By Rev. B.J. Funk
I can't hold this one in for another year. So, would you stretch Christmas a little further, and indulge me as I share what happened when I brought the story of the Wise Men to our children's sermon this past December?
I explained that these Wise Men came from far away, traveling a long time to find Jesus. They each brought a gift. Then, I asked, “What do you think the Wise Men brought to Jesus?”
“A cup!” one shouted out. Well, that actually made sense. Wouldn't a small baby need a cup? “Water!” the next one shouted out. Sure. Water for the cup. I didn't expect little children to be so practical! When you think about it, why would anybody bring anything else to a little boy? I liked the way their thoughts were going. However, I knew I could not send them back to their pews without some accuracy.
“Those are great ideas!” I said. “A baby surely needs a cup and water. These Wise Men wanted to give Jesus very special gifts. Gold, which represented a lot of money; frankincense, an ingredient used in perfumes; and myrrh, a product used as a medicine that heals wounds.” Then, as I always did in my kindergarten teaching days, I asked them to repeat these names after me. “Gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
There was so much more I wanted to tell them, but you know how little ones get antsy after just a bit of sitting. Since your attention span is longer, I'll tell you. The gifts of the Wise Men serve as the inspiration for all of our Christmas gift giving today. The gifts were actually prophetic, for they spoke of our Lord's offices as King, Priest and Savior. Gold is a gift fit for royalty. Jesus was a King. Frankincense has medicinal and soothing properties. It is calming and restorative. The ancient world used it for treating depression. The word incense is in its name. Its use as incense illustrates His role as our Priest. Myrrh is a resin produced by a small, tough, scraggly tree that grows in semi-desert regions of North Africa and the Red Sea. It is considered a wound healer because of its strong non-inflammatory properties. Myrrh was also used as an embalming ointment. It signified that Christ was born to die for the world. Indeed, it was used as one of the burial spices of Jesus. (John 19:39)
Can you just imagine how Mary and Joseph felt when these honored guests arrived with their precious gifts? Do you suppose Mary sensed the need to get up, sweep out the cobwebs, shoo the barnyard animals, spray a little room spray around the barn, and wash what was likely her only outfit? I wonder if, in the silent places of her heart, she thought, “I really could have used some baby food!”
As always, God had a plan. Wouldn't a poor couple need the gold as they traveled later to Egypt? Certainly, it was a fitting gift! The prophetic gifts of frankincense and myrrh likely remained a mystery to Mary and Joseph. Knowing what we know now, these gifts make a lot of sense.
Now, back to the children. Without knowing it, one little boy shouted out his own prophecy. When I asked at the end of the lesson, “Now, name for me the three gifts the Wise Men brought,” he answered, “Gold, frankincense, and mercy!”
How fitting that the children would give Him mercy! When Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both secret followers of Jesus, risked their reputations to provide for Jesus' burial, they used 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to wrap the body of Jesus. It was a mercy-filled act of love and kindness. For this One who was given so little mercy from the religious leaders of his day, mercy triumphed for Him in the end.
I think I like the children's version better.
The Rev. B.J. Funk is associate pastor of Central UMC in Fitzgerald. Email her at email@example.com.