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Why we need the wisest gifts this Christmas

The four Gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke, John- relate the life of Jesus, but only Matthew and Luke tell the story of his birth and their versions differ. Luke tells about the trip to Bethlehem and the shepherds’ visit. Matthew misses the Bethlehem journey and the shepherds, but from him we meet the wise men- the Magi.

The Nativity of Jesus Christ

Whether you go to a Christian church or not, you likely know the Christmas story from the Bible as it is depicted in the Nativity. Nativity is a fancy way to say “birth,” but is especially used to refer to the birth of Jesus Christ.

You’ve seen countless Nativity scenes, with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the manger with adoring shepherds and wise men standing or kneeling near by. A donkey, cow, and sheep may complete the scene.

Except that’s not exactly how the Bible tells it. The four Gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke, John- relate the life of Jesus, but only Matthew and Luke tell the story of his birth and their versions differ. Luke tells about the trip to Bethlehem and the shepherds’ visit.

Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went from.. Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.

 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant.

 While they were there… Mary …gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Luke 2 , CEB
figures in a nativity scene with a bright start in the sky
The Nativity of Christ

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.”  They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger

Luke 2, CEB

Matthew misses the Bethlehem journey and the shepherds, but from him we meet the wise men- the Magi.

When they (Magi) heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 

 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2, CEB

Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

“Three Wise Men”

Most Bible versions call them wise men, a translation of a Greek word Magi, used in the New International Version. The Message Bible calls them “a band of scholars” which might be the most accurate as none of the versions indicate there were only three.

Nor did they visit the barn. Matthew indicates they came to the house, to visit the child. So perhaps this was as much as two years later.

But however many there were and whenever they arrived, they brought three gifts-gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men— who brought gifts to the newborn Christ-child. They were the first to give Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were doubtless wise ones.

O. Henry

I assume William, the real name of O. Henry, must have known this Bible story. Why else would a druggist, ranch hand, magazine editor, and convicted felon write a story about Magi? Or rather, about their gifts.

Three Wise Gifts

In a previous post I told you about William Sydney Porter, who wrote short stories under the pen name of O.Henry. He wrote and published over 600 stories, the most famous of which was published in 1905.

As a druggist (although of uncertain credentials) I suspect he knew of the medicinal properties attributed to gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We think of gold’s value in terms of money, but 2000 years ago, people probably valued healing substances more than money.

Doctors once treated rheumatoid arthritis with medicines developed from gold, now mostly replaced with more effective and less toxic drugs. Traditional Chinese medicine uses frankincense and myrrh for their reported anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

As I write this, scientists are working around the clock studying medicines and vaccines to slow, cure, and prevent the ravages of SARS-CoV-2, a pathogen the world has never encountered before and the likes of one we never want to deal with again.

By the time you read this over 62 million people worldwide will have become infected with this novel virus which will have killed 1.5 million of them. In the United States 13 million are confirmed infected, and 266,000 have lost their lives to COVID-19. (Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center statistics)

Christian scholars also attribute spiritual significance to the gifts. Among the many references I reviewed, this one sums up the general consensus.

gold can be taken to symbolise royalty and kingship; frankincense divinity and holiness; and myrrh suffering and death.

Although we don’t know if O.Henry considered the gifts in spiritual terms, he painted an unexpected and ironic picture of what “wise gifts” are in his now classic short story, “The Gift of the Magi.” (No spoiler alert, I’m not revealing the story plot.)

Christmas 2020

The world needs comfort and healing this year.

People have suffered through several pandemics since the time of Christ’s birth. Imagine how frightening the plagues were at a time when science couldn’t explain the source of disease, much less know how to prevent it. Even as recently as the influenza pandemic of 1918, doctors still didn’t fully understand the means of spread or how to stop it and medicines to treat it and it’s complications didn’t exist.

“In the case of COVID-19, prolonged disruption, grief, and stress add markedly to the burden of disease.”

Harvey V Fineberg, MD,PhD- JAMA

In a year we will remember for so much

  • uncertainty, friction,unrest,anger,blaming, loss, pain, sickness and death

perhaps the gifts we most need to give one another are

  • understanding, patience, listening, caring, generosity, forgiveness, friendship, and love.


But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days:

Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive
gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones.
They are the magi.

O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi

It’s worth reading, re-reading, watching, or listening to Williams’s story. Do it before you start Christmas shopping; you may change some of your choices once you learn what “wise gifts” are.

Follow the link above to a PDF version which you can print, or any of the other links below (some of which are affiliate links) to read O.Henry’s timeless story. Spoiler alert- the descriptions may reveal the story line, but you probably already know it. You might want to start with the PDF version above.

read the story
watch the movie
look at a picture book
read other stories by O. Henry
listen to the story as told by Kristin Chenoweth

exploring the HEART of Christmas giving

Thanks for joining me to reflect on this timeless story. Whether it was your first time to hear it, or one of many, I hope it tugged at something in your heart.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

                              Dr. Aletha 

these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love
graphic by Althea Solomons at LIGHTSTOCK.COM, affiliate link

Share the HEART of health on GivingTuesday

There are always people with needs. But this year with a relentless virus wrecking havoc with people’s health, safety, businesses, jobs, incomes, and security, has come more need for assistance for medical care, food, housing, and transportation. And that creates opportunity for us all to help.

 

Due to COVID-19 Black Friday was different this year; Cyber Monday turned into a necessity for many since in person shopping was risky to health and more difficult to navigate.

But this year perhaps more important than ever is   #GivingTuesday. 

There are always people with needs. But this year with a relentless virus wrecking havoc with people’s health, safety, businesses, jobs, incomes, and security, has come more need for assistance for medical care, food, housing, and transportation. And that creates opportunity for us all to help.

Observed on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.)   #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, of holiday and end-of-year giving.

a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.

givingtuesday.org

“GivingTuesday was created in 2012 as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. Over the past seven years, it has grown into a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity.”

sharing the HEART of giving

My goal for this blog is to inform and inspire us all to explore the HEART of health in our lives, and the lives of our families and communities. But beyond that, my the mission for this blog is

to share the HEART of health with people all over the world,

Watercress Words mission

especially those who face hardship due to poverty, isolation, discrimination, political turmoil, hunger, homelessness, human rights violations, and natural disasters.

drawing of a laptop with GIVE on the screen
graphic from LIGHTSTOCK.COM, affiliate site for stock photos and graphics

So for Giving Tuesday I’m asking you to give to one or more of the groups I have featured on this blog and that I personally have or do support. The links below take you to stories about their mission and links to their sites where you can

an open Bible next to a world globe

And the good Samaritan is…

Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan to answer the question,

“Who is my neighbor?”

The term “good Samaritan” means a person who goes out of their way to help someone, especially a stranger, often at  personal sacrifice.

A woman lifts her arms in praise at sunset

A Shining Spirit- Kayla Mueller

Soon after I started this blog a news story caught my attention and my heart.

A young woman volunteer, Kayla Jean Mueller, was abducted following a visit to a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders

rice paddy with people in asian hats and a water buffaclo

Love conquers fear-a memoir from the Napalm girl

In war time Vietnam, 1972, 8 year old Kim Phuc Phan Thi almost died after being severely burned when a napalm bomb fell on her village. Many know her as the “Napalm girl”.

Where will you give?

Besides these places, I know you have needs in your community, maybe your own neighborhood. So look for places like a local food bank, women’s shelter, a homeless outreach, coat distribution, faith based ministry, school, and many others can can use time, talent, and finances.

I would love for you to comment or send me a message about where you are donating this year, even if it is another group. Let’s all do our part to change the world with generosity and love.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

                              Dr. Aletha