Sunday, December 23, 2012

We Three Kings of Orient

"We three kings of Orient are
bearing gifts, we traverse afar:
field and fountain,
moor and mountain,
following yonder star."
We Three Kings”
by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.
Pennsylvania, 1857
We Three Kings

I've always been somewhat perplexed by the wise men's gifts to the baby Jesus. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What would a baby want with any of those? He probably could have used a blanket or some milk, or like a crib. So, let's ponder those lofty gifts for a minute as described in the less-sung verses of the 19th century American hymn "We Three Kings."

GOLD is pretty self-explanatory. By giving the baby Jesus gold, the wise men were confessing that He was indeed the King of kings, the King of the Jews, and the Prince of Peace, whose reign would last forever.

The Jewish people used FRANKINCENSE as an offering to God (Exodus 30:34, Leviticus 2:1, et al). By giving the baby Jesus frankincense, the wise men were confessing that He was indeed God. This particular kind of incense, also called olibanum, is made from Boswellia tree resin and would have been a local commodity for both the wise men and the Israelites.

It must have been painful for Mary to watch as this last gift, MYRRH, was given to her newborn baby. By giving the baby Jesus myrrh, a powerfully perfumed oil traditionally used to hide the odor of decaying corpses as they laid in tombs, the wise men were confessing that this beautiful baby would one day die. And of course, He did. Brutally, just like the song says.

The gifts of the wise men are not only appropriate and foreshadowing, they have literal meaning in the life of that precious baby boy, whose glory and sorrow was foretold in the giving of three simple gifts. Wise men indeed.
“And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary his mother,
and they fell down and worshiped Him.
Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts,
gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

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