So, if you had to get a gift for the Son of God, who literally has everything, what would you choose? The wise men chose gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold is easy to understand but many people wonder what the big deal was about the tree resins?? One answer is, because by weight they were more precious than gold.
If that is hard to comprehend, just think of the Dutch tulip craze of the 17th century, when people willingly gave their entire fortune for a tulip bulb. In early 1637, a single tulip bulb could sell for more than 10 times the annual income of some of the highest paid trades. Today many plant compounds (though illegal for the most part) are still worth more than gold.
But no longer frankincense and myrrh; today frankincense costs $5.25 for one and one half ounces and myrrh costs $4.95 for the same amount. Demand and rarity set the price, and though they are both still relatively rare, there isn’t a large demand seen for either today. When the wise men walked the earth however, frankincense and myrrh were in high demand and far outside the financial reach of most people. Their use was associated with kings and holy men. Myrrh, a resin collected from Commiphora trees that grow in Arabia and parts of Africa, was used as an embalming agent, as consecrated incense in funerals and cremations, and in cosmetics and medicines. Frankincense, a resin collected from a tree of the family Burseraceae and the genus Boswellia that grows in Oman, Somalia and Ethiopia, was used in much the same way as myrrh; as ritual incense, in cosmetics, medicinally, and as a wine additive. The Catholic Church still uses frankincense imported from Somalia today. Anyone who has been to a Catholic funeral has probably smelled it.
“On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
One of my favorite Christmas stories was told to me by a stranger recently while we waited in a checkout line. He told me that he was a professional musician, and that one year he had to pawn his guitar to get money to buy gifts for his children. It took him six years to get the guitar back, he said. He willingly gave up that which was the most valuable to him out of love for others, and I think that’s a story worthy of being re-told.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
The photo is of a carving of The Adoration of the Magi, from the cathedral of St Lazare in Autun, France, circa 1120.