Do you remember the first ones to give gifts to Jesus on Christmas? The magi. Scripture says that when the Magi, following the star, found Jesus with Mary they fell prostrate; they opened their treasures, and gave him gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Mur. Those were gifts fit for a king.
Not placing them in the hands of the babe, but laying them at his feet. We see something similar in the book of Revelation (5:10) when the twenty -four elders fall down before the one who sits on the throne and worship him. They throw down their crowns before the throne, exclaiming “Worthy are you, Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things: because of your will they came to be and were created.”
The magi open their treasures and lay them at the feet of Jesus. The twenty-four elders in Revelation throw their crowns at the feet of the glorified Jesus. What about us? What treasure can we lay at his feet? We have no gift to bring that’s fit to give our King. But what gift can we give to Jesus that has meaning and value anyway?
You see, gifts have meaning over and beyond their intrinsic value. They don’t just have meaning because of what they cost, or because of their usefulness to us. They have meaning because of the sacrifice made by the giver of the gift. It’s the thought that counts, we say. But the reason the thought counts at all is because there’s a sacrifice that follows it. Sacrifice is an important component to the value of a gift.
I had an aunt who always gave me clothing as a Christmas gift. It was either an ugly shirt, a pair of mittens that didn’t fit, or some other article of clothing that I either didn’t need, or, because it was so hideous, I didn’t want.
And these gifts weren’t expensive. I knew even then that she bought them at the neighborhood discount store. So they had no great monetary value. And they had no intrinsic value to me; they weren’t things that I needed or wanted. But I always recognized the real value of her gifts. She took time out to walk to a store about 15 blocks away from her house, in the cold weather, and spent money she probably couldn’t spare, and put thought into buying a gift for her nephew for Christmas. There was meaningfulness to her gift. It expressed love and affection, even if the gift itself had no intrinsic value to me. Like the widow in the temple in Mark’s Gospel, my aunt didn’t give from her surplus, but from her poverty. Having nothing to give, she gave the most.
So I put the question to you again. What are you giving Jesus for Christmas?
What can you offer to him? I have two suggestions to consider. The first is, give him your virtue. The second may surprise you—give him your vices and sinfulness.
Ideally the treasure we can give to Jesus is our virtue. We honor him, and pay him homage, by living out these characteristics of holiness. Imagine yourself going to greet the newborn king in the manger. You kneel down before him and say “My dear Lord, I have come to open up my treasures and to give you the gift of…what? What virtue do you possess that’s fit to give the King of Kings? Charity? Love? Temperance? Sincerity? What virtue have you mastered that you can offer to Jesus in the manger? When you think about it, you may discover that you haven’t mastered any of them. But there’s still time to change that. You can begin today to cultivate specific virtues in your life, to change habits of behavior and habits of thought, and to develop a holy life one virtue at a time.
Apart from the gift of our virtues, we may consider offering the Lord our sinfulness. The whole point is the sacrifice, right? Giving a gift requires a sacrifice. Well sometimes the greatest treasures we possess—the thing we most love—aren’t virtues, they’re our vices. Selfishness may be one person’s greatest treasure. The thing he loves the most. Pleasure may be that treasure? Rage: being angry—that may be the thing one most loves, and most wants to hold on to. Maybe it’s the desire for power, or love of money, material things. Sometimes the things we most want to retain are the things we most need to surrender.
Going back to that manger scene, imagine this: Dear Jesus. I have nothing to give you. But I surrender at your feet one of my treasures, my love of self. And I promise to put everyone else first from now on. Or “I surrender at your feet my love of pleasure, and I promise to patiently endure the crosses you ask me to carry”. Or “I surrender at your feet my inordinate love of money and I promise to make you, not money, the center of my life.”
Maybe you don’t have gold to give. Maybe you don’t have a crown to throw at the feet of the Lord Jesus on his birthday. When you search your heart, and examine your soul, you may indeed find yourself very short on virtues to present to the Lord. But you can change that. By a renewed determination to change your life; to make it holy before God. Develop your virtues by surrendering your bad habits. If you have no gold to give him, then…maybe give him that ugly shirt, or the mittens that don’t fit. Give him a gift from your poverty. Give him the very least if the very least is the best you have. Because he can make something very great out of that. He can take the least sinner and make of them the greatest saint.