“Then Herod secretly called the wise men, and learned from them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child, and when you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.”
And they, having heard the king, went their way; and look, the star which they saw in the east went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered gifts to him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Being warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they went back to their own country another way.“
Matthew 2, 1-12
Hot on the heels of the news (well, news to me, anyway) that the Three Wise Men might have been Ethiopian and drunk coffee to keep themselves awake on their journey
I thought it might be appropriate to have a look at the gifts they brought with them at this time of year.
Gold needs very little explanation. It has always been highly prized; being portable it is easy to sell or exchange, and it tends to keep or increase its value over time. It can also be transformed into beautiful jewellery or other keepsakes. It is still traditional today to give a baby a gold or silver christening bracelet, cross or spoon.
Frankincense is made from the resin of the Boswellia tree. The trees start producing resin, which is tapped by hand, after about eight or ten years. Also known as olibanum, frankincense is typically found in the dry and mountainous regions of India, Africa and the Middle East (Yemen, for example). It gets its name from the French ‘franc encens’ (noble incense). In its crystalline form, the resin looks a bit like lumpy brown sugar. With a woody, earthy aroma, it is usually made into an essential oil used for skincare, anxiety,
colds, coughs, indigestion and ulcers.
Myrrh is an interesting one. Also a sappy gum or resin extracted from tree bark, it comes from Arabia, Abyssinia, and India. Myrrh has traditionally been used as an astringent, antiseptic, antiparasitic, and antispasmodic agent, commonly included in mixtures used to treat worms, wounds, and sepsis. Used for incense mixtures or perfumes, it was sometimes employed to bring on menstruation and in the embalming process. It also was at one time reputed to be good for irritated gums – something every new baby, or its mum, could make use of! (Not recommended to be taken internally today, however).
So there we are. The Three Wise Men could have been bringing the baby Jesus not only a bit of ready cash, but also a basic medicine cabinet!
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