Pastor Rich spoke this week about the gifts of the Christmas narrative. He acknowledged that the greatest gift of the nativity was Christ, the Emmanuel “God with us.” We were a people lost in our trespasses, “But God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.” The angel dictated that this child would be named Jesus “God Saves.” Wow, that is a gift! We who had no means of redeeming ourselves were in this birth saved. In the words of the carol: “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled.”
But in the nativity story itself, we have the additional mention of gifts at the hands of Gentile visitors, the Magi. These men who had seen a star in the East travel to find the fulfillment of prophecy. Their journey at first takes them to Jerusalem, but it is not the palace they sought, but a far more humble abode in Bethlehem. When they arrive they bring gifts, but these are not token presents, but powerfully symbolic gestures.
The gift of gold was an offering worthy of a king. Jesus “King of kings, and Lord of lords” was rightly bestowed with this emblem. Frankincense a fragrant substance used in incense, perfumes, and precious oils was the next treasure. The scent of frankincense was a symbol of prayer, as its fragrance was seen to be graced upwards to heaven, as our prayers should. It was a gift for a priest. Jesus is our High Priest, a priest of the order of Melchizedek, a go-between bridging man and God. The final offering was myrrh, a resin used in burial rights. It marked Jesus’ mission on Earth. He was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Sacrifice was to be His destiny, but in so doing He would redeem humanity.
While such symbolisms may be overlooked in today’s “gift” obsessed culture, they are powerful fulfillments of prophecy, and signs to us that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
The gifts were also practical in their nature, however. A carpenter, his wife, and an infant child were about to flee from the wrath of King Herod. Their escape route would take them into Egypt. Think about a family from Nazareth, temporarily in Judea for a census. Would they have abundant funds? God’s provision for the fulfilling of His plan is clear. Gold a ready currency virtually anywhere (even today) would assure passage. Egypt with its multiple deities, and elaborate funerary rites would have a steady need of frankincense and myrrh. The Holy Family was well set up for their exile, and given means for their return, that the Messiah’s mission might be fulfilled.