, Muskogee, OK

December 16, 2013

Mystery behind gifts may not be so mysterious

By Barrett Vanlandingham
Fort Faith

— Unless we fall victim to a cleverly-timed, random, holiday infomercial, most of us try to buy or make Christmas gifts that either fit the personality of the one to whom we’re presenting the gift, or the gift is something the person needs.

So, did you ever wonder about the choice of gifts brought by Wise Men in the Bible, also known as Magi or astrologers, to give to the probable toddler?  

“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 (Matthew 2:11, ESV).”

Did they just have a weak moment and randomly purchase these items from a traveling salesman or maybe a bi-vocational sheep herder? Not likely. After all, these visitors “from the east” had plenty of time to think about what kind of gifts they would bring, since it would have taken several months to get to Jerusalem from any number of places east of the Euphrates River, after having seen Christ’s star. In fact, since the paranoid King Herod ordered the slaughter of all males in the area who were 2 years old and under “in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi (Matt. 2:16),” we can be reasonably certain that Jesus was not still a newborn in a “manger.” As verse 11 points out, the Wise Men actually went “into the house.” It was earlier that the “shepherds” visited the “baby” in a manger (no room in the inn).

There are more than a few explanations for the choice of gifts. One is that they were expensive, and Joseph could have easily carried these items to be used as barter during their trip to Egypt where they stayed until Herod’s death.  

Another explanation is that the Wise Men, however many there were (the Bible doesn't say), brought three gifts fit for a king! In the Old Testament, the Queen of Sheba and many others brought gifts to King Solomon including gold, spices, and jewels (1 Kings 10).

A third possible explanation has more to do with symbolism. In Exodus 30:22-38, a recipe is given for anointing oil that included myrrh, and another recipe for incense that included frankincense. Both recipes were considered holy, and to be used only on burnt offerings by priests, or on other holy items used in some way to honor God, but not to be used simply for anyone’s enjoyment, under the penalty of being cut-off from God’s people.

For those reasons, one tradition says the gold was given in recognition of Christ as King, the frankincense in recognition of Jesus as High Priest, and myrrh to symbolize the anointing oil that would be needed after his sacrificial death.

The most important gift we can give to Christ today is that of our love and obedience. God bless you, and have a great week!

Reach Barrett vanlandingham at the Fort Gibson Church of Christ at (918) 478-2222 or barrett@