Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:11
We’re thinking about the three gifts the wise men brought to Jesus. Matthew calls them treasures which implies the value of the gifts. Last week we opened up the gold.
The second treasure was frankincense.
For over 6,000 years frankincense has been traded throughout the Near East. It is dried sap from one particular kind of tree, the Boswellia sacra, that grows in remote locations in places like Oman, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The best frankincense is silvery-white in color and was usually reserved for sultans. In fact, pound for pound, the frankincense was probably worth more than the gold. Ancient people valued it because it was thought to have medicinal properties and it could ward off snakes (and evil spirits). But it most noted because it smelled terrific.
The ancient world, the world even a hundred years ago could be a pretty stinky place, and not just from livestock. Trades like leatherwork and fishing were smelly. Burning trash is smelly. Disease and death also have odors. And in a time without deodorant and mouthwash, people were smelly.
Even more important, in Exodus 30:34, frankincense is listed as one of the ingredients in the holy incense to be used in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. However, the recipe came with a warning that it was for worship only. The incense was a powerful sensory reminder of prayer, constant prayer, that was lifted to God and received as a wonderful aroma.
Last week, we mentioned that if we wanted to be wise, we would follow the wise men’s example. First, we should do everything we can to get ourselves into the presence of Jesus. The next step is to recognize that He is king. The third step is to fall down and worship Him. Last, open our treasures.
What if we haven’t been to Oman lately for a fresh supply of frankincense?
Make this season one of prayer. Prayers of thanksgiving. Prayers of praise and adoration. Prayers of intercession. Paul encouraged the believers in Thessalonica to pray without ceasing. Jesus also encouraged His followers to be faithful in prayer. In fact, Luke 18 begins, “Now he told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not give up.”
God is honored by our prayers because each one acknowledges Him as the One able to meet our needs and intervene in the situations we lay before Him. Seeking Him in prayer identifies Him as we praise and worship. It attests that we recognize our limits and His complete sufficiency. Prayers are a treasure fit for our Savior and king.
But here’s another treasure. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 that God spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Christ everywhere through us. We are the fragrance of Christ.
So this week as you celebrate Christmas, what sweet fragrance of prayer can you offer? Where can you bring the aroma of the knowledge of Christ? Don’t keep the treasures to yourself.