There is so much to love about this time of year: the decorations, the lights, the food, the parties, the music. December is a time of joy and anticipation. In Advent we spend time in reflection and anticipation.
On December 25th we celebrate the birth of Jesus: God in-the-flesh, a savior, our Messiah.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us about three wise men, called Magi, who traveled to Israel from the Far East to pay homage to the newborn Jesus. These foreigners came bearing gifts for the child, paying him homage. While we continue the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas, I would like us to reflect upon these original gifts that were presented to Jesus at that first Christmas.
“Messiah” is a royal word, meaning “anointed one.” The Old Testament kings of Israel were named as kings through a process of oil being poured on the head, being anointed (see First Samuel 19 or First Kings 1, for example). While most Christians can name the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they may not know their function and usefulness. Digging a little deeper into these gifts, we find that these gifts were truly fit for the Messiah.
Gold – At the time of the Jesus, this precious metal was mined in Saudi Arabia, East Africa, and India. We do not know where, how much, or in what form the gold came when it was presented to the baby Jesus, but we can be confident that these new parents were grateful for this gift. Gold is associated with kingship and royalty, a fitting tribute to the newborn who would be called “king of kings.”
Frankincense – As the root of the word says, incense. Taken from the resin of species of tree found primarily in Saudi Arabia and Somalia, this too was a gift of great value. When burned, it has a pleasing spice-like odor and is still used in aromatherapy today. Pure and unmixed frankincense was the essential ingredient of the incense used in worship in the temple (Exodus 30:34). Common to the Middle East, this gift would have had religious connotations for Joseph and Mary. “My prayers rise before you as incense. …” (Psalm 141).
Myrrh – This is an oil used for perfume and/or medicine. In ancient times, myrrh was rubbed into the skin for bruises, sprains, and toothaches. It also was mixed with wine and consumed for pain relief. As an adult, Jesus was offered myrrh and wine before the crucifixion (Mark 15:23). After Jesus’ death, a Jewish leader named Nicodemus brought 100 pounds of nard consisting of myrrh mixed with aloes for the care and burial of his body (John 19:39). This is an extravagant gift, in fact, the quantity Nicodemus brought was the same amount used for the burial of a king.
This month, we are asking each household in this congregation to give a gift to the church, a gift above and beyond your current offerings. As we each embark on this process of discernment, of making a sacrificial commitment to supporting this effort over the next three years, we do so with an awareness that these are gifts for Christ’s church, to further the ministry we are called to do in Christ’s name. Like the wise men of old, we do so out of appreciation, love, and devotion to Christ.
Have a Blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas,
Pastor Jason Talsness