The giving of gifts is one of the most enduring traditions of Christmas. It has its origins in the story of the Wise Men who followed a star to the place where the baby Jesus lay in his manger. They presented him with gifts—gold and frankincense and myrrh—odd gifts for a baby but appropriate for the baby Jesus. Gold was a gift fit for a king, and Jesus was born king of the Jews. Frankincense was used in by the priests in worship, and Jesus would become our priest—the one who enables us to come to God. Myrrh was used for anointing bodies for burial, and would be used to anoint Jesus’ body after his death. So each of these gifts had a symbolic meaning for Jesus’ life and death!
But I am convinced that these gifts also had a very practical and urgent purpose—one that the Wise Men could not have imagined. Because Herod feared the baby born king of the Jews, he would soon send his soldiers to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem. God warned Joseph to take his little family and flee to Egypt lest Jesus be killed. Joseph got up in the middle of the night, gathered his family and a few possessions, and fled. They stayed in Egypt until the danger had passed. How could Joseph, a simple carpenter, afford to make such a trip? How could he provide for his family in a foreign land? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were expensive, and could be easily sold. They were also compact and portable, which meant that Joseph could take them along on the journey. I believe that God inspired the giving of these particular gifts as a way of providing for Joseph and his family on their journey.
The hymn specifies that there were three kings. Matthew doesn’t specify the number, but we have guessed that there were three because of the three gifts.
Speaking of gifts, Jesus was God’s Christmas gift to us— the greatest gift that God could give. The Wise Men brought the best gifts to Jesus that they could offer. The question is what we can bring to Jesus as a gift. Our time, talent, and money are three candidates, and they are all important. But the gift that Jesus really wants is the gift of our hearts. That is the best gift that we can offer Jesus at Christmas—or anytime!
— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan