The Magi enter the house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph are staying and present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts are symbolic. Gold indicates royalty. Frankincense represents divinity. Myrrh is a resin used to anoint a corpse. Jesus is royalty since he is of David’s line. As the son of God, he is divine. Myrrh refers to his passion and death.
The Magi’s presentations give us an opportunity to reflect on gift giving. In our own culture we experience a season of extreme gifting. Some gifts are presented with great thoughtfulness and love. Some gifts are given out of obligation. Other gifts come to us as nothing more than an elaborate business transaction.
In each of these instances the giver and the receiver play different relational roles. If I do thousands of dollars of business with a person over the course of a year it is quite customary to express my appreciation for the business with a gift at the end of the year. Such a gift is merely the continuation of a business relationship. If Aunt Cybil is a difficult family member we prepare a Christmas gift for her. It is out of politeness and obligation we want to make sure that she receives something when the presents are opened. This gift is out of obligation rather than devotion toward Aunt Cybil. Finally, Susie, a 7-year-old girl, has spent a great amount of time creating a clay animal for her parents. She loves them with great affection and has poured her best efforts into preparing the gift for her mother and father. Even though the gift has little monetary value it is given with thoughtfulness and love.
This brings us to God’s gift to us in this Christmas season. It is a gift based in thoughtfulness and love. God gives to us this gift not because he is obliged to do so or because we are owed this gift. It certainly has nothing to do with a business transaction. The gift of our Savior comes from God’s desire to show his love just as Susie’s little clay animal expressed her love for her parents. God thinks of what we need. God loves us just as we are.
Our Savior represents in a profound way the manner in which God gives gifts to us in all aspects of our lives. All of God’s gifts spring from God’s love for us and his thoughtful care for every aspect of our lives. All we have is a gift from God. Even though it is sometimes not easy to see the difficult things in our lives as gifts, it is true that sickness and need are gifts. They offer us an opportunity to deepen our spiritual lives and to depend more completely on the God who saves. Only one kind of gift comes from God and it is given out of thoughtfulness and love.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.