They were the strangest set of gifts that Mary had ever seen!
Some important looking people had turned up at her house and they were really offering her son gold, some incense (she had only ever seen it used in the temple to worship God) and perfume.
It had been nearly two years¹ since Jesus had been born and Mary and Joseph were still living in Bethlehem and life almost felt normal. Mary knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but she also knew that he was dependent on her and as she fed and cared for him, he just seemed like just an ordinary child.
As these rich and important people entered her house that day, Mary was reminded of exactly who Jesus was in a very, very dramatic way.
First they had given gold, fit for a king.
Second they had given frankincense that was used to worship God.
How could they know thought Mary? How could they know that my son is both God and the King of Kings?
The third gift of was the strangest. They gave Myrrh which was an expensive perfume which was also used to embalm dead bodies.
When Mary had met Simeon in the temple, he had prophesied that she would feel like her soul had been pierced by a sword (Luke 2.35). As we read this today, we can see that Simeon was referring to Jesus’ death on the cross and it is amazing the way that Myrrh points towards Jesus’ death as well.
Other than during the visit of the Magi in Matthew 2, Myrrh is mentioned twice more by the gospel writers
As Jesus was about to be crucified ‘They offered him wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused it’ (Mark 15.23).
Myrrh was one of the spices used to embalm Jesus’ body (John 19.39).
As Mary watched her son die on the cross, she would have remembered the Myrrh and perhaps she received some comfort from the memory? Her beloved boy wasn’t dying painfully in some random execution, somehow this was all a part of God’s plan.
The gifts from the Magi link some key things that we need to understand about Jesus. God really did become a human and he came into the world to show us what God was like and ultimately he would give his life as a sacrifice to open up the way for us to know God. (You can find out more about why Jesus had to die to save us in Jesus died on the cross, so why do we call it Good Friday?).
At Christmas time we don’t celebrate a nice story about a Baby in the manger. We celebrate the coming of God into this world as a human to become the saviour that we so desperately needed.
This is a part of a series of short thoughts for advent to help us to consider the events surrounding the birth of Jesus as we prepare ourselves for Christmas. You can look at the other advent reflections by clicking here.
¹It is commonly accepted that the Magi arrived much later after the birth of Jesus and there are a number of reasons for this:
- Matthew refers to Mary and Joseph in a house (they were no longer sleeping in the place that the animals were kept).
- When Luke gathered the stories about the few days surrounding Jesus’ birth, it is unlikely that people would have missed out the bit about the Magi.
- When Herod tried to get rid of Jesus by commanding that children are killed, he sent soldiers to kill every boy under the age of 2. This was based on the Magi’s report of when the star first appeared and it is logical to assume that this had been just under 2 years previously when Jesus had been born (Matthew 2.16)
- The star appeared when Jesus was born and it would have taken some time for the Magi to follow it
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