THE WISE MEN

We know very little about who the ‘Wise men’ were: but we do know a good deal about the meaning of their gifts, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; to the infant Christ. The Bible itself; is the best place to look for such meaning.
 
Firstly: GOLD. Throughout recorded history, it has represented wealth and power: particularly that of kingship, and rule.
 
The 'Wise Men' asked: ‘Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?’ and 'KING' is one of the 134 biblical names and titles of Jesus Christ.
 
Near the beginning of the Bible - at Exodus 25 - and almost at the end of it - at Revelation 21 - we find pure gold being used as an image of God's perfect reign over his Kingdom.
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Next: FRANKINCENSE. This was a very expensive perfume, made from the resins of various trees and bushes, which grew in Southern Arabia and India. It comprised one of the ingredients of the holy oil; with which kings and priests were anointed.
 
More commonly; these highly perfumed, and pleasing resins; were burned at the altar, by the priests of Israel, when offering sacrifices to God. The gift of frankincense to the infant Christ; is taken to symbolize his one-day priestly office; and PRIEST and HIGH PRIEST are also part of his biblical names and titles.
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Lastly, MYRRH. Along with many other spices, it was commonly used to give fragrance to oils that were used in anointing; particularly where such an anointing related, one way or another, to human frailty and death.
 
In such ‘human frailty and death’ uses: the anointing oils symbolized the purification of things that were, otherwise, unclean: to make them acceptable; and, eventually, place them in God’s keeping.
 
Part of myrrh’s ritual use, was in the anointing of dead bodies. At John 19, we read that a huge quantity of myrrh was used in the preparation of Christ's body for burial.
 
The ‘Wise Men’s’ gift of myrrh: is seen as representing the finite nature of human life: and pointing to physical death. Through Christ: God associated himself with frail mankind, and physical death.
 
In looking a bit more closely at the religious and spiritual meaning of gold: we go back to the Old Testament: and Exodus 25.
A great tent served as a centre of Jewish religion, and worship: until the wandering people came to their ‘Promised Land’: settled down, and, eventually, built a temple.
 
Within that tent, was a very special wooden chest; covered with pure gold: which contained the stone tablets; with the commandments written on them: that were given to Moses. The chest; with the commandments inside: represented both the sovereign rule of God; and his authority.
 
The chest not only looked splendid: but also had a very practical purpose; in relation to sinful people, and their need of forgiveness. God commanded that it should have an extra lid; also made of pure gold: and shaped in such a way, that it could be sat upon. Known as ‘The Mercy Seat’: it enabled people in great need of forgiveness; to sit; and pray; and claim God’s promise that they would not call upon his mercy in vain.
 
In religious terms; gold came to represent, not only the splendours of God’s Righteousness; Kingship; and Authority: but also the Mercy and Forgiveness that he was prepared to extend, to those coming under his rule.
 
Because the ‘Mercy Seat’ was limited in time and place; few people in Israel itself, let alone in the big, wide world, could have access to it; and there claim, and receive, divine forgiveness.
 
Old Testament texts show, that; increasingly, God’s laws gave way to his mercy: and that he had a plan in mind; to give his love far wider expression, than the physical limitations of the ‘Mercy Seat’, could ever offer.
 
Those texts began to prophecy that, one day; God would do something great; and spiritual; on the worldwide scale: so that, through prayer and petition; all might have direct access to his mercy, love and grace.
 
The religious and spiritual meaning of frankincense: a symbol of priesthood: can touch our lives, today.
 
The Jewish Temple, at Jerusalem; was destroyed by the Romans; in A.D.70, and the priesthood ceased to exist: because it could no longer function without sacrifices, and an altar upon which to offer them.
 
But, there is that other, and greater, type of priesthood: in which we are called to share: what has come to be known as: 'The Priesthood of all Believers’.  Closely related to it: is that other, and greater, sacrifice, that we are called to offer; which is the giving of self, in the service of the Lord, through serving others.
 
A definition of the priestly function is that: 'The priest offers God to man, and man to God’ ... and so it is with the 'Priesthood of all Believers'.
 
It is far more than a doctrine of the Church: for it is an essential part of the Christian life. Each member has a part to play in offering God to the world: and in offering the people around them, to the Lord, in prayer.
 
Today’s Church, has a powerful association, with the spiritual significance of the gift of myrrh: because, through Christ, God very closely associated himself with frail mankind; and physical death.
 
He did this, not only as MAN, which is another of Christ’s many names and titles: but also as SON OF MAN, the title which Jesus used most often, when closely identifying himself with needy humanity.
 
At Mark 15:23, we read that myrrh was mixed with wine, and then offered to Christ on the cross, as an anodyne, as a pain-soothing drink.
 
Christ refused the spiced drink: almost certainly because of myrrh's strong association with human frailty, finiteness and death.
 
If so: then he probably refused the drink; because he was just about to overcome the frailty; and finiteness of human nature: and physical death…
 
 and obtain forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life, for needy mankind - not with the aid of a drug, but in the power of divine mercy, love and grace.
 
The gift of GOLD represents heavenly Kingship and Kingdom, in which, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are given place and purpose.
 
FRANKINSENSE represents priesthood; and the call of God to serve him, through serving others; in which, by that same grace, we are given a share.
 
But MYRRH is, perhaps, the most important of the gifts, in relation to us: because, in Christ, it points beyond physical death.
 
It symbolizes that other form of dying; of dying to self, in the service of God; and of rising to new, spiritual life, through Christ: and him alone.
 
GOLD and FRANKINCENSE are images of meaningful service in the here-and-now of the present…
 
…but MYRRH points to the yet-to-be of the future: when God, in the love of Christ: brings all good things to fulfilment.
 
Meanwhile, as the old hymn says; let us: ‘with gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness, kneel and adore him, the Lord is his name’.    Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Wise Men – St. Mary’s – 28/12/03.
 
1)-  Welcome + opening prayer.
 
2)-  Extra notices (if any)  Offering later.
 
3)-  Theme: ‘The Wise Men’ or, rather, the gifts they brought.
 
4)-  M.P.  48:  ‘Be still; and know that I am God’.
 
5)-  Page 15 + 16.  The Preparation and Confession.
 
6)-  Page 16:  The Gloria and the Prayer of the Day (on sheet).
 
7)-  Children present, for lessons?
 
8)-  Readings:    Hebrews 1: 1-4.    Matthew 2: 1–12. 
 
9)-  M.P. 39  ‘As with gladness, men of old, did the guiding star behold.
 
10)-  Sermon.
 
11)-  M.P.  529  ‘O worship the Lord, in the beauty of holiness’.
 
12)-  Pages 17-18:  The Creed.
 
13)-  Page 18:  Prayers of Intercession and The Lord’s Prayer.
 
14)-  Page 19: The Offering and the Offering Prayer.
 
15)-  Pages 20-21: The Thanksgiving and Communion.
 
16)-  Page 22: The closing prayer.
 
17)-  M.P. 463: ‘May the mind of Christ my Saviour,
                                            live in me from day to day’.
 
18)-  Page 22: The Benediction.