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Guerilla Gifts
December 20, 1992

MATTHEW 2:1-12

The parents were excitedly but solemnly invited into the living room by their four children to watch the Christmas play. There was Jesus, played by a flashlight wrapped in a blanket, Joseph in a bathrobe holding a mop-handle staff, Mary with her head draped by a sheet, the angel of the Lord with pillow-case wings, and a wise king with a pillowcase full of gifts. The king was being played by the youngest child who felt duty bound to explain herself and her mission, "I'm all three wise men. I bring precious gifts of gold, circumstance, and mud!"

To quote the famous line from the movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Who were those guys?" Our theme this Advent and Christmas is The Mystery of It All. Three wise men mysteriously appeared on the scene from the east, and departed as mysteriously as they had come. They brought mysterious gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Various interpretations of the significance of these mysterious gifts have been given. I learned a new interpretation this year. Not only were they valuable items in the ancient world, they were also gifts of health and long life. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were among the most prized curative medicines in the ancient world.

Frankincense and myrrh are both resins that come from wounds in the bark of trees that grow only in northeast Africa and southern Arabia. The civilized world at Jesus' time put great value on frankincense as both a fragrance and a medicine that cured everything from bad breath to skin infections. Modern researchers have discovered that frankincense has wonderful antiseptic, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties that make it a useful dressing as well as a bronchial dilator that helps in lung infections and asthma.

Myrrh is biochemically similar to frankincense, though its value in the ancient world was many times higher. A drop of myrrh could double the price of cheaper perfumes, and Egyptians used myrrh to embalm royal mummies. Myrrh was used to cure diaper rash, baldness, obesity, and as an anesthetic. Jesus was given wine mixed with myrrh during his crucifixion to dull his pain. Again a mystery--Jesus was given myrrh both at his birth and at his death. Myrrh was also used to prolong life. Experiments with myrrh today are aimed at accelerating metabolism, thereby lowering cholesterol and body weight.

Gold, considered one of nature's most perfect substances, was believed to harbor supernatural healing powers. Today, gold injections help people with rheumatoid arthritis. Gold inhibits enzymes that break down proteins in the body.

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were mysterious gifts brought to Jesus by three mysterious wise men from the mysterious east who followed a mysterious star to Bethlehem and who went home a different way because of a mysterious dream, putting loyalty ahead of royalty, keeping the whereabouts of the new born child a secret from King Herod.

The mystery of it all! This Christmas let's continue the mystery by giving mysterious gifts. Two weeks ago there mysteriously appeared at our house, a live two-foot Christmas tree--a fragrant, green rosemary. Mysterious rosemary, a symbol of remembrance and constancy, gives oil for rich perfume, leaves for spicy seasoning, and flowers of delicate blue. There was no name with the gift. We are still intrigued, pondering, wondering, and appreciating the tree. Give some gifts this year anonymously and enjoy the mystery, surprise, and wonder you are spreading. We do not have to be thanked personally for our gifts, but thanks can be received by observing and enjoying the pleasure our gift provides.

But, let's go even further this Christmas. Let's give equivalents of gold, frankincense and myrrh, equivalents to demonstrate the enriching, healing, transforming power Christ brings to this earth. Let's give anonymous, surreptitious, undercover guerilla gifts. Note that guerilla is spelled "guer", not "gor"; guerilla as in guerilla warfare. There is a new underground movement beginning to make itself felt. I saw it on a bumper sticker Friday. Not random and senseless acts of terror and destruction, but "practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty." Let's wage guerilla goodness on the world through mysterious acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

For example, and please fantasize your own ideas. ..Next time you cross a bay bridge, pay for yourself and the next five cars behind you. ..Plant a few flats of flowers not only around the church buildings, but in a park where children play, or places where the homeless sleep. ..When you next take a walk, take two sacks with you--one to pick up litter, and one filled with bird seed to scatter. ..I caught one of our members on a Sunday morning surreptitiously take out a dust rag and dust the piano here in the chancel. She understood Fernando and Michael, our custodians, can only do so much and dust is something you never get ahead of. So, instead of complaining, she dusts. As you walk around the building, dust. Apply the dust rag in other public buildings as well. ..Even though you were there first, wave the other driver into the parking space. ..Our congregation has been blessed many times by generous gifts from persons who prefer to remain anonymous. We call them angels, mysterious, wonder-full angels. ..Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

An ice cream vendor was caught in a monumental traffic jam on a hot, humid afternoon. He finally got out of his truck, went to the back and got himself a cold ice cream bar. As he munched, he realized that in the car idling behind him four young children were watching his every bite. On impulse he once more opened the back of his delivery truck and got out ice cream for the children. Of course, in moments he was surrounded by a crowd of youngsters, refugees of other stalled vehicles. By the time traffic began to move again, the ice cream man had given four boxes of ice cream bars, which he had decided to pay for himself.

When he returned to the factory, he was called into the manager's office. But instead of being fired, the manager smiled and told him it was the best public relations they had received in years. Grateful parents had been calling in all afternoon to praise the kindness of the man who had changed a frustrating situation into a moment of delight.

Practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty by spreading guerilla grace. Popular author Og Mandino, whose inspirational and self-help books have sold over 20 million copies and have been translated into 17 languages, is a recovering alcoholic. He knows about grace and candidly admits that he owes his very existence to unmerited acts of grace given to him. One act of grace which Og Mandino urges all of us to spread is to treat everyone we meet, friend or foe, loved one or stranger, as if he/she were going to die this evening. How differently would you treat people if you knew they were living their last day on earth?

Mike McGrath wrote about his reaction to the news of the unexpected accidental death of his friend, Bob.

What I learned--and learned hard--is that you can never really be sure that you'll ever see someone again. So it's best not to leave business undone; feelings unspoken. Bob's passing has taught me that when we say goodbye to someone, it may well be the last time we see that person. It probably won't be; but it could be. Anyone who walks out a door just might be walking out of your life. Forever. So pay a compliment. Say something nice you've been meaning to say. Tell them that you think they're a good, talented person; that you value their friendship; that you admire their ability; that they make you happy.

Paul gave the same good advice when he told us not to let the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4;26). Work things out, get the relationship back on track. Get angry, yes; express the anger, yes;, but don't let the anger be the day's final feeling.

Can you imagine what a different world this would be if we all treated one another as if this might be the last time we will see one another? We take each other and our loved ones for granted too often. Let's begin offering one another gifts of healing and long life. If every goodbye is a sincere, loving goodbye from the heart, the final goodbye may then not be followed by pangs of guilt, "Oh, I wish I would have said...."

Give undercover, mysterious, guerilla gifts this Christmas and throughout the coming months, random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty, treating all you meet with respect and consideration as if it were your last meeting.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris