Unwrapping the Gifts of the Magi
A Christmastime standard is the song, We Three Kings Of Orient Are. The Gospel of Matthew gives us the tale of the Magi, the Wise Men, the 3 Kings of Orient.
Matthew 2:1-12 King James Version (KJV)
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
So, what else do we know about these wise men of the east? Let’s take a look at the traditional profiles of the Magi.
Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice!
Heaven to earth replies
The Magi came to bring gifts symbolic of what Jesus represents: King and God and Sacrifice. Let’s dive a bit deeper.
Gold – Gift for the King of Kings – Melchior, King of Arabia
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King for ever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign
Melchior brings gold for the King of Kings. This title worried Herod the most. He was jealously possessive of the power vested in him by the Roman Empire and the legitimacy that the Sanhedrin grudgingly acknowledged for him. A true Messiah would definitely upset the delicate balance of things. Certainly, he wanted to know where Jesus was so he could put an end to this threat to his power. Little did he know that Jesus came for a higher purpose than rulership of the Holy Land. He couldn’t have understood even if they had told him. All he knew was his lust for power and his desperate need to destroy anyone and anything that threatened to unseat him.
Frankincense – Gift for the Word made Flesh – Caspar, King of Sheba
Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Prayer and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high
34 The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part),
35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.
36 You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you.
37 And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord.
38 Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”
As a key part of God’s own personal incense, this seems an appropriate gift for the Christ-child. Fortunately, any one of us can take advantage of the many benefits of Frankincense as long as we don’t add in all the rest of the spices that comprise the blend prescribed for the Holy of Holies. This gift represents recognition of Jesus’ divine nature and the gift of divine forgiveness he was born to bestow upon the world.
Myrrh – Gift for Sacrifice – Balthazar, King of Tarse and Egypt
Myrrh is mine
Its bitter perfume breathes
A life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone cold tomb
Oil made from the resin of the Commiphora myrrha tree was traditionally used as a perfume to mask the stench of dead bodies while preparing them for the grave. This gift symbolizes the death that Jesus would eventually have to suffer as the “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world“. As with frankincense, myrrh is also used for medicinal purposes and is very popular in toothpaste worldwide.
As you can see, the gifts of the Wise Men were certainly symbolic in nature but were actually immediately useful to the Holy Family. I mean, who doesn’t need some gold? The Frankincense and Myrrh were costly gifts but they were also particularly useful for health and sanitary purposes. People have often wondered what use the latter two gifts would be to anyone, but now you know the rest of the story!