. And they wouldn’t ever expect me to give this to them.”

The best gifts that you ever received and some of the best gifts I ever received were those unexpected gifts.

The second thing we learn from the wise men is to…

2.    Give with genuine delight.

When the Wise Men found the place where Jesus was, they were so excited. The Bible says they were filled with joy! And then they went inside and they gave their gifts, they did it with such joy. They could hardly wait to give their gifts… to Jesus Himself.

“Giving with a glad and generous heart has a way of rooting out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure does something within us. It destroys the demon, greed.”
~ Richard Foster, from Money, Sex & Power

Isn’t that true? When you give freely and joyfully, that money loses its control over you.

And you know what? I’ve seen many of you give with this kind of joy. Even over the past couple of weeks, as you’ve come in carrying your shoeboxes, you’ve been so excited about the opportunity to give with no expectation of anything in return. [For those of you who don’t know, every year we collect shoeboxes filled with gifts to be distributed to needy children all over the world…] Some of you make it a family project, and I think that’s tremendous. As 2 Corinthians 9:7 says…

2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)
“For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

[Note: this passage is specifically about tithing, but this is a quote from Proverbs 22:8 (included in the Greek, but not all English versions) simply about generosity]

3.    Give a gift that’s personal.

Now, we’ve already talked about how the Wise Men gave their gifts in person. But in addition to that, their gifts were personal. Now, I know the gifts weren’t exactly a pair of socks, a family portrait, or a hand-made craft. But I think they were still personal. I mean, they were gifts that probably reflected who they were, and they were gifts fit for the newborn King.

Now, let me tell on my dad. My dad is very generous, he loves to give gifts, but he’s not always the best at choosing them. In fact, at Christmas time he doesn’t choose them. He gives my sister some money to go out and buy gifts for him to give to my mother.

Now, to be fair, my dad works hard, he’s a truck driver and doesn’t really spend a whole lot of time at home and it would be difficult for him to go out and shop for a gift himself. Plus, he has questionable taste, so maybe this arrangement isn’t such a bad idea…

But for most of us, I wouldn’t recommend anything like that. Instead, I’d say “make your gifts personal.” Make your gifts if you can. Or if you buy them, put some thought into them. The gifts I remember the most and that I treasure the most are not necessarily the most expensive… they’re the sweaters knit by my great-grandmother that I know took hours and hours to make, they’re the home movies sent to me when I was living out west and away from home, they’re the gifts that indicate that the giver really thought about who I am and what I would enjoy. So give something personal.

4.    Give gifts that will endure.

The story of the wise men has been told now for two thousand years, but people still know about them and the gifts they gave. That’s a pretty good record.

Give a gift that will endure. And you know, you can’t just go out and buy one of those gifts. Those gifts wear out. They break, they get lost. But there are a couple gifts I want to mention that you can give and they will last forever.

•    Good memories.

Nothing like giving the gift of memories. Make sure this Christmas that you do some things that will create memories.

For me, my memories are things like our Family Christmas Eve Gathering. I remember how as a kid, all of my family would gather at my grandparent’s home… thirty or forty of us… and we’d have a great time together. There was always an incredible table of food… I always loved the baked bean… everyone had fun catching up, and all my cousins and I would play hide-and-seek in their basement. And then it’d climax as we all gathered around my Great-grandmother’s chair to listen to her read the Christmas story from the Bible.

Another highlight for me is our Christmas Eve service. I always enjoy the music and the reflection, and finishing it off with the candlelighting. That’s a very special time for me. And it’s a memory I keep with me from year to year.

I took Nate to see the Santa Claus parade last night. His very first parade. He wasn’t that into it this year, but I’m looking forward to that becoming a great tradition and a great memory for us.

Listen, great memories last. For your kids, for your spouse, for your friends, for your parents, great memories last. Spend your time making memories with the people that you love. Those memories are worth a lot more and last a lot longer than anything you can buy.

•    Godly heritage.

A godly heritage will bless you and your family for generations. that’s what the Bible teaches us.

Exodus 20:6 (NLT)
“But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.”

You parents, pay attention to this. Live God-pleasing lives. … lives that will impact your children and your children’s children and your children’s children’s children. That doesn’t just mean that you go to church. It means that you live our your faith. It means that you trust God’s leadership in your life. It means you put Him first in your time and in your passion and in your finances. It means that you let go of addictions and habits and actions that dishonour God and instead you strive to live a life that does honour Him. It means you love God with everything you’ve got and you pass on His love to others.

I personally have a long Christian heritage that I am more grateful for every year. I can’t imagine how my life would be different if my parents or my grandparents or my great-grandparents or my great-great-grandparents had turned their backs on God. I am who I am, in no small measure, because of the Godly heritage I enjoy.

Now, some of you don’t have that kind of a background. Some of you may be the first believers in your family. Well, you have a great opportunity. You can start this kind of heritage yourself. Leave a Godly heritage for your children.

Let me say one more thing about giving before I wrap this thing up. The last thing I would say about gifts is:

5.    Give that gift now.

Those wise men. They weren’t about to go back home until they got those gifts to Jesus. They pressed through opposition. They pressed through time. I’m sure they got discouraged. I’m sure people said, “Turn back. You’re never going to find Him.” And I’m sure they said, “No, we want to give our gifts now.” The saddest thing in life is to see people at a funeral look at their loved ones and wish for one day back where they could say something or do something. Give that gift now.

Just yesterday, I was sitting in our living room, working away on my laptop, when Nate pulled himself over to my chair and started biting my knee. I’m getting used to that, really. Anyway, I was deep in thought… or at least as deep as I get… and it wasn’t the most convenient time, but I looked down at him and realized he was just looking for some attention. So I set my laptop down, and I picked him up, and I gave him that attention. And it was then that I also discovered I needed to change his diaper…

The point is, I was tempted to put it off. I was tempted to ignore him until it was more convenient for me. But I had a gift… a gift of love and attention… that I needed to give to my son, and I realized, “I need to give that gift now.”

That letter that you should have written, that phone call you should make. This afternoon, go make it. Go give a hug. Go share your love. Whatever gift you have to give, give it now.

Now don’t misunderstand me… I’m not saying to go home and open all your Christmas gifts today. I’m not talking about those kinds of gifts. I’m talking about those special kinds of gifts… those gifts that create those good memories and a Godly heritage… gifts of love, gifts of compassion, gifts of attention, gifts of encouragement, gifts of serving, gifts of togetherness… those kinds of gifts that are so easy to put off. Give them now.

Give the right gift. If you want to make this Christmas count, then you’ve got to give the right kinds of gifts.

Next week, we’re going to move on to talk about overcoming the hectic pace that so many of us get caught up in during the Christmas season. So if you’re like me and you often find yourself trying to do too much and getting all stressed out because of all the busyness of Christmas, then you’ll want to be here next week.

[Adapted primarily from material by John Maxwell and Stan Toler]



Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2008