"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, frankincense and myrrh." Matt. 2:11
As a kid, I asked my Sunday school teacher why we give gifts every Christmas. I was told that it was a way of remembering the gifts brought by the Magi to Jesus (despite that event happen a couple of years later). While that is an ok tradition to link to the practice, I was always left dissatisfied with the answer.
Recently it occurred to me that the following verses give a better answer:
"And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route." (vs. 12)
Not long after the Magi left, Herod ordered the Massacre of the Innocents- the execution of every young male child in the region around Bethlehem. It led to Mary & Joseph's flight to Egypt with young Jesus. It only recently occurred to me that such a trip would have not been easy or inexpensive. Those extravagant gifts allowed the family to escape (and from what we see in Jesus's development, probably a decent education while there).
The difference it critical. The gifts of the Magi were fit for a king but used to support poor refugees- the wealth of empire relinquished into the hands of the least of these. We could well learn from this lesson. I know I can.
-Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Epiphany 2018