Why did the wise men give baby Jesus those strange gifts?
Matthew 2:11 tells us Jesus received three gifts -- gold, frankincense and myrrh. Are those gifts on your Christmas wish-list? Probably not. I imagine you'd rather have a video game, skateboard or doll.
So why did Jesus get them? I also have wondered why, so I am glad you asked.
Gold is the one gift we all know about. Maybe your mom has jewelry made of gold. In fact, your mom might even get gold for Christmas. Gold is a good gift, because it is beautiful and expensive. In Jesus' day gold was so expensive, you had to be a very special person to receive it as a gift.
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The second gift was frankincense. Frankincense is a form of incense. What is incense? Incense is something that is burnt in order to worship God. Although some churches still use incense as they worship God, you might have never seen it used. After someone lights the incense, it makes a nice-smelling smoke. It is used to represent our prayers rising up to God, like smoke rises up to the sky. Frankincense is not just any incense. It came from very far away from where Jesus was born. That made it a very expensive gift to give.
The third gift is pronounced "MUR." It is oil with a particular scent. In fact, you might have something like this around your home -- an oil that makes a room smell nice. This oil was used in a ceremony to appoint some people in special service to God. When they used this special oil they called it "anointing" them. In the language of Jesus' day, someone who was anointed was called "messiah." You might not have heard that word before, but you probably heard another way of saying the same thing, "Christ." In other words, when we say that Jesus is the Christ, we are saying that he was anointed to do a special job for God.
If you read the whole story in Matthew chapter 2, you will learn why these gifts were so important. Before the wise men visited Jesus, they visited the king of Jesus' country, Herod. They asked King Herod about the boy who was born as king. King Herod became jealous, because he was the king. He must have been afraid this baby was going to take the kingdom from him. King Herod asked the wise men to come back once they found this new baby king. He said he wanted to worship this new king, too. We find out later that he really wanted to stop this new king so Herod could stay king. When the wise men found the baby king, Jesus, they gave him the gifts and returned home without telling Herod where they found him. They wanted to protect this baby king, the true king.
These expensive and rare gifts are gifts fit for a king. That's the point -- the gifts show us this baby is really our king. That's the message behind many of the Christmas carols we sing. Do you know the song, "The First Noel?" It says, "Born is the King of Israel."
You might also know, "Angels From the Realms of Glory" which sings, "Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King."
The song, "What Child is This?" answers its own question by singing, "This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing." Even my favorite carol, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" says, "Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With the angelic host proclaim, "Christ is Born in Bethlehem! Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King."
What does it mean to us that Jesus is our king? We don't have a king today, we have a president. What is the difference? A president tells us what he thinks we should do, but we don't have to agree with him. A king tells us what we have to do, whether or not we agree with him. That means you would still have to obey your king, even if he was a bad king like King Herod.
Jesus is not like King Herod. He is a good king. When Jesus tells us to do something, we can be sure it is for our own good. This is what we sing about in, "Joy to the World" -- "He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love."
Although you might not ask for gold, frankincense or myrrh for Christmas, God has given you an even more valuable gift. God's Christmas gift to you is a good king to lead you. I hope you will join me and the many millions of other people all over the world, as we celebrate the coming of our King this Christmas. Merry Christmas!
David Zimmerman, pastor of Living Waters Presbyterian Church in Lake Wylie. Send questions to david@LivingWatersWeb.org.