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What the Magi Teach Us About Giving Good Gifts

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It’s hard to believe that Christmas is only a week and half away. Despite the fact that the stores have all been decorated for Christmas since the day after Halloween, I still feel like the holiday season has just gotten started. I’ve hardly had a chance to turn on the Christmas music, and shopping for gifts definitely hasn’t happened yet. It’s going to be the new year soon (and my birthday—huzzah!) and I’ll still be sitting here, wrapping presents and hoping no one notices that they’re a week late… Every year, I face a bit of an internal struggle over the idea of gift giving. Don’t get me wrong, I love giving and receiving gifts as much as the next person, but there’s a little part of me that resists the idea of giving into the commercialism and wastefulness of modern Christmas celebrations. So much of Christmas these days seems designed to distract from the real purpose: celebrating the birth of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. We’re told that the practice of holiday giving symbolizes the gifts the wise men brought to the Christ child, but much of the significance of that has been lost to the noise of advertisements, magazines full of plastic toys, and department store Santa Clauses. But then, I think of God, our Father, who loves to give good gifts. The scriptures are full of examples of the gifts God gives us: the Priesthood (Num 8:19), the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:45, 1 Ne 10:17), prophecy (1 Cor. 13:2), gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:1, D&C 46:10-26), grace (Eph. 3:7), testimony (Heb. 6:4), scripture (1 Ne. 13:35), eternal life (Hel. 5:8), opportunities to serve and teach (Moroni 7:2). Even the sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son is called a gift: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, emphasis added). Clearly, gifts are a good and righteous thing. So how can we follow the example of our Father and give good gifts? How do we participate in the symbolic tradition of gift giving without falling prey to the distracting sparkle of disposable, frivolous goodies? If we return to the Magi and their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we can learn some valuable lessons about righteous gifting.

The Gifts Symbolized Christ’s Identity

Each of the gifts offered by the wise men was symbolic of Jesus’ identity and mission. Gold was a kingly gift, representing His lineal right to the Jewish throne as a descendant of David. Frankincense is an incense burned during sacrificial offerings at the temple. It was said to represent the prayers of the people ascending to Heaven, and indicated the Magi’s belief in his Godhood. Myrrh is an embalming oil, which represents both Christ’s mortality and the promise that He would eventually die so that we could all receive eternal life.[1] When God gives us good gifts, He also personalizes them to our unique interests, talents, and life circumstances. As we look for gifts for our loved ones at Christmastime, we can look for gifts that represent their own identity and life mission. Taking an interest in their interests and their lives will mean as much—or more—than the gift itself and will help your family and friends feel loved and supported. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, here are some gift guides I’ve put together that are tailored to specific interests. (Obviously, these don’t cover everybody. It’s just the interests I happen to know something about… ?) Gifts for creative people
Gifts for Photographers

The Wise Men Gave Gifts of Value

Gold, frankincense, and myrhh are anything but throwaway gifts. They were incredibly valuable—in fact, the frankincense and myrhh may have been worth more in gold than the gold itself was.[2] These were clearly not throwaway gifts. Imagine how a humble carpenter and his young wife would have felt seeing these gifts in their living room. The blessing that would have been is almost unimaginable. Additionally, the gifts were useful: gold could be used for supporting their family, and both frankincense and myrrh have a variety of medicinal uses. Here are some easy ways to give gifts of value this Christmas:
  • Opt for gifts that are made with care and quality materials over gifts that are going to fall apart after one or two uses. This has the added benefit of paying respect to the earth, one of God’s greatest gifts to His children.
  • Quality gifts can be expensive, so you can also consider making your own. I love love love that in this year’s First Presidency Christmas Devotional, Elder Patrick Kearon testified of the value of homemade gifts in our efforts to shift our focuses back to Christ this Christmas.
  • Give experience gifts. I have been blessed with a variety of experience-based gifts in my life, and each one gave me memories I will treasure forever. These gifts can be for the receiver to enjoy on their own or with their family or friends—including you! Time is a precious commodity. Giving the gift of your time and undivided attention will strengthen relationships and help the receiver feel loved and valued.
  • Give the gift of learning. Whether it’s a really great book or a class in a subject they’re interested in, educational gifts never expire. I recommend Book Depository for great prices on books and free shipping world wide, Audible if they prefer audiobooks, or KindleUnlimited if they like using an e-reader. If online classes are more their style, EdX offers a wide variety of university courses online, and Udemy and CreativeLive are both great resources for technical and creative training courses. If you are knowledgeable in an area they’re interested in, giving them a lesson or two is a great way to combine learning, experience, and your time in one gift.

The Wise Men Watched for the Star

One of the things I like most about the story of the wise men is that they watched for the star heralding the Messiah’s birth. They probably didn’t just look up one day and go, “Oh, hey. Was that star there yesterday?” They knew the prophecies, and they watched for them to be fulfilled. And when the sign appeared, they left their homes and traveled who knows how far to find the promised Christ child. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we, like the wise men, can look for signs of Christ in our lives. We can quiet the noise of the holiday by choosing Christmas music that focuses on the Savior. We can study the scriptures about Christ’s birth with our families. We can notice and express gratitude for the blessings we already have, which all come through Christ. And we can give good gifts that will bless the lives of our loved ones. As we focus on the Savior during the holidays, we will have His Spirit with us in greater abundance and He will inspire us with ways to make the season more meaningful and special for all.
Find Your JoyGratitude goes a long way toward making Christmas special. After you open you gifts on Christmas morning, take a few minutes to write thank you notes to those who gave you gifts. And I’d love to hear about the best gifts you’ve given and received throughout the years! Tell me your story in the comments below or over on Facebook, or tag your pictures on Instagram with #jestkeptsecret.

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Jess Friedman
Jess is a Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about helping families make and preserve treasured memories that strengthen bonds across generations. You can read more posts by Jess here.

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