Christmas gifts

Ah, Christmas. Another one has come and gone. You’ve opened your presents (perhaps already returning one or two). If you hosted Christmas at your home, your refrigerator is probably starting to have some space in it again, though your freezer may still be stuffed.

Some of you may have taken down your Christmas decorations and packed them away until next year, ready to be done with the holidays. Removing decorations at our house often depends on my husband’s schedule, but I love to leave them up until Three Kings Day/Epiphany.

The book of Matthew tells us of one more party after Christ’s birth, one last hurrah, before things got really tough for Jesus and Mary and Joseph (and for their neighbors, too). The story centers on the arrival of the magi.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship him.” … and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. — Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

When we think of the magi, we envision kings and crowns and camels and three presents, and that’s often how nativity scenes depict them.

A small percentage of you chose the wisemen as your favorite figures in the nativity, and I, too, love the kings and camels in my own nativity set. (You can see the kings and one of the camels in a post from three years ago here.) Several of my favorite Christmas decorations center on the three kings:

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Magi and their camels appear on one of my favorite Christmas ornaments (a gift from my dad when I was very small).

A friend who paints beautiful cameos painted this jar with the star, the little town, camels and wise men:

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I love that one of the wise men is so excited about arriving he has left his camel behind and is leading the way on foot. He’s ready to meet the King and have a party!

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But after a party ends and feelings of excitement dissipate, other emotions can take hold. Perhaps you feel let down after the lofty expectations of the celebration or exhausted from hosting family or friends. Maybe you have a sinking feeling because life is still not the one you envisioned.

Life was far from perfect after the magi visited the Holy family:

And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt … Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time he had determined from the magi. — Matthew 2:12-14, 16

While the magi suffered an inconvenience through a longer journey home, Joseph had to flee in the middle of the night with Mary and Jesus and leave everything and everyone behind, neighbors, friends, family. Even worse, those still in Bethlehem suffered atrocities at the hands of Herod’s men. I cannot imagine the scale of their suffering, or how the loss of their young sons must have shaped the rest of their lives and fueled their helpless grief and anger at a godless ruler.

The story of the magi is an important reminder to us all. We anticipate great celebrations in our lives, but those golden times do not bring perfection with them. They provide moments of joy, but we must find our own ways to carry that joy and share kindness in the days that follow. For those days can feel the darkest.

Maybe if we remember that even the Son of God had dark days after His birth, we can be gentler with ourselves and our expectations as we march away from Christmas toward the new year. A gentleness with our own hearts may be the greatest Christmas gift we give ourselves this year.

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