Many lament that Christmas has turned into a commercial gift-giving holiday. However, the Bible shows that gift-giving happened right after the birth of Christ. The Book of Matthew tells of 3 gifts the Wise Men gave: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Prof Deirdre Good of the General Theological Seminary in New York tells us the meaning of these particular gifts in Mystery of the 3 Kings: “The gift of gold is for royalty. The gift of frankincense is for divinity. The gift of myrrh is for death.”
Gold is a gift for an earthly king, and holds obvious symbolic significance. Frankincense is used in incense, for many religious observances. Frankincense was used by Jews in the temple, as well as a great number of other religions of the day. It is made from the resin of rare trees. It was so precious that it was literally worth its weight in gold. Myrrh also comes from a rare plant (in Arabia) and is worth 7 times more than frankincense. It’s use was for annointing the dead, as well as for healing properties. In modern day use, it has anti-fungal properties, and there is some anti-cancer research regarding myrrh as well. It would have been a gift for a physician. Obviously, Jesus was a master physician with all the healings he performed.
Astronomer David Hughes tells us “Myrrh is used to anoint the dead. You get this Christian attitude that even as Jesus was born, they knew he was going to die on the cross.” While none of us would have any idea what to do with frankincense and myrrh, when we uncover how the ancient people felt, it helps us realize how valuable these gifts were.
Matthew and Luke seem to have some differing accounts of Jesus birth. In Luke, the shepherds visit a manger. In Matthew, the Wise Men visit a house. One tradition has it that the Wise Men visited 12 days after Jesus birth, but it could also be that Jesus may have been as old as 2, since Herod ordered all male boys killed under the age of 2.
The gifts may have been a test for Jesus. There is evidence that the Jews expected as many as 3 different Messiahs: a spiritual one, a great warrior, and a healer. When presented with the gifts, the idea was that if Jesus chose gold, he would have been an earthly ruler. If he had chosen frankincense, he would have been a spiritual leader. If he had chosen myrrh, he would have been a healer and miracle worker. Legend has it that he chose all three, showing that he was all of the above.
Of course, the magi sneaked out of Judea due to the dream not to return to Herod. Joseph was also warned in a dream to leave for Egypt. These gifts would have been very helpful for their flight into Egypt and would have helped pay their way. Jesus going to Egypt follows previous precedents of Joseph and Abraham fleeing there to save Israel.
So, has anyone received gold for Christmas?