This is the day we celebrate and commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a unique event in that the birth also heralded the sacrifice. The story of the Savior’s birth fills the airwaves with songs and music at Christmastime.
But, why does it also herald the sacrifice?
The wise men of the east, described in the second chapter of Matthew (New King James Version), “opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” These men knew of the prophecy regarding the Messiah.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 NKJV
But why did they bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh?
Gold, of course, is a gift for royalty–especially in the time depicted in the New Testament. They gave a gift appropriate to a new king. Joseph and Mary were not rich, so the gift of gold for their child would be a very large blessing. Chances are, it made their escape from Herod and into Egypt–and their later return to Nazareth–feasible.
A resin from hardy Boswellia plants native to Yemen and Somalia, frankincense became the consecrated incense used in the Jewish temples. Described in Malachi 1:11, frankincense is a pure offering to God and a symbol of holiness and righteousness.
Like frankincense, myrrh is another resin extracted from tough thorny plants from India, Arabia, and tropical Africa, and used for perfumes, medicines, and incense. Hebrews used myrrh to consecrate temples, and as an anointing oil. In the case of Jesus, after his crucifixion, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body in “strips of linen” soaked with aloe and myrrh.
Knowing the prophecy, the wise men knew the infant Jesus would one day be that final, perfect sacrifice for all of us. These gifts reflected that knowledge.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)
Understanding God’s love–so great a love–is difficult for many of us. Where does it come from? Why? So many of us have trouble wrapping our brain cells around the concept. This is a paradox, because we have many examples of sacrificial behavior modeled for us throughout our history.
Anyone who serves in the military or as first responders (fire, police, aid) model the behavior of sacrifice all too often. Read the citations for Medal of Honor recipients or walk through Arlington National Cemetery (see image above). You’ll get an idea of the kind of love and devotion held in the hearts of people willing to serve and sacrifice for their fellows.
Now, look to God. Try to imagine the vast love it would take to sacrifice His son, a part of Himself, for us. In all this vast universe that He created, on this tiny planet circling a star in a solar system on the outer fringes of one of millions of galaxies–so totally insignificant in the scale of things–and He has this powerful love for us.
Keep the faith.