We've all heard the story many times before. The magi came to pay homage to the little Jesus and to offer Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But what does that really mean? What is the true significance of the magi's gifts?
First of all, we need to be aware that Matthew presents the magi's offering as worship, emphasizing Jesus' divinity through his choice of words. The Greek word for “gifts” is dōra, which is nearly always used in the New Testament for gifts and sacrifices offered to God. The Greek verb for “offered,” prosēnegkan, can suggest a formal presentation or even a sacrifice. Further, the magi presented their gifts after prostrating themselves before the Child and doing Him homage. This gesture indicated, at the very least, extreme reverence, and in the New Testament, the word for “did him homage,” proskuneō, usually indicates the adoration owed and/or given to God.
Now let's take a closer look at the gifts themselves. Gold, the most precious of metals, is a gift for a king. Frankincense is a fragrant resin that was often burned as an aromatic sacrificial offering to God. Myrrh is also a resin, but it was used to to prepare a dead person for burial. Three gifts...three symbols...kingship, divinity, and death.
Did the magi understand the true significance of their gifts? Did they know that they were worshiping the infant God-Man, the divine King? Did they realize that this King would die to reconcile the whole world to Himself and to His Father?
We can't say for sure. Maybe they did; maybe they didn't. But we know the truth about Jesus, and we have the obligation and the pleasure of presenting our own gifts to Him.
We must bring Him our gold, all our valuables, material and beyond material, all that we hold dear, our time, our talents, our money, our possessions, our loved ones, our dreams, our goals, our pleasures, everything we have.
We must bring Him our frankincense, our praise and worship, our prayers, our time spent alone with Him, basking in His presence.
We must bring to Him our myrrh, our sufferings, our fear and pain, our heartache when we lose a loved one, and eventually our own death.
Today, then, let us join the magi in falling down in worship before Jesus and laying all our gifts...and our very selves...at the feet of our divine King and Savior.