During my childhood, my family set up a nativity scene during Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It included a stable, cows, a donkey, sheep, shepherds, the angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and three wise men with their camels.
While the figurines look different today, I have more than one of these sacred displays in my home. Likely you too have at least one nativity scene set up in your home, business, and/or church to remind you of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I realized the biblical account does not say there were three wise men or magi, though I love the song, We Three Kings. Also, while the text does say that the magi brought three gifts, they probably arrived much later than the time of Jesus’ birth (see Matthew 2:9-11). Yet, the reason for the gift-giving we experience during this season reflects the gift of God by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, as well as the gifts of the wise men.
According to the liturgical church calendar, the wise men and their gifts come into focus twelve days after Christmas on January 6. This date in church history is known as Epiphany, which means revelation. Jesus was revealed to the world through the visit of the wise men and their gifts. Because of the significance of these gifts and in anticipation of Epiphany, let’s reflect today on the presents presented to Jesus.
The Bible says that Jesus, Mary and Joseph received three gifts from the wise men: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (see Matthew 2:11). Although these gifts quite possibly provided provision from God for Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt with young Jesus (see Matthew 2: 13-15), each one symbolized something back then and still retains meaning for us today.
Gold – A yellow precious metal of high monetary value.
Presenting Jesus with gold foreshadowed the kingship of Jesus Christ over all. During his earthly ministry, Jesus spoke 60 times of the kingdom of God: a reign on earth within the hearts of those who follow Him, as well as a kingdom yet to be experienced when He will return to rule over all creation. Jesus is referred to as “King” in numerous texts (see John 12:12-13; 19:19). A king is one who is regarded as the finest or most important in his sphere as evidenced by the behavior of his subjects. Make Jesus your King.
Today, ask yourself: To whom do I pledge allegiance? Is Jesus truly King of my life? How does my life reflect that I follow Jesus?
Frankincense – An costly aromatic resin which seeps from trees in northern India and Arabia.
This gift honored Jesus as Priest. It is highly fragrant and was burned by the Israelites as a component of their offering during worship. Frankincense symbolized the holiness and righteousness of Jesus who ministered to people for three and one-half years and ultimately gave Himself up as an offering for the world (see Mark 10:45).
This perfume-like oil has incredible healing properties. Frankincense combats bacteria, viruses, cancers, and prevents illnesses. This reminds us of the healing Jesus brought to the world, reconciling people to God, dealing with the ultimate cancer: sin. Have you received the healing of God, freeing you from the cancer of sin? How can you point others to the ultimate healing Jesus provides? Another benefit of this gift is its ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. In Scripture, Isaiah proclaimed, He “will be called…the Prince of Peace” (see Isaiah 9:6). Jesus is your Prince of Peace.
Ponder this question as you approach the new year: To whom or what will you turn when life gets nutty, when the unexpected and unexplainable occur? How does your life reveal thanksgiving for Jesus and His indescribable gifts as our Priest and Prince of Peace?
Myrrh – A sap-like substance that flows from small thorny trees and like Frankincense is native to North Africa and the Middle East.
Among the gifts given to Jesus, Myrrh seemed the most unusual baby gift. Nevertheless, this spice honored Jesus as Prophet. In antiquity, when mixed with oil, myrrh was used to anoint prophets appointed for divine service. Jesus came to the nation of Israel, as a prophet, fulfilling the prophecy of Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:15 and Matthew 13:57).
Used for medicinal purposes as well as for embalming the dead, myrrh foreshadowed that Jesus would suffer and give His life upon the cross so that mankind might live (see John 10:10 and 19:39). Myrrh was used to purify the dead, disinfect, and deodorize. Similarly, Jesus purifies us, disinfects us, from our sin when we come to Him in repentance. What change is Christ asking of you as you enter a new year? Through the death of Jesus, we receive grace, the opportunity to live forever with God. To whom can you share the grace of God?
Consider Jesus sacrifice. He died and rose again, so that we might experience everlasting life with Him. What needs to die within you so that you know within your soul the cleansing and healing of Jesus? Pride, anxiety, control, appearances, criticalness, avarice, envy, hopelessness, fear, etc. Jesus came so that we might live the abundant life; a life that flourishes with Him.
Three special gifts were presented to Jesus and His parents. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh point to specific aspects of His life and mission. Think about that as we approach January 6 and celebrate Epiphany, God’s revelation to humankind. Consider how Jesus reveals Himself to you and wants to make Himself known through your life?
Today, these extravagant gifts provoke thoughtful consideration in each of us. Before rushing to your next activity, pause and ponder these presents to experience deeper communion with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. In so doing you realize that Jesus is the Gift that keeps on giving as our Prophet, Priest, and King.
Drips from the Word: Muse about these Bible verses. Let these truths impact your living.
After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Splashes from the Spigot: Drink from deep wells. Check out these suggested readings.
Travis Anglim. Prophet, Priest and King. Bloomington, IN. 2016
Bobby Gross. Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God. Downers Grove, IL. 2009.