Epiphany, Year A
The Perfect Present
One of the Faith Formation kids asked, “Why did the wisemen give Jesus perfume? Jesus needed a place to live and food. If they were really so smart, that’s what they would have given Jesus.” A cartoon hanging on my fridge that says something like the three wise women would have brought casseroles, diapers, and wine to the manger. From experience, their own or from helping others, women know a ready-cooked meal, more diapers, and a glass of vino will be appreciated. At a birth, women give of their shared experience.
Later I thought about the cartoon. We give what is valuable to us. Time is the thing that is most valuable to a parent—there is never enough. And what do parents give their kids the most of? Time. The wisemen gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh because that was what they valued. To them, it was the perfect present. Just like the cook that gives a beautiful loaf of bread or jar of jam, the wisemen gave of themselves.
Sometimes, we give what we think the recipient needs. Sometimes it’s welcome and sometimes not. When I moved into my first apartment, my parents gave me a vacuum cleaner. I wasn’t too thrilled—I’d lived there six months without vacuuming and hadn’t had a problem! But, you know what? I used that vacuum for the next thirteen years before it finally died—at some point, I had aged into realizing how valuable a vacuum cleaner was. I needed that vacuum, even if I didn’t necessarily want it.
Jesus was that kind of gift. The kind where the giver knows what the recipient needs even if the recipient isn’t yet aware of the need. God knew we needed a savior, and the Jewish people were on board with that idea. But God also knew we needed a sacrificial king, not one that would lead us into battle. Two thousand years later, we’re still aging into that idea. It would be so much more efficient to have a king who would grant us His almighty power at the snap of a finger. Then we could show off our authority to the world. And the glory would ours alone.
Therein lies the problem. We’d be glorified, not God.
A gift should always be about the recipient. Like everything spiritual, the heart behind the giving is what what’s important. If you give bread to show off your baking talents, the bread isn’t valuable. But, if you give that same loaf of bread to share your talents, it is exactly perfect. The wisemen gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh not because Jesus needed it and not to show off their wealth. Their gifts were those fit to honor a king; it didn’t matter to the wisemen that the king lay in a horse’s feeding trough.
God gave us His Son, not because He wanted to show off how perfect His Offspring was but because that Son was exactly what we needed. God is the perfect giver. The only thanks He wants in return is for us to open His gift and hold His presence in our hearts.