This week is the festival of Epiphany; celebrated in the West on January 6th. It commemorates the arrival of the Magi who came to worship the infant Jesus. I don’t really want to get into a discussion about the likelihood of this event or who the Magi were but I do think It is interesting to think a little more deeply about the gifts that Magi offered and what this tells us about the person of Jesus. At the very least this can tell us what the only gospel writer who records their visit, Matthew (chapter 2), wanted to convey about the Messiah.
Frankincense is an aromatic resin that is burned to give a sweet smell at times of prayer and worship. It was burned in the Temple to cover the smell of blood from sacrifices there is also a sense that the smoke rising carries prayer to God. This therefore is symbolic of Jesus’ role as deity - God made incarnate.
Finally the myrrh is an embalming ointment that was used for anointing the dead. This therefore is representative of Jesus’ future suffering and death. Jesus' resurrection was indeed discovered by women coming to anoint his body - however there is no mention that this myrrh is what they intended to use.
When He is King we will give Him a King's gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes", said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.
Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight,
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.
When He is King they will clothe Him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down
Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem Down.