Thursday, January 8, 2009

Frankincense: Gift of the Magi

When the Magi visit the Christ child, we are told in St. Matthew 2 that they found him in his house, not the cave where the shepherds worshipped him. Theirs was a long and arduous journey in order to worship a King they had never met. Holy Scripture does not say there were three, yet we assume so because of the number of gifts offered.
“And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense and myrrh.” St. Matthew 2:11
Frankincense has an ancient history, being used in ceremonial and religious rites for more than 5,000 years. It comes from the resin in the bark of the Boswellia tree in areas of the Middle East and I find it interesting to note that it’s such a scraggly yet hardy tree. It has been known to grow amongst solid rock, sinking deep roots about the crevasses in order to survive the harsh wind and sun. Frankincense is harvested by scraping the bark and allowing the resin to bleed forth and harden, forming droplets or ‘tears’. These tears are then used in a variety of ways, some of which we can glean from Holy Scripture.

The Lord gives to Moses in Exodus 30:34-36, a very specific recipe for making incense that He deems holy, which includes sweet spices, onycha, sweet galbanum and pure frankincense. There are several references to frankincense in Isaiah, such as in chapter 60 which speaks of the assembling of the Church from many corners of the earth, turning their eyes to the glory of the Lord and bringing gifts, such as gold and frankincense to “proclaim the good news of the Lord’s salvation”. In Song of Songs, we see this sweet resin used in powders to scent the body and in Revelation 8, we learn that incense is present in heaven, the smoke rising along with the prayers of the saints before God from the angel’s hand. What a magnificent image!

The healing properties of frankincense have made its use common in medicaments and have proven very valuable in the treatment of respiratory ailments; no wonder it has been used for centuries to clarify temples and aid meditation.

How fitting and symbolic that the Magi brought such a kingly gift to our Saviour. One that is created through the wounding of a tree in order to give praise and honor to the One who came to heal us by His wounds...Isaiah 53


E.B. said...

Great posting, Amy!

amy said...

Thanks for reading, E.B. !

Barbara Martin said...

I'm late in catching up my reading, but still fitting. Thank you for the information.

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