These important looking people 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. Whilst Mary knew that Jesus was the Messiah, she also knew that he was her son and he was dependent on her and that she had to feed and care for him. In every way, he seemed like just an ordinary child.
As these rich and important people entered her house that day though, 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 but is seems unlikely that Mary could have imagined that her son would have to die to save the world.
Other that 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 pondered the gift of Myrrh it is likely that she began to suspect it was announcing that Jesus would have to die. On the first Good Friday as she watched her son die on the cross, I am sure that Mary remembered the Myrrh and that 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 need.
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