January 6, 2014

Frankincense and Myrrh


In the gospel of Matthew we read of the wise men who came bearing gifts for the young Jesus (see Matthew 2:11).  This most likely occurred shortly before Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape from Herod's murderous plot to kill the children of Bethlehem, thus these great gifts may have helped to finance their trip through the wilderness to safety.  Traditionally there were three wise men because there were three gifts, gold frankincense and myrrh.  All three of these items were very highly valued in ancient culture.  Only the wealthiest could afford them, yet they are also very symbolic gifts given to the Savior at His birth.

Though gold was significant in many ways, I only wish to discuss the two gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh are both made from tree sap and are used for various types of incenses and ointments.  The sap is collected by cutting or whipping the tree to cause it to "bleed."  The sap is then allowed to dry and then pulled off the tree.  The above picture shows the dried sap after being harvested.

Both frankincense and myrrh were known for their healing powers and were combined with oil and other spices to create healing balms.

The gift of myrrh
Myrrh was used to mask the smell during the embalming process of the dead, by wrapping this and other spices within the folds of the cloth that wrapped the dead.  Myrrh was used in the burial process for the Savior (see John 19:39).

The gift of frankincense
Frankincense was used in the tabernacle of Moses and the later temples in Jerusalem, as one of the of the spice that was burned at the altar of incense (see Exodus 30:34-36).  This incense that was burned in front of the veil that separated the priest from the Holy of Hollies (or the presence of God) symbolized the prayer of the righteous (see Psalms 141:2).  This incense was a to be a sweet savor to the Lord, just as our prayers.

How fitting that the gifts given by the wise men were in similitude to the gift the Savior gave in Gethsemane and on the cross.  It is through the purchase of His sacrifice that we are enabled to flee from Satan to the safety of His atonement.  It is through His stripes that we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).  It is through His blood that brings a sweet savor to life and death.  It is because of his blood, shed in Gethsemane and from the blows from the whip, that allows us to mask the sting of death through His triumphal resurrection.  Just as these spices were used to heal the physical wounds of mortal life, so the atonement of Christ heals our spiritual wounds.  The atonement helps bring relief to our pain, and helps bring a sweetness to life's difficulties.  Because of His prayer in Gethsemane and on the cross, our prayers can and will be heard by the Father; our prayers become like a sweet savor to the Father because of the sacrifice of the Son.

Let us this Christmas season give a gift like the wise men.  A gift that is in similitude of His sacrifice.  A gift of our heart to the Lord and a gift of our service and love towards mankind.  A gift, though meager in comparison to His gift, that will likewise change the hearts and souls of those around us.

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