Once at Christmas time, I bought this little box at the Community Aid Abroad shop down in my city. On the box is a picture of the three kings, and inside is a gold candle and two little bags, full of chunks of frankincense and myrrh. You're meant to place the little rocks in the candle flame to fill your room with fragrance. So far, I've preferred to leave them intact, for a sniff every so often around this season. They are a beautiful, sensual Christmas keepsake.
A small roll of parchment tells how these three items were presented to the Baby Jesus by the Magi, after their long trek from the east to follow his star and find him. Once, one of my sons said, "They weren't very thoughtful presents, were they? Why would a baby or toddler want those last two things? It sounds like they were giving him what they would have wanted to receive rather than what he would have wanted."
I was glad he was thinking about the principles of gift giving, but had to laugh to think of the Wise Men toting rattles and building blocks across miles of desert on their camels. I've even heard theories that Mary and Joseph themselves might have been bemused by the last two items, after saying, 'Thanks very much for the gold.'
But objects in the Bible always carry great significance. A lot of thought did go into those gifts, and in retrospect, they were proven to be perfect for the recipient.
Gold represents kingship. It has always been an extremely precious metal valued by royalty, and symbolises Jesus' kingship over us, and all his creation. He is Sovereign over things on earth and in heaven.
Frankincense is a luxurious perfume or incense made from the resin, or gum, of a particular tree. It's highly fragrant when burned. This may symbolise Jesus' priestly role in our lives. He was the ultimate High Priest, willingly born to be a bridge between God and mankind, identifying perfectly with both. Nobody else could intercede so perfectly. What he achieved by his life and death allows us directly into God's presence. The frankincense in my little kit smells wonderful.
Myrrh is an anointing oil obtained by making incisions into the bark of another specific tree, and allowing the gum to flow out. This gift looked ahead to that baby's sacrificial death on our behalf, enabling us to stand clean and right with God. The baby grew up to be somebody who would take the punishment all men and women deserve on his own shoulders. Now, as well as being assured of a heavenly afterlife, we know we can shake off all guilt, feelings of unworthiness and being unable to measure up in this life too. The myrrh also smells really lovely.
I like to ponder the men who brought these gifts to Jesus. They had the best ever reason to embark on a long, gruelling trek through scorching sun and driving wind. Their route no doubt varied from appearing totally God-forsaken to containing dangerous brigands and crooks, anxious to prey on passers-by. I can imagine their satisfaction when they finally made it to the modest abode of the infant boy, and were able to say, "Here he is. Not many know his significance, but we do."
These men are the perfect examples of the benefits a well-read life may produce. Their vigilant reading and studies enabled them to grasp what was taking place in history. If they hadn't been so vigilant, they would have missed it and been none the wiser. It reminds me of the great things that can happen, and the insights we can receive, when we delve into books. Fiction and non-fiction alike can contain lots of treasure we may miss. Here's to a good year of reading and writing for us all in 2017.
I wish you all a wonderful and blessed Christmas.
Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The