No doubt there were many back east - where everyone is so much smarter - who thought the wise men were foolish for setting out on their journey on such slim evidence. Piecing together hints from the scriptures, these scientists believed the new star they had found marked the coming of the King and decided to fulfill prophecy by taking Him gifts (Read Isaiah 60: 1- 6, 9-10, 14, 17). They had to cross deserts and mountains and rivers and endure scorching sun by day and cold winds at night. Danger confronted them all the way: wild animals, wild men and robbers, sickness and exhaustion, it was a struggle just to find water to drink. But they knew what they had seen, and they knew what it meant so together they traversed the wasteland and were led to the home of the king.
He probably wasn't what they had expected. After all, they went to the palace first. But they had eyes of faith to see the star and ears to hear the angel's warning voice. So they presented their gifts to the child of the poor couple: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The gold was a kingly gift. Some of it have been used to pay for the family's flight south to Egypt out of harm's way. Maybe there was enough left to tide them over until Joseph reputation as a good carpenter spread around enough for him to provide income for his growing family. Or maybe they used a lot of the gold to hire a tutor from the college town of Alexandria or to buy some prophetic scrolls so that their very bright son could learn to read. His Father knew what they would need and He provided it through some wise men who listened.
The frankincense was a priestly gift: it was the incense which was burned at the temple every day. The smoke rose toward heaven from the altar in the Holy Place, symbolically carrying with it the prayers of the saints. An appropriate gift for the Lamb, who, upon His death, returned to His Father in Heaven, bearing our pleas for mercy.
And the myrrh was appointed for that death. It is an aromatic resin which, when melted, becomes an amber liquid which gives a lovely scent to olive oil it is blended with. It was used to anoint the bodies of the dead. And the Babe of Bethlehem was born to die. Not that year, in Herod's slaughter, but in the meridian of time, a death without which, life would have no meaning.
Jesus came into the world to die. The painting "Destiny" by an anonymous artist depicts the child Jesus in the carpenter's shop with Joseph. He casts the shadow of a cross.
From the beginning, He came to give us life. And the wise men knew it: gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for the Lamb who must die that we might live. Against all odds they sought Him to offer their all.
Wise men still seek Him.
GIFTS OF SELF
Ardeth G. Kapp
It was Christmas Eve. The magic of Christmas seemed more real this year, not so much from the lights and tinsel but the feeling of excitement from the inside out. Family members had gathered at our house. After our traditional family dinner, Grandpa gathered us in the living room where he opened the Bible and read once again the Christmas story from Luke.
"And it came to pass in those day, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus" (Luke 2: 1), and the story continued. I noticed his hands trembling as he held the sacred record. Grandpa's voice was weaker now, but strong in the message that he and Grandma knew in their hearts and had taught us through the years. After the stockings were finally hung and treats left for Santa, the children reluctantly, yet eagerly, doubled up in beds trying hard to get to sleep while listening intensely for any sounds from the expected night visitor. Finally, one by one, each family member had slipped off to bed. The fire was burning low. Now if my husband, Heber, would just go to bed, I could finish my gift for him. I needed about three more hours to complete the plan I had been so excited about and working on for months. But in spite of my encouragement for him to leave, he lingered. It was evident he would wait for me. I decided to go to bed and wait until he dropped off to sleep, then slip out and finish my project for him.
With the lights out and the house quiet, I lay in bed looking into the dark. I was too excited to sleep. I waited to hear his heavy breathing announcing that it would be safe to slip away. To my amazement, and after only a little time, he whispered, "Ardie." I didn't respond. A conversation now would only delay the time before I could finish my work. When I didn't answer, he slipped out of bed as cautiously as I had planned to. What was he up to? I would go to sleep, I decided. If I could sleep now and awaken about 3:00 A.M. I could still finish my project before six o'clock in the morning, the time Grandpa Ted had agreed we should all gather around the tree.
I woke up off and on during the short night, glanced at the lighted clock, saw that Heber was still not in bed, and tried to doze off. But I didn't want to fall too soundly asleep and spoil the plan I had been working on so diligently.
Finally, I again woke up, and this time I realized Heber was getting into bed ever so quietly. It was only minutes until his heavy breathing assured me that he was sound asleep. It was 3:00 A.M. If all went well, in three hours I could still complete this special gift on time. I knew he would be pleased. "But what in the world kept him up half the night?" I wondered. In just a few hours, I would know; but for now I must concentrate and work fast.
Months ago we had talked about the forthcoming Christmas and made the traditional gift list that ranged from ridiculous to the sublime. At the top of my list was a wish that we could have more time together for him to teach me of his great understanding of the gospel. But I was driving two hours each day to BYU, and his schedule was very busy. Our time together was precious.
Heber's list of wants was short, as usual; but he did express a concern for the responsibility he had as a stake president to lead the way, and it bothered him that his family history was not compiled. His family group sheets were incomplete. While the information was probably available from aunts and uncles, his own brothers and sisters had little or no information. He felt anxious about this, but wasn't sure it was a Christmas list item, at least not the kind you could get from the mail-order catalog or even ZCMI. That was months ago, and now my prayer was being answered. The hands on my watch seemed to stand still while I worked. Everything was coming together so beautifully.
The gift was finally wrapped. I could hardly believe I had done it, but there it was—the evidence of hours and hours of work. I hurried back and slipped into bed. It was 5:45 A.M. I had made it! It didn't matter now, and it's a good thing, because children's voices were heard from the other room. "Grandpa says it's time we can get up. Hurry, hurry. We can't wait," they said. And neither could I. There were so many gifts for everyone.
Heber handed me a package. What in the world could it be? I opened it. It was a box of cassette tapes. On the top of the box was a message, "My dear Ardie. While you are traveling each day, I will be with you and will teach you. As you know, the Doctrine and Covenants has been a special interest to me over the years. I have enjoyed reading and recording for you the entire book. Reading it with the purpose of sharing it with you, I have endeavored to express my interpretation and feelings so that you might feel what I feel about this sacred book. I finished it only a few hours ago. It has been a most rewarding experience for me. Remember the Lord's promise, "Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you. No, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion; Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that has eternal life is rich.' (D&C 6:5-7.) May these tapes add to you wisdom and help unfold the mysteries of God and prepare us for our eternal life together."
I immediately thought of my friend who had recently lost her husband with cancer and wondered what price she would pay for such a gift, to be able to hear her husband's voce read the scriptures to her and her children over and over again, even in his absence. What a priceless gift! No wonder some of his meetings had seemed to last longer than usual. How could I ever thank him enough?
I handed Heber my gift. He tore off the cover. A book. A book of remembrance—full. Pages and pages with pictures and stories never before recorded, a result of many secret trips to Ogden while he was in his many meetings, interviewing relatives and sorting through records and histories. The first page of the gift began with a letter, "Dear Heber. As I have copied, reviewed, and prepared these sheets and interviewed family members, your ancestors have become very real to me, and I have an increased appreciation and understanding of the greatness and nobility in the man I married. In interviews with those who knew and remembered your parents, I learned that your father always wanted your mother to be with him, in the fields if possible, and even wherever he was in the house. You must have inherited that. Although I never met your father, and your mother only once, when we meet, I know I'll love them and know them better because of this gift I have prepared for you, which really has been a gift for me."
I don't remember any of the other gifts that year, but Heber and I will never forget the spirit of that glorious Christmas celebration.