And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 ESV)
'Tis the time of year when thoughts turn to all things Christmas. Family, turkey dinners, shopping, carols, fir trees, tinsel and of course the tableau of the baby in the manger - the greatest gift ever given - that of God himself who so loved the world that he gave his only son.
We all know the story of the wise men / kings / magi who came from the east to worship the baby king, and of the three gifts they gave. The way the bible records these gifts shows that they were clearly significant.
Conventional wisdom states that the gold was a gift for a king, and the other two fragrant gifts were to prepare him for burial. Perhaps so. He certainly was the king who was born with a mission to die. He came to take upon himself the punishment that we deserved so that all might be forgiven freely by his grace if they accept him as Lord.
But perhaps there is more here to dig out. Even if the death symbolism is correct, I certainly doubt it was what the Magi had in mind. They went to lengths to save him from Herod's machinations. Even his own disciples who had been with him three years struggled to grasp the significance of his death until after the resurrection. As always the best reference to biblical imagery and symbolism is the bible itself. So what does the bible say about gold, frankincense and myrrh? Where else do we find these three together in the scriptures?
One description I believe is highly significant is that of Solomon, the Son of David, riding out of the wilderness in his kingly glory:
What is that coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of a merchant? Behold, it is the litter of Solomon! King Solomon made himself a carriage from the wood of Lebanon. He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem. (Song of Songs 3:6-7a,9-10 ESV)
This would certainly fit with the messianic expectation surrounding God's promised king. He would be the son of David, like Solomon, smelling of myrrh and frankincense and seated on gold. This was how many people received Jesus, especially those who were looking for deliverance: "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!" or those who were looking for a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, "Hosanna to the son of David!"
Jesus may have been born in a manger, but the Magi recognised that this was God's chosen king. The promised son of David come to bring deliverance and restoration whose kingdom rule would never end.
But this is not the only place these three are found together. There is I believe an even more significant occurrence in the temple of God itself...