With Christmas just behind us, would you even begin to suggest that there were any wasted gifts, either of those you gave or of those you were given? I’m not suggesting that there should be, only that it is an interesting thought. William Sydney Potter, who wrote under the pen name, O. Henry, generally told his stories with a twist at the end. One tells of Della and Jim, a poor, young couple trying to make a go of it on $20.00 a week at the beginning of the 20th Century—and it was Christmas time!
Della so wanted to get something nice for her Jim, but she only had $1.87 saved up. One day, while looking in the mirror, she had a very reluctant thought—she could sell her long, beautiful hair to Madame Sofronie, who ran a little shop just around the corner called, “Hair Goods of All Kinds.” As far as Della was concerned, they owned only two precious things—she had her hair and Jim had his gold watch, which had been both his father’s and his grand-father’s. With the $20.00 she made by selling her beautiful hair, she bought a beautiful gold chain to replace the tattered leather strap on Jim’s beautiful gold watch.
It would be a beautiful Christmas Eve. It was 7:48 pm., the pork chops were ready to fry in the pan, and Jim wasn’t home yet. As he walked in, Della was worried that he wouldn’t like her short hair. He hesitated, reached into his pocket and brought out a wrapped package. When he tossed it onto the table, he said, “Make no mistake about it, Dell, nothing could make me love you less than I do. But if you will just open that package, you will see why you had me going at first.” As she opened it, there was an ecstatic scream of joy, but soon that gave way to tears. It was the set of tortoise shell hair combs with the jeweled rims. She had had her eye on them, so she knew they were expensive. Jim had not seen his gift yet—she hadn’t wrapped it; she just held the glistening chain in her hand. “Jim,” Della said, “Let me have your watch, and I’ll put it on. I want to see how it looks on your beautiful gold watch.” Instead, he tumbled onto the couch, and simply smiled. “Dell,” he said, “Let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em for awhile. Honey, I sold my watch to buy your combs. Suppose we can have those chops now?”
Some would say, “Boy, what wasted gifts!” But is that really true? You see, O. Henry originally entitled this story, “The Gift of the Magi.” At the very close of the story, he wrote, “Here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days, let it be said that, of all who give gifts, these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.” You know who the magi were, don’t you? Today, we often call them the wise men, though to many, they look the most foolish. From their long and seemingly pointless journey to their odd and senseless gifts that they brought with them, everything about it appears to be foolishness. But let’s remember what Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries, who were martyred in the jungles of Ecuador, for the sake of the gospel, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” What a senseless loss—or was it? Jim Elliot’s wife, Elizabeth, would see his murderer born again! How foolish is that?
Wise men have always been called fools. Matthew 2:1-2 tells us, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.” “Foolishness,” their contemporaries must have thought! You see, they were astrologers and soothsayers from Persia, and, somehow, God must have revealed to them His Son’s birth in Judea. So, they set out on a 1,500 mile journey across the wastelands to find the little child. Why? To worship Him! It sounds crazy, but it was their heart’s desire. They hadn’t even been raised in Judaism, but God can feed any hungry heart. The special star they had seen in the east sent them west, to the capital of Judea—Jerusalem. It was a logical location—certainly the young King of the Jews would be born in the capital. But when they arrived, they found the current king, Herod, and all the people of his court in a stir—they hadn’t heard a thing about it.
It was then the king gathered his own so-called “wise men,” and asked them about the exact location. They remembered that the Scriptures had said, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:5,6) Yes, Bethlehem, not Jerusalem! And when the wise men stepped out of the palace, the special star they had seen in their homeland appeared again, and led them to the very house where the young family lived. You see, it was now after Christmas—perhaps months later—and Matthew tells us, “And when they (the wise men) were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” (vs. 11) Imagine—how crazy can you get? What fools! What is a baby going to do with those things—why not stuffed animals, or a binky? I mean, where is the wisdom in that?
Paul put it this way—“For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God…Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor.1:18,25) The gifts the wise men brought were not silly or foolish—they were not wasted at all! The gold would be a gift fit for a King, and so He was—precious and priceless. The frankincense is an incense and its smoke and aroma ascends into the heavens—it was their worship. And the oddest gift of all—the myrrh, used to embalm dead bodies. This little baby would not stay one—he would grow, and go to a Cross; He would rise again and reign forever. Praise God! Billy Graham once wrote, “From His very birth, Christ was recognized as King. Something about Him inspired allegiance, loyalty, and homage. Shepherds fell and worshiped Him. Wise men brought Him gifts. Herod, realizing that there is never room for two thrones in one kingdom, sought His life. As Jesus began His ministry, His claims upon people’s lives were total and absolute. He expected and received complete adoration and devotion from His Church. Mature men and women left their businesses and gave themselves in complete obedience to Him. He was more than a poet, more than a statesman or a physician. He was the King of kings, Lord of lords.” One King, one Kingdom!
Praise God for the wisdom of the wise men—when God warned them in a dream of Herod’s murderous intentions, they didn’t argue or debate—they went home another way! Perhaps it was on their long journey home—which by the way, was part of their gift to the Christ Child—that a powerful flashback jolted through their brains like a lightening bolt. Several centuries before, some young Jewish men were taken in the Captivity, and placed in their own land—Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. They were some of the Jewish captives that were, “Children in whom was no blemish, but wellfavoured, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace…” (Daniel 1:4) Wait till you see this…
At the outset, King Nebuchadnezzar expected these chosen captives to eat his rich foods, but these four young people said, “No!” In fact, we read, “…Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” (vs. 8) And the result? “As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams…And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.” (vss. 17, 20) Such wisdom would be needed for fiery furnaces and lion’s dens, not to mention, powerful prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. And when the Messiah did come, He was worshiped by wise men in the same line, from the same country, with the same heart—Oh, for sure, the gift was not wasted, and neither will your life be, if it is given sacrificially and out of pure love. No, not wasted at all—not at all!!!