We Armenians know well, that whenever you meet someone for the first time and are invited to their house, you cannot go empty handed. Neither did the wise men when they went to see Jesus for the first time. It is written, “Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt 2:11b)”
The wise men’s gifts to the holy family started the tradition of Christmas gift giving; and their gifts were not after-thoughts, they were perfect. Maybe you have received something close to the perfect gift before—if you did—the gift was more than something you need, it said something about who you are. That’s why we say things like, “Oh I thought this present just suits you,” or “When I saw this, I thought…this is you.”
The gifts of the wise men weren’t what Jesus always wanted (a baby wants nothing but Mom). The gifts of the wise men said something about who Jesus was, and who he’d become.
It is much like the old Armenian tradition of ատամհատիկ atamhatik, which takes place when a baby loses his/her first tooth. Doting parents put various items on a blanket in front of their baby, a stethoscope, a paint brush, money, etc. According to tradition, whatever the baby picks up first will be related to their vocation in life. What kinds of things did the wise men put before baby Jesus, foreshadowing his life?
- Gold is a gift for a king—Jesus was a king whose kingdom is not of this Earth
- Frankincense is a gift for a priest—Jesus is the mediator between God and man, heaven and earth.
- Myrrh is a gift for burial, used in embalming—Jesus would sacrifice himself for our sins so that in Him we might have new life.
In this way, humankind’s greatest gifts to God; gold, frankincense and myrrh, said something about God’s greatest gift to humankind, the gift of his Son—who would be king, priest and savior of all.
During this Armenian Christmas season and throughout the New Year, we would do well to continue the wise men’s tradition. Wherever we come before God- in our churches, in our good works, or in our daily prayers-let us offer the best gifts of ourselves; with all our heart, mind and strength. Remember that the wise men did not send their gifts, but persevered through many obstacles to offer them in person. “Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. (Matt 2:11a)”
For the greatest Christmas gift anyone can give another, is the same gift God gave us, namely Himself….the only gift which truly keeps on giving, now and always and unto the ages or ages. Amen.