“On entering the house, the wise men saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
— Matthew 2:11 (NRSV)
There are many spiritually vacuous stories that emerge from the Nativity Scene. If we would enter into this story of God coming in human flesh genuinely we would appreciate all the more with amazement the Christmas story.
One such fragment that we can unpick from the garment that is the Christmas story, so we can further observe it, is the offering of gifts for the coming of Israel’s Great High Priest, Prophet of the Only Salvation, and King of Kings (of the Jews, first, before all the Gentiles, later).
Let’s look at these gifts the wise men brought and their connection with Jesus as Priest, Prophet, and King.
Frankincense – A Gift Given to a Priest
According to Jewish tradition, frankincense was commonly used as a gift for priests (see Isaiah 60:6). The priest was the bridge builder between the people and their God. When Jesus received frankincense from the Magi they were recognising his divine standing, even as a small child.
The gift of frankincense, which is given to a Priest, and in Jesus’ case as the Great High Priest to come, was the affirmation of faith that the Magi recognised Jesus for who he was in their midst.
Myrrh – A Gift Given to One Who is to Die
As a gift given for those expected to die imminently, or given to those expected to prepare a dead body for burial, myrrh might have seemed a little out of place as it was given to the child, Jesus.
But Jesus came born to die. Jesus was born as our Prophet of the Only Salvation—by sacrifice and that Atonement.
Gold – A Gift Given to a King
As a gift given to a King, Jesus was recognised as royalty even as a child.
We don’t tend to have many problems considering Jesus our priest—one who can make atonement for our sin—or of considering Jesus our prophet of salvation.
We are far less inclined, however, to place Jesus as the King over our lives. True disciples carry their crosses—their Jesus-given crosses. Do we truly offer our ‘gold’ to Jesus?
Jesus is humankind’s Great High Priest, Prophet of the Only Salvation, and King of Kings over all creation. The gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold were the Magi’s designation of Jesus’ anointing as Israel’s (and the world’s) Messiah.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Special Acknowledgement: to Anthony Palmieri, Senior Pastor, Lakeside Baptist Church, Perth, Western Australia.