Stories from the Barn
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Gold Frankincense and Myrrh
The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Advent Day 22
The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that the magi presented to baby Jesus have been part of the Christmas story for hundreds of years. The kings or wise men make an appearance in the Book of Matthew but little is known about them. It says they travelled from the East but it doesn’t tell us how many of them there were, their names or anything else. The fact there were three gifts has led to the understanding there were three ‘kings’. But why did they bring the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? What is the significance of these three things?
The meaning and significance of the three gifts.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh were valuable items in the pre Christian period and beyond. They were standard gifts to honour a king or other deity in the ancient world.
Frankincense has been burnt as an incense or used as an anointing oil for thousands of years. It is a resin from the Boswellia sacra tree. This tree grows out of the rock in the desert and can reach a great age. It is interesting that despite it’s value the tree has never been grown as a commercial crop. It requires a lot of effort to harvest the resin, firstly getting to the tree itself was a challenge. Once bled the resin takes weeks to harden on the trunk before it can be collected.
Historical use of Frankincense.
Historically it was used to treat various skin conditions and asthma but most importantly the incense was used in religious ceremonies. The scent of the incense has been shown to stimulate the limbic part of the brain. The limbic part of the brain is where our deep memory and emotional centre is, the smell of frankincense makes us feel good!
Gold, the most beautiful of our metals, the one that doesn’t tarnish, has always been the most precious gift. By not tarnishing it gives the illusion of life eternal and of course is the colour of the sun, the most important god.
Through the time span of its rich history and usage, the resin and oil of myrrh has been part of a cultural heritage of many civilizations. It has a fragrant and alluring aroma, hitting the limbic part of the brain just like Frankincense. Myrhh has been a valued gift for thousands of years. It comes from the thorny tree commiphora myrrha. The tree is bled and the resin collected which then hardens. The oil has been used as an embalming tool and it has many therapeutic claims. The idea of everlasting life because of the embalming process could be a reason why it was gifted to kings.
The history of gift giving.
So the gifts given to Jesus were, gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil. It is recorded that these same three gifts were offered to the god Apollo at the temple in Miletus in 243 B.C.E. The Book of Isaiah, (Isaiah 60:6) tells us that when Jerusalem is restored, nations and kings who will come and “bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord”. The Egyptians brought the same offerings to the altars of their gods, burning bowls of frankincense and anointing with oil.
And so the tradition of gift giving continues at Christmas.