The Wise Men’s Gifts to the Christ Child – and Ours
By Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd

No nativity scene would be complete without the Three Wise Men. Dressed in the robes of kings, the Magi and their camels are as much a part of the Christmas story as angels or sheep.

Despite the presence of the Wise Men, we know little about them. We know more about their gifts, however ? and the gifts they gave the Christ Child are patterns for the gifts we can give to God and to others.

As church members, we know there is no evidence to indicate there were three wise men. What we may not know, however, is that early Christian tradition said there were twelve.

According to early Christian legends, the twelve wise men were probably farmers by day, but at night they searched the heavens, looking for a sign that the Christ child had been born. Once a month, they ascended a nearby mountain, purified themselves with ritual washings, and spent three nights searching the sky for the sacred sign.

These wise men persevered for generations, patiently waiting for the star to appear. When one man died, he was replaced by that man’s son or another relative. But there were always twelve of them – at least as far as the legends tell.

The stories say that the reason these wise men searched for the sign of the Savior’s coming was that they had in their possession an ancient scroll, telling them what to look for. This scroll had been written by no less a personage than Adam’s son Seth. It was really old!

Although we call them “wise men,” the Greek word Magoi has been given different meanings over the years. The word has the same root as the word magician , so many believe the Magi were men who were versed in astrology and other dark arts. Others believe Magoi was a reference to the deception that was practiced by the Magi when they misled Herod by returning to their own country without telling him where the Christ Child could be found.

Most scholarly references say the Magi were Zoroastrian priests (followers of the Persian prophet Zoroaster). Their religion bore many similarities to ours, one of which was the doctrine of freedom of choice.

Our own Bible Dictionary, however, speculates that the Magi were:

. representatives of a branch of the Lord’s people somewhere from east of Palestine, who had come, led by the Spirit, to behold the Son of God, and who returned to their people to bear witness that the King Immanuel had indeed been born in the flesh. We are not told how many wise men there were, but tradition usually speaks of three, because of the three gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense. If they were serving in the capacity of witnesses, there would of necessity have been two or three.

The idea that there were three wise men also came from the book of Psalms. Psalm 72:10 says:

The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.

The account of the Wise Men’s visit in Matthew, however, focuses more on the worship that was performed by the Magi than the number of men who made the journey:

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11).

Have we ever pondered the significance of these gifts, and what they represent? Not only do they represent the finest gifts that God has bestowed upon us, but they also represent the gifts that we can give back to Him as a sign of our gratitude and love.

Gold

From the dawn of recorded history, gold has been mined and used as a currency and medium of exchange. Even though it has been replaced by more modern currency instruments (checks, cash, credit cards), it is still used in jewelry because of its durability and purity. Couples who have been married for 50 years celebrate their “golden” anniversary, because it is considered to be the ultimate achievement. The finest Olympic athletes are presented with gold medals, while those who don’t do as well get the silver and the bronze ones.

Just as gold is the ultimate gift, it reminds us that God gave us the ultimate gift – the life and death of His only-begotten Son – to atone for our sins, and bring us back to Him.

Another thing about gold is that the purer it is, the more malleable it is, and the easier it is for the jeweler to turn it into a thing of beauty. The same is the true with us. The purer we are, the easier it is for God to turn us into what He wants us to be. The new Young Women value of purity was assigned the color of gold. When you think of what a jeweler can do with pure gold, envision what the heavenly Jeweler can do with you when you are clean and pure.

During the Christmas season, and throughout the year, we can express our gratitude to God by giving our gold (our treasure) back to him, and to his children. Remember the words of the Savior when he said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40). Our treasure can be anything that we hold dear – our money, possessions, talents, and time. As we share our treasures with others, we bless them and bless ourselves as well.

Frankincense

Frankincense is an aromatic resin that is obtained from the scraggly but hardy Boswellia tree. It is one of the primary ingredients in making perfumes and incense. The incense was often used in healing and in religious rituals. Both the Christian and Islamic faiths have often used frankincense mixed with oils to bless newborn infants and to anoint individuals considered to be moving into a new phase of their spiritual lives.

Frankincense is harvested by scraping the bark off the tree, and allowing the exuded resins to bleed out and harden. These hardened resin clumps are known as tears . The Boswellia trees are also considered unusual for their ability to grow in environments so unforgiving that the trees sometimes seem to grow directly out of solid rock. The deep roots prevent the tree from being torn away from the stone during the violent storms that frequent this region; the tears from these hardy survivors are considered superior due to their more fragrant aroma.

When frankincense burns, it sends up a white smoke. To the children of Israel , this smoke represented the prayers that ascended to God when they worshipped Him. Great care was taken when frankincense was harvested because poisonous snakes hid in the branches of the trees and could kill people who weren’t careful to avoid them. These poisonous snakes can represent the original serpent, Satan – who looks for any opportunity to come between us and our communion with God.

The primary products made from frankincense please us because of their pleasant aromas, even though we may not always be aware of their presence. This should remind us of the gift of the Holy Ghost, which the Lord has given us to comfort us, guide us, and testify of His Son. The tears used in the harvesting of frankincense should remind us of the tears and blood shed by Christ on our behalf, and of the many tears shed by others as an expression of their love and concern for us. Finally, the fact that the trees growing in the harshest environments often produce the best fruit should remind us of the challenges the Lord has given us to ultimately refine our souls.

Just as perfumes and incense can expand so that the scent fills an entire room, we should let our goodness and example expand to bless the lives of those around us. Many have testified of the aura of peace and light that surround certain people – a warmness that allows us to feel of their presence without even seeing them. We all have the potential to generate this type of positive influence upon neighbors, friends, and associates. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Myrrh

Myrrh is a reddish-brown resinous material that is obtained from the dried sap of the Commiphora myrrha tree. Unlike most other resins, myrrh expands or “blooms” when burned instead of melting or liquefying. Myrrh is used in the manufacture of various perfumes, toothpastes, lotions, and other modern toiletries, as well as an additive to some wines.

Anciently, myrrh was used as an embalming ointment and as penitential incense in funerals and cremations. It was said that the Roman Emperor Nero burned a year’s worth of myrrh at the funeral of his wife.

The Lord also commanded Moses to use myrrh as an ingredient to be used in the tabernacle, and in other holy rituals to bless the children of Israel (Exodus 30:22-32). It is ironic that this one gift to the Christ child was also associated with His death. During His crucifixion he was offered wine mingled with myrrh (as a painkiller), but He refused it (Mark 15:22-23). As his body was being prepared for burial, it was wrapped in linen and a mixture of spices, including myrrh (John 19:39-40).

Because myrrh is often associated with funerals and burial, it should remind us again of our Savior’s ultimate sacrifice, that through his death we can all overcome sin and death, and return to be with God again. As a component of holy anointing oil, it should remind us of the blessings and ordinances associated with the gospel, and the individual blessings and talents that God has given us. Finally, because myrrh blooms when it is burned, we should remember the gift of adversity that will cause our spirits to bloom as well.

The use of myrrh as in ingredient in balms and oils may remind us of the gifts of comfort and service that we can give to our fellow beings. The Savior’s life was a life of service to others. He was never too busy to heal, to comfort, to counsel, or even to raise from the dead.

Although our gifts to others may not be as spectacular, we can be of service in ways that are just as meaningful. It does not require a lot of our time and effort to touch the lives of others in significant ways. Sometimes just a smile, a short note, or an encouraging pat on the back can work miracles.

As we look for opportunities to serve others, more opportunities will present themselves, and the love of Christ will expand to fill the Earth. Let us resolve to be more Christ-like – not only as we celebrate His birth, but throughout the coming year.