Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Got gold, frankincense and myrrh?

"The Magi brought with them gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold is a appropriate gift for a king, we offer frankincense in sacrifice to God, and we embalm the bodies of our dead with myrrh. With their mystical gifts the Magi are making known the one they worship: by the gold that his is a king, by the frankincense that he is God, and by the myrrh that is a human being.

There are some people who believe that Jesus is God, but do not believe that he is sovereign everywhere. These people offer him frankincense, but they are unwilling to offer him gold as well. There are some who esteem him as a king but deny that he is God. They offer him gold, but are unwilling to offer him frankincense. And there are some who affirm that he is both God and king, but deny that he took mortal flesh to himself. These people are certainly offering him gold and frankincense, but they are unwilling to offer him the myrrh which represents the mortal nature he assumed.

We too, like the Magi, must offer gold to our new-born Lord to affirm that he is sovereign everywhere; we must offer frankincense, that we may believe that the one who appeared in time existed as God before time; we must offer myrrh, that we may believe that the one we admit was unable to suffer in his divinity was also subject to death in our flesh.

But we are able to interpret the gold, frankincense and myrrh in another way. Solomon testifies that gold symbolizes wisdom when he says that a pleasing treasure lies in the mouth of the wise. The psalmist bears witness that frankincense offered to God represents the power of prayer when he says: Let my prayer ascend as incense in your sight. Myrrh indicates the death of our flesh, and so the church says of its members who are striving even to death on behalf of God: My hands dripped with myrrh. We too offer gold to the new-born king if we are resplendent with the brightness of heavenly wisdom. We offer him frankincense if in our zeal for prayer we enkindle our human thoughts on the altar of our hearts so that we are able to give forth a sweet fragrance to God. We offer him myrrh when we use the spices of self-restraint to keep our mortal bodies from decomposing from our dissipated lives."

St. Gregory the Great
Leinenweber translation

3 comments:

Former Atheist said...

What an interesting observation! Thank you for posting this. I often find myself bouncing between seeing Jesus as king, God and man and struggling to hold those views simultaneously.

TLF+ said...

Hi, Former Atheist, and bless you for having a look and sharing your insight!

The church uses the word "mystery" when speaking of Christ - the mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the mystery of Christ at once human and divine.

All of us will favor some aspect of Christ over others. In this life, his fullness eludes us.

What Gregory warns against is hardening into a limited position: "God is just a mystery, beyond human experience" or "Jesus is a great moral example, but not some unique Son of God."

And the fact that you "bounce between" real aspects of who Christ is shows that the Holy Spirit is active in you. You are not stuck in one point of view to the exclusion of others. You are being guided by the cardinal virtues: Faith, because you seek your life in Jesus; Hope, because you keep open the possibility of seeing him face to face, in his fullness; and Love, because you obviously care about nurturing a true relationship with him.

Thanks be to God and may he bring forth many more like you.

The Underground Pewster said...

I was struck by the parallels in our traditional image of the Maji on camels bearing gifts with this O.T. verse that was in my recent readings:

"A multitude of camels will cover you, The young camels of Midian and Ephah; All those from Sheba will come; They will bring gold and frankincense, And will bear good news of the praises of the LORD."
Isaiah 60:6 NASB

When we believe Jesus to be God, we find that there is no physical gift of any real value to bring to Him. We must give Him our hearts, our minds, and souls to truly honor Him.