Epiphany is about the revelation of Jesus to the World. Yep, the three wise men trudging across the desert looking for God’s only Son finally found Him today– er, yesterday. Presumably they weren’t dealing with the thick heavy snows we had. But then, they were wandering across a great gravely and sandy desert– a blasted empty place without forgiveness. I mean, come on. The closest thing to hospitality they found was Herod.
And he killed the Holy Innocents in their wake.
These men brought with them the greatest wealth they could imagine– represented by Gold Frankincense, and Myrrh. But we aren’t just talking about two kinds of old sap and a bag of cash. You see, these treasures were bigger than they looked.
Gold only about great wealth to the materialist. Gold in it’s essence derives it’s value from it’s representation of Eternity. IT doesn’t corrode, it is easy to work, and it keeps it’s shine after 100 years. It speaks about the things that don’t fade, the treasures that don’t tarnish. In that part of the world, gold could only clothe that which was holy, even called “the flesh of the gods”. In most cultures gods were never before confused with a human. Sure, there were kings who were descended from the gods, but they were NOT human by that definition. Even Hercules was merely a demigod with a little human thrown in so he could “blend”.
Only Jesus is true God and True Man– all in the same package.
Frankincense is an incense of the first order. It is the most exclusive thing out there. You couldnt’ just perfume your house with it, if you desired. Try that, and you would get stoned to death for blasphemy. That floral, lemony fragrance was only an offering for deities. The incense itself was considered a petition for joy and forgiveness. If I remember correctly it could only be stored in a box of cedar or acacia, lined with gold. Those are the two woods that were used to construct the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem. And that’s how you present what was considered the most spiritual offering possible to a deity. In those days it was extremely expensive. If I recall, middle eastern cults called for Frankincense offerings only to Creator deities. These Wise Men were the in the ancestral line of Zoroastrianism, a sophisticated religion that collected symbolism from the entire known world. There was only one Creator deity in this flavor, and was removed entirely from the world.
Jesus changed the structure of their religion forever– and it is surmised that this entire sect became Christian at the birth of Christ. They took most of the other practitioners with them to Christ, though there are still a few left today.
And last we have the surprise. One might say a discordant note. Myrrh, to a newborn babe?
To the Greeks, Myrrh was only admissible to chthonic deities, and as prayers for the dead. It was used in funerary rites all over the Mediterranean, including Egypt. In some places it was used for cursing or ill fortune. To offer it to your average king would be asking for a swift death. It smells like someone smeared rosin all over some freshly unwrapped balloons, added some mulling spices, then set it on fire. It is not an entirely pleasant odor, but it is far preferable to what might be detected at a funeral, back when there were few preservatives used and all funerals were open casket. Indeed, one of myrrh’s primary uses was to forestall decomposition of corpses. It’s odor is penetrating, mysterious, and slightly intoxicating. It was dissolved in wine as a cheap narcotic for the condemned. I mean, if they were being put to death anyhow, what kind of ill luck could make it worse?
Back then, the Greek science had the laws of contagion, which meant that anything associated with death would “contaminate” anything that wasn’t– so there were strict limitations on what could be used for what. Giving Myrrh to kings was like wishing them a swift death. These Wise Men were different, however. They put myrrh with frankincense (a confusing proposition before the Christ child) to show that he would suffer, but ultimately conquer death. The gold, being the metal of eternity and divine right would underscore this message.
These gifts were also a prophecy. And Christians everywhere affirm the prophesy’s Truth to this day.