Dec 25, 2012

Frankincense and Myrrh

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, frankincense and myrrh.  Matthew 2:11

Mom and dad raised us in the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  Each year around this time, in Sunday school and sermon, we'd hear the story of the birth of Jesus.  I was always confused when we hit the verse about the frankincense and myrrh.

What in the heck were these gifts the three wise men gave?
What did they represent?
Frankincense and not a baby rattle, really?
Rather than myrrh, why not a sleeve of hazelnut Ferrero Rocher and underpants like mom shoved in my stocking?

The line from the folks was always this:  frankincense and myrrh were expensive perfumes, often given to kings.  I pictured a vile of liquid you spray on à la Calvin Klein.  It didn't make sense.

It wasn't until three decades later, after joining the Catholic Church, that it clicked.

My experience growing up Lutheran and today as a Catholic is a little like the difference between watching a historical documentary and attending it live action style:

    The former taught me stories of the ancient gifts.
    The latter continues to burn those sweet savory gifts as incense during Mass.

Frankincense....incense...get it?  Frankincense and myrrh smoke, a gold chalice, the same alms given to the Child 2,000 years ago are right there under my nose every Sunday.  That's pretty cool.

Frank' is tapped from this, the resin sap of stubby Boswellia trees

What did the three gifts mean?  We can only make an educated guess.  

Back in the day, gold was presented to kings, givers paying respect and scoring brownie points with expensive nuggets of bling.  Our Savior is King.  

Frankincense was prized and crazy expensive.  Priests lit a coal under it thousands of years ago during worship, the perfumed haze rose like prayers up to heaven.  Our Savior is holy and divine, seated above at the right of God. 

Myrrh, another type of tree sap, derives from the Aramaic word murr, or bitter.  As costly in weight as gold, it was incensed as resin pellets like frankincense or used in oil form for anointing, embalming and burial.  Maybe this gift foretold the anointing and eventual death that would save the world.  Our Savior paid the ultimate sacrifice so we sinners can live forever. 

Frankincense and myrrh, a few pellets into a censer with a hot coal and you got incense

Haven't opened gifts with mom and dad yet, but I bet there'll be a pair of tighty whities in the stocking.  That'll do.

Merry Christmas!


  1. Very interesting post - I enjoyed. One of my gifts this morn. from my teenaged sons was a small box of minature replicas of the gifts the Wise Men brought to the manger to honor the Messiah - for my Nativity. They give me new pieces for it every Christmas and I love it so much and am so grateful for what it represents that I now leave it up year round.

    1. I want an olive wood Nativity set hand carved in Bethlehem, but those puppies are pricey. Maybe they offer after Christmas sales?

    2. Just one more comment and I'll stop. But want to say that I gave my mother the olive wood Holy Family - called "On the road to Bethlehem" I think - a couple of years ago and it is beautiful. I don't remember that piece being very expensive (or I probably wouldn't have been able to afford) - and it's not small in size - meaning the total height of the piece is probably about 10 inches or more? Our church sells the olive wood pieces at our annual "church bazaar". I want the Demdaco Nativity - and that is expensive. Mine is an Italian set, and it's this hard hard plastic - but doesn't look plastic - and the most beautiful colors. And it's INDESTRUCTIBLE. Some old Italian company - and very reasonably priced. If I drop a piece - I just calmly pu and put back with no worries it will even chip. Sold in "fine gift stores" - Ha! I started collecting when sons were small and they were picking everything up and putting in mouth or dropping and after a couple of expensive items were dropped and shattered. And I also received the Little Drummer Boy this year. Which I LOVE.

    3. On another random note, I just picked up a Christmas tree at Home Depot for $50, original list is $260. Pays to go the day after and dicker on price with the staff.

  2. Was it the "new baby" smell??


Thanks for the note, check back for my response!