Myrrh

Matthew 2

 

Not the average Christmas gifts, I’m not alone in thinking that the presents that the Wise Men bring Jesus are a bit awkward. Perhaps some nappies might have been a better present, or at least some clementines, or a cute Christmas baby grow! I remember, for more years than I care to remember, asking for ‘An electric train set’ on my wish list from Father Christmas. The nearest awkward present I could come up with was a time when a previous vicar used to ask children on Christmas Day to come up onto the stage at church with their favourite present that they had received from Santa. On this particular year, there stood two young children, aged 6 and 9, with toy car and Action Man, and then me, 18, proudly baring a rubber chicken. Needless to say my church family remembered me well, awkward presents aside.

The three gifts offered to Jesus are significant signposts to the birth of the promised King of Judah:

·         Gold for a king

·         Frankincense for God

·         Myrrh for a mortal man

If we were to arrive at the birth of a great person, we would be unlikely to turn up with presents symbolising their occupation, their status, and their future death, and yet that is what these Wise Men do.

The Myrrh, particularly, is an aromatic gummy resin used, like frankincense, to make anointing oil, and was most commonly used as part of the burial service. This same jar of myrrh will travel in Mary’s hands over three decades later to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.

The involvement of the Magi or Wise Men at this early stage in Jesus’ story completes some of many of the predictions / that the Messiah’s rule would bring God’s justice and peace, such as those found in Psalm 72 especially verse 11, and in the book of Isaiah such as 11:1-10 and 60:3.

Jesus has become the Gentile’s Son of Abraham, worshiped by outsider foreign Magi. It is clear from the beginning of this unconventional story, from the presence of the four women in Jesus’ genealogy, from the use of a dirty stable, from the invitation to the lowly Shepherds, from the visit of the Magi, that “God so loved the world, that He sent His Son”. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Our saviour was born in no idyllic time of health services and disinfectant, but in hay and animal droppings, into a broken world of loss and pain, and understood the gravity of the darkness into which He came.

Here we note that the darkness was rubbish. It was “not good”. It was not to be belittled away, that life is “ok”, that there’s plenty more fish in the sea, that they’re only in the next room, that one just has to try hard for an easy life of fame, fortune and blessing.

Here we note that into this darkness, light has come – as dawn breaks over the deepest dark of the night just before the sunrise, as the full-beam headlights of the oncoming car that comes over the hill during night-time driving, as the red flame of the emergency flare as the rip cord is wrenched in the state of panic.

Here we note that the light shines, and the darkness has not overcome it. It cannot be quenched. It cannot be covered. It cannot be moved to a more convenient place. It cannot by extinguished by words, feelings, pain, exhaustion, grief, addiction, poor choices nor bad circumstances. It overcomes.

The first gift giver was, is, and remains, God. We exist because God wanted us. We breathe on earth because God wills it. We endure because God wipes the slate clean, again, and again, and again. The creator God, who made snowdrop flowers and planned waterfalls, who came up with tectonic plates and flung stars into space like bowling balls, deemed you worthy of love, deemed you a joy to construct and knit together in your mother’s womb, deemed a relationship with you so important that He opened His arms for us on the cross, and took upon Himself all that might hinder us from a relationship with Him.

I think it is important to remember here, when considering the lives we imagine for ourselves, that this doesn’t always live up to our expectations, and we can feel disappointed, and that’s ok. Joyce Meyer says, “When things don’t prosper or succeed according to our plan, the first emotion we feel is disappointment. This is normal. There is nothing wrong with feeling disappointed. But we must know what to do with that feeling, or it will move onto something more serious.”

John 16:33 reports that Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” We can look good for a season, but if there’s something diseased in us, like guilt or disappointment that has grown into something more rooted and serious, it will start to show and we won’t flourish as God intends us to. But friends I understand the problem that this can present; if God is in control, then when something goes wrong in our lives then He must be to blame! He willed it! He is surely then mean and uncaring! He’s lost control of the world He created.

But as we considered before, the good news is that Jesus didn’t stop at promising us we’d have trouble – He carried on to instruct us “take heart”, for He has overcome the world. If tonight you are feeling disappointed with God, go to Him with it, and keep on going to Him with it, and ask Him to help you keep going to Him with it. He wants nothing more than to remove that blockage between the two of you piece by piece, wholly and systematically. Put aside any feelings that He is too great or that you are unworthy, for they are not feelings from Him. Take your disappointments to God – He can take it, and He wants to work that through with you.

Brunner says, ‘When people are drawn to, find, and worship God’s Christ, they also find themselves wanting to bring Him their finest resources…Now the first human gift-givers are Magi.’ These characters, in their wisdom, have set us an example for how to respond to God as the first gift-giver.

What really struck me about this story as I re-read it, was the simplicity of the account of the Wise Men finding Jesus. They come into the house. Then fall down, prostrating themselves on the floor, and worship Him in a way only appropriate for God. They present their gifts. And then they go home another way. Their worship of Jesus is the first of ten times that Jesus is worshipped in the book of Matthew, and whether we believe that they worshiped Jesus in a human way as royalty or whether they worshipped him as divine, the undertones from Matthew are clear – this baby is worthy of worship, worship that Jesus Himself says in chapter 4 verse 10 is for God and God alone.[1] And then the Magi go home a different way. ‘Encounter with Christ means not only new spiritual reality vertically…but it also means new social life horizontally’.[2]

Tonight, I want to ask you two things:

Firstly, to put aside the pressure to give or serve or be in awe, and reflect for a moment what ‘awkward’ present you would like to offer God in this place, right now.

Take a moment to offer those things to God, to lay them at the foot of the crib, to sling them in a black plastic bag into the corner of the stable. God invites you to hand over the unwanted things in your lives that you wish you could take back to the shops. Take a moment to do that now, to picture that in your mind.

Secondly, I invite you to think about how you might go home tonight a different way. Not changing your entire life and fixing all your problems immediately, but just tonight – how will you go home a different way; in your thoughts, in your attitudes, in your heart. Just tonight. Take one small step.

[1] See also Esther 3:2, Acts 10:25-26 and Rev 19:10; 22:9.

[2] See Brunner, 64, also Gundry and Hill.