We Christians often struggle to counter commercialism’s sirenic come-hither calls as we begin our gift shopping. We’ve learned, over the years, at least in theory, how keep the hectic and to do lists from robbing us of the spirit of Christmas. We focus on the gift of the Christ child. And, as we shop, we contemplate gifts of the Nativity and their meaningfulness.
However, following the example of shepherds and magi before the manger is a tall order. How do we compete with gold, frankincense and myrrh?
Understanding the gifts placed before the manger thousands of years ago brings home the impetus to package the past for loved ones. Stories are gifts not available in retail stores, but that come from the stores of the heart.
How are our stories worthy of the Nativity?
Obviously, the gift of shared stories is a gift of something precious to us. But are our stories worthy of the Nativity?
I’ll be honest. I seriously doubt that anything I’m capable of producing is worthy of the capital-N Nativity. However, we’re not told to compete with the Magi. We’re taught to emulate them. In doing that we can honor the concept of the lower-case-n nativity—what Dictionary.com calls one’s “birth with reference to place or attendant circumstances”
That’s exactly what we do when we fill in the dashes between birth dates and death dates. When we leave a record of lives, we provide bring the attendant circumstances to life. We share our nativity.
Stories are as precious as gold.
The richness of our stories comes in their power to connect. Our personal stories connect us to those we love. Family stories root us and sustain us.
Back in Sunday school, we learned that in addition to its monetary value, gold indicated Jesus’ kingly status. However, some study aids, such as The Wealth of the Magi, suggest that monetary gift was more than symbolic. Perhaps these gifts financed Mary and Joseph’s escape from Herod and supported them as they raised Jesus and his siblings. In other words, the gifts sustained them through terrifying times.
Perhaps that’s the key to the costliness of our shared stories. They form a life-giving, hope-giving marrow of our family.
Can the sharing of stories be compared to the Magi’s gifts of a “priestly” incense? Admittedly, researching it, I feared it might be stretching the metaphor.
According to Laura Leddy Turner, the Magi’s gift of frankincense to the Christ child symbolized their acknowledgement of Jesus’ role as a priest. Obviously, it’s not on the same order of magnitude, but in a small way, we do that as we create a legacy. Such a gift of love acknowledges the role that loved ones have played—or will play—in our lives.
Our shared stories validate that family isn’t just about sharing DNA. They are people worthy of us opening our hearts and sharing our life journeys.
Like gathering our stories, harvesting frankincense was a time-consuming process,” explains Jack Zavada. A cut on the evergreen Boswellia shrub leaks sap over two to three months, slowly crystalizing into resin teardrops. Its aromatic smoke represents prayers floating to Heaven. New research even suggests that its smoke can “alleviate anxiety or depression.”
Like frankincense, our forbearers’ stories are ethereal as smoke, yet carry great meaning. And, they too have a therapeutic value. By compiling and sharing them, we not only substantiate our ancestors’ position on our pedigrees, but the lives they lived. Like a sticky resin that turns into a precious gift, stories fill in the details of their lives so that their descendants can connect to them.
According to scholars, myrrh symbolizes “bitterness, suffering, and affliction.” If you’re a Memories of Me reader, you know I believe there’s great value in sharing the bad times as well as the good.
Myrrh is thought to have foretold of the bitterness and affliction that Christ would suffer. An embalming element, myrrh was also used to anoint Christ’s body after his death.
Our mortality isn’t something that we like to think about, but the need to preserve some part of ourselves is what drives many of us to pass down stories and memories. Like the analgesic properties of myrrh, our stories allow us to console and cajole after we’re gone.
Harvesters would distill the crystals and gum scraped from the trunk “to extract its aromatic oil.” The Rebecca at the Well Foundation states that the hard-to-spell-word itself comes from the “Hebrew word Mowr which means ‘distilled,’ and the word Marar which means ‘bitterness.’”
Sounds like a labor of love to me. One in which we don’t put on any pretense of a life filled only with unicorns and rainbows. A legacy that includes both joys and sorrow allows loved ones understand the form our lives have taken and take heart from it.
That’s quite fitting for a substance known for both its regenerative properties as well as its use during the darkest of days.