by Gamaliel Ortiz
In the most recent sermon I preached (Jesus is the Light), I mentioned that Puerto Rico – along with most Hispanic cultures – celebrate el Día de los Reyes Magos or Kings’ Day on January 6 as part of the Christmas season. It commemorates the visit the wise men paid to Jesus after his birth. While in the States the 12 days of Christmas lead up to December 25, in Puerto Rico, they come after, ending on January 6 for el Día de los Reyes. As with a lot of religious holidays, celebration has taken this far from the biblical account and meaning. It’s easy to discard the wise men when they are inaccurately depicted in a manger scene or in songs such as “We Three Kings.” But there’s value in recognizing their role in the Christmas story.
The Magi would represent the first Gentiles that are drawn to Christ, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham that through him ALL nations would be blessed. The Magi follow the light of a star that leads them to the Light of the world. They also bring gifts to honor him and in so doing, paint a picture of the infant Jesus.
“And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
Gold is a precious metal, therefore a valuable commodity. Gold was often tied to royalty. We see this in the Old Testament as Solomon is described as having many articles of gold in his house (2 Chronicles 9:20). Gold was also a symbol of divinity. In the construction of the tabernacle and later, the temple, gold was used extensively – the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat, vessels, lampstands, priestly garments, and even the structures themselves had much overlaid in gold (Exodus 25-30). The tabernacle (as well as the temple) represented the presence of God amongst the Israelites. Therefore, it was made to represent His holiness, beauty, majesty, and extravagance. The Magi’s gift of gold to Jesus was fit for God and King. Though he was born in the humblest of ways, he is God incarnate, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Frankincense was one of the gifts of the Magi that symbolizes offering. It was often used as an incense (or as part of incense) to burn before God. Exodus 30:34 names frankincense as one of the ingredients in the incense the Lord instructed them to make which was to be used exclusively in worship to God. The High Priest burned it when he tended the lamps in the tabernacle/temple and once per year it was burned before the Ark of the Covenant (Leviticus 16:12-13). The gift of frankincense reminds us that Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). As the only way to the Father, he is our mediator, making intercession for us. May we always look to Jesus as our high priest, who not only offered himself as the sacrifice once for all, but continues to be with us and intercede for us in heaven.
The wise men or Magi also brought myrrh as a gift to Jesus. Myrrh is a resin, not unlike frankincense. In the same passage God instructs Moses on incense with frankincense, the Lord instructs Moses on the making of holy anointing oil. Myrrh is listed as the first ingredient (Exodus 30:22). Egyptians also used myrrh as an embalming oil for making their mummies. The Gospel of John tells us that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus used myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. The gift of myrrh reminds us that Jesus was born so that he could die for our sins.
As we give and receive gifts this Christmas season, let’s remember the greatest gift given to us. The gift was given in the form of a baby boy – our King, High Priest, and Redeemer. Emmanuel, God with us.