On the long journey over windswept deserts and barren mountains, there’s no way the wise men ever imagined Black Friday. Their dangerous trek to deliver treasures in honor of a new king was an unlikely precedent for the culture that has evolved around Christmas gift giving. Crowded shopping malls, discounted electronics, and marked down cashmere would have bewildered the men who carried their precious gifts to a shockingly humble destination.
Of the four gospels, only Matthew records the moment the wise men arrived in Bethlehem: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matt. 2:11).
“Gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, myrrh for one that was to die.”
Matthew is vague about so many things. He doesn’t tell us where the wise men were from, the route they took to get to Jerusalem, or precisely when they arrived. He doesn’t refer to them by name, describing them generally as “magi from the East.” Whether they were kings, brilliant astrologers, or diplomats, we can’t be sure, but we know that they were impressive enough to cause a stir when they arrived in Jerusalem. We don’t even know exactly how many wise men there were. Tradition developed around the idea of three magi—three givers—because there were three gifts.
The Meaning of a Gift
The focus of the story isn’t on the identity of the wise men; it’s on the significance of their gifts. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh: three valuable, meaningful gifts recorded so that we would remember. These gifts had symbolic value, alluding in a prophetic way to the identity of this seemingly ordinary child.
“Gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, myrrh for one that was to die,” explained the Scottish theologian William Barclay in his Commentary on Matthew. “These were the gifts of the wise men, and, even at the cradle of Christ, they foretold that he was to be the true King, the perfect High Priest, and in the end the supreme Savior of men.”
These gifts aligned with three aspects of Jesus’s mission: a king announcing the arrival of his kingdom, a High Priest who would forever act as a mediator between sinful people and a holy God, and a suffering servant who would lay down his own life so that we could find eternal life in him.
The thoughtfulness of the magi should inspire us to think more deeply about the meaning of the gifts we give this Christmas.
- Do our gifts say anything about the character of the one at the center of the holiday?
- Are we focused on receiving, accumulating, and consuming or on giving?
- Are we thinking about how to make the name of Jesus known to others who have yet to meet him?
We’ve gathered a list of meaningful gifts with missional value. We hope these selections will prompt you to consider giving in a way that honors the character and ministry of Christ.
Christmas Gift Guide
Gifts for Her
Mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, friend: here are a range of gifts for the women who brighten your life.
Give life and freedom
The 2016 Baptist Global Response Gift Catalog offers creative ways to give in honor of a woman you love. Infant formula for malnourished babies, childbirth classes for impoverished women, and shelter and medical care for girls rescued from human traffickers are some of the gifts you can give to help those who are most vulnerable.
- Many Beautiful Things: The Life and Vision of Lilias Trotter(DVD)
A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter (book)
Lilias Trotter was an artist and missionary who spent forty years sharing the gospel in Algeria. This gorgeous film documents her life, and the book is a collection of her meditations on faith and art accompanied by her exquisite paintings.
- Missional Motherhood: The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood in the Grand Plan of God by Gloria Furman
Discover the missional meaning of motherhood by searching the Scriptures with this mother and pastor’s wife living in the Middle East.
- Part&Parcel magazine cultivates missional hospitality while reminding readers that our neighborhoods are a mission field and encouraging us “to be the light, the hope-bearer, the good news proclaimer.” Part&Parcel is graciously offering IMB readers a 15% discount on all products. Just use the coupon code IMB15 at checkout.
Give beauty created with dignity
WorldCrafts is our favorite source for handmade gifts from around the world. Their vision is to “offer income with dignity and the hope of everlasting life to every person on earth.” They offer hundreds of items handcrafted by artisans who receive a fair, living wage for their work. When you browse their gift selections, keep an eye out for some of our favorites:
- Green Gingham Half Apron made of handwoven fabric by artisans employed by S.A.L.T. in Myanmar.
- Asha Necklace features a chain made of braided saris with dangling multicolor and multi-size paper beads, and brass-toned charms. Handmade by widowed artisans at White Rainbow Project in Vrindavan, India.
- Change the World Necklace represents twenty-seven million people caught in slavery handmade by former sex trafficking victims now employed by Eden Ministries in Asia.
- Majestic Thai Purse features unique Thai fabric. Hand-sewn by artisans at Thai Country Trim in Thailand by battered women who are receiving emotional and financial support by making these products.
Gifts for Him
Husband, brother, uncle, grandfather, pastor, friend: here are a range of gifts for the men in your life.
The 2016 Baptist Global Response Gift Catalog gives you a number of creative ways of giving meaningfully in honor of a man you love. Buy a cow, a sheep, or chickens to help feed impoverished families. Give towards medical clinic supplies or clean water projects. Your gifts toward sustainable development in impoverished communities will keep giving long after the Christmas tree is packed away.
Give coffee with a kingdom purpose
Kingdom Growers supplies delicious coffee while caring for the spiritual and social well being of the coffee farmers. They share “the love of Christ by teaching coffee farmers agriculture best practices and empowering those farmers to lift themselves out of poverty.” While they’re in the coffee fields, they deliver the best message in the world: the gospel. They invite you to participate in these efforts by simply giving and enjoying great coffee. Available by the bag and case.
- The Cambridge Seven: The True Story of Ordinary Men Used in No Ordinary Way (History Makers) by John Pollock
The story of seven Cambridge graduates who left behind lives of comfort and privilege to serve God overseas is the best kind of adventure tale— a true story of courage and faithfulness.
- The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards
David Brainerd’s sacrificial service among Native Americans in the eighteenth century has inspired Christians over the last two centuries. This classic work includes entries from his personal journal.
- I Am Going by Dr. Daniel Akin and Bruce Ashford
This book will challenge you to break out of the “familiar gravity of familiar places” and establish a trajectory of faith that’s continually cycling outward.
Give quality crafted with dignity
This leather Moroccan Messenger Bag is handmade by Berber artisans in North Africa who are working to provide for their families. WorldCrafts offers “income with dignity and the hope of everlasting life to every person on earth.” All their artisans receive a fair, living wage for their work.
Gifts for Kids
Give a global vision
Build a collection of books that will expose kids to the beauty and diversity of cultures around the world. All the books on this reading list come highly recommended by Christian parents serving overseas.
Maps has justifiably been called “a visual feast.” This exquisitely illustrated volume will delight kids while familiarizing them with the contours of the nations of the world.
Lily: The Girl Who Could See introduces kids to the life of Lilias Trotter, a missionary and artist who served in Algeria for forty years.
Give imagination that brings the Bible to life
Noah’s Ark Finger Puppet Set from WorldCrafts is is handmade in Indonesia by women who are working to provide food an education for their children.
Give opportunities for reflection and prayer
The Calcutta Cross Journal, filled with paper handmade in Calcutta, provides space for big kids and teens to jot down prayers or note reflections on daily Scripture reading.
Give beauty crafted with dignity
For teen boys: Kenyan Leather Bracelet features hand-embossed designs on leather. Handmade by artisans employed at Sema Leatherworks who are working to revitalize the community life around them in Kenya.
For teen girls: The Horizon Wrap Bracelet features the colors of Kenya’s horizon. Handmade by Deaf artisans employed at Sasa Designs in Kenya.
As you prepare your heart for Christmas, may you inspire others to draw near to God who dwelt among us.
Eliza Thomas is a writer with IMB. She has served with her family in Central Asia for more than a decade.