As we consider the various traditions of the Christmas season, one of the common scenes in many a church will be the simply play acting by children and adults alike - a simple recreation of the Christmas story, complete with the coming of the three wise men. We would be remiss not to stop to consider the three wise men and their specific gifts in our discovery of Christmas traditions and their meaning. Although these are not specifically decorations of the season, the journey of the magi and the gifts they brought are spoken of in the sermons, bedtime stories, and even the songs of the season. The words of the old Christmas carol "We Three Kings" remind us of a couple of important facts about that first celebration of Christ's birth. Christ was a "wanted man" from the beginning of his wee life on this earth. Whether we stop to consider the jealousy of Herod who felt threatened by any "other king's" arrival, or the simple trust of the wise men to allow a bright star in the night to guide them to find this long awaited king, we see Christ as "wanted" by many. Later on, as he grew and began to fulfill his earthly ministry, Jesus would become a wanted man for many other reasons ranging from physical healing to emotional release. His teaching set him at odds with the leaders of his day, setting the stage for him to be a "wanted man" in terms of a criminal sense toward the end of his days on this earth. If we are to truly understand the meaning of the three gifts of the magi that day so long ago, we must keep in mind this desire of heart which leads them to him - this passion, persistence, and purposeful pursuit of the Christ child.
And the star they had seen in the east went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They were thrilled and excited to see the star. When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him. (Matthew 3:9-11 CEV)
The gift of GOLD:
Definitely a precious metal worthy of a king. Many biblical scholars think the gift of gold is symbolic or representational of Christ's position as KING of KINGS and LORD of LORDS. Throughout the psalms, proverbs, and even the passages describing the forming of the instruments of the temple worship, you will find the use of gold. Wisdom is more desirable than gold - the Book of Proverbs defining Christ as the embodiment of Wisdom. Gold is refined in the fire - the scriptures point to Christ being tested in all ways and found to be without sin. Regardless of what meaning you attribute to the gift of the gold, you see the evidence of it being far superior to all other metals. We cannot help but wonder if the magi were simply saying there is no other KING to be desired - for Christ is the KING of KINGS and LORD of LORDS - he is the Messiah!
The gift of FRANKINCENSE:
Better known as incense or a perfume. Many biblical scholars attribute the symbolism of this gift to represent Christ's PRIESTLY role since the priests were always offering up sweet perfumes in their worship. Frankincense was simply a resin produced by the olibanum tree. This resin is "milked" from the tree by cutting the bark, allowing the tree to "bleed" the resin, then harden on the surface of the tree, much like a scab forms over wounds. The resin is broken off the tree, ground down into a fine powder and then burned as incense. Incense is totally consumed as it burns. There is nothing left behind - not even ash. As we stop for a moment to consider the significance of this gift, let us not forget how freely Christ gave of himself, continually willing to bear the wounds of all of mankind's sin that we might have the freedom to enter into the Holy of Holies - the very presence of God Almighty. His life was totally consumed that we might live on for all of eternity "within the veil", so to speak. Nothing was left which separated us from God the Father - his sacrifice was perfect, a sweet savor to God Almighty.
The gift of MYRRH:
Probably an gift of a type of anointing oil. Many biblical scholars associate the symbolism of this gift as referring to the death and burial of Christ - the SACRIFICIAL death of one for many. The first two gifts were given once in Christ's life - at his birth. Myrrh was given twice - once at his birth and once closer to his death. Salvation and holiness are one-time gifts, my friends. The gift of myrrh could symbolize the intense suffering of Christ - from the point of his birth in the stall of animals to the death upon the Cross for the sins of all mankind, Christ would endure suffering of all manner. I think the myrrh was an acknowledgement of the intense suffering of Christ. Anything sacrificial costs the one giving it a great deal - nothing cost the GIVER more than what Christ gave on our behalf!
We may not display these three "Christmas gifts" in our customary display of Christmas decor, but we speak of them frequently in our stories and songs of the season. They cannot be glossed over easily, for they are rich in meaning and remind us of the special gift of Christ's love for us this holiday season. Just sayin!