Advent Meditations: 7 – Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

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When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. – Matthew 2:10-11

The wise men, the Magi from the east, came to visit the newborn King of the Jews, because they saw his star in the sky and came “to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

They brought him 3 gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We all know what gold is, but what are frankincense and myrrh, and what was their significance as gifts for a newborn king?

Both frankincense and myrrh are resins made from dried tree sap – certainly lacking the glamour of gold – but both were rare and expensive in their own right, as the trees which they are made from are found in the Horn of Africa and the coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

Frankincense was an aromatic incense that was burned by the priests in the temple, and is still used in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mass.

Myrrh was used as an ointment for treating wounds and one of its main uses was in the burial process – it was a kind of ancient embalming fluid. 

Kind of a weird thing to give to a baby though, don’t you think?  It’s not something you can pick up at Babies R’ Us!   It’s not something you normally bring to a baby shower!  “Oh, look: onesies and a baby bumper for the crib – and oh, a prepaid funeral and embalming.  A casket…    That is practical – and kind of inappropriate…  Thanks…I guess.”

Somehow these Wise Men understood that the reason this King, Jesus, had come, was to be wounded and to lay down his life – that his life would be a sacrifice.

He was born to die, so that we might live.

And just as they brought their gifts to the newborn king to recognize his rule and authority over them – the same is done today. The ways we express that Jesus is king over us is by bringing gifts similar to those which the Magi brought to Jesus.

They brought him Gold — we also express that Jesus is Lord over us by giving to Him of our financial resources.

They brought him Frankincense. In the Old Testament temple, frankincense was a symbol of the prayers and worship offered up to God, which rise up to the Lord and are a sweet-smelling aroma to Him. Another way we recognize the Lordship of Jesus is by praying and singing songs of praise.

And Myrrh: the symbol of death.  We recognize and declare Jesus to be King over us as we take communion and acknowledge what He did for us on the Cross, by dying in our place for our sins.

Be a wise man – or woman – and honor Jesus as your king by giving these gifts yourself this Advent season, and beyond.

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Advent Meditations: 6 – Giving Gifts to God

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When it comes to Christmas, there is a joy that comes with giving and receiving. As children we tend to revel more in the receiving than the giving, and as we grow into maturity, we learn that as Jesus said: It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

Where does the tradition of Christmas gifts come from?

Yesterday was December 6, on which, in some parts of the world, the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas is celebrated. Nicholas was a Christian man, who was famous for his generosity to the poor and needy. Read more about him here. Yet, it was not first from Nicholas of Myra (St. Nick) that the tradition of giving Christmas gifts derives.

Some have suggested that the tradition comes from the fact that on Christmas, God gave us the greatest gift possible: Himself, the Redeemer, come to save us from our sins.

you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins – Matthew 1:21

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! – 2 Corinthians 9:15

Yet, it seems that the tradition of giving Christmas gifts comes from the “wise men” from the east who came to Jesus and presented the child king with three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.   I’ll talk about the significance of these in my next post, but for now, I’d like to focus on this: the tradition of giving gifts goes back to people who came to give gifts to Jesus.

It would be presumptuous to think that God needs our gifts. Furthermore, the message of the Gospel is that our relationship with God is based on what He has done for us (grace), not on what we do for him.

So then, what is the place of giving gifts to God?

When you give gifts to God, whether of your finances, your time or something else, you are saying: “I have come to you not for what you can give me, but for the sake of you yourself.The joy that I seek is not the hope of you giving me things, but the joy of knowing you, and I seek to enjoy you even more by giving up things which have value to me, to express my love, devotion, thankfulness and commitment to finding my joy all the more in you and not in these things.”

As you give gifts this Christmas season, remember to give to God – not to earn his favor, but to train your heart and express with your life that He alone can satisfy your heart, not any material things.