Monday, 7 January 2019

Blogtext: The "Baby Shower" in Bethlehem

Large parts of the traditional churches celebrate "Epiphany" this day. The manifestation of the new born Christ child has been ongoing for an unspecified length of time. Recognized by Earth, in the guise of Shepherds and by heaven, in the guise of "a multitude of the heavenly host". This day marks the celebration of the arrival of the sages, the astronomers and astrologers of the times. They had worked out the enormity of the event by their craft far away in the east and had followed a star, a guiding light to come and pay homage to the King of Israel.

They might well have been the representatives of the very groups of wise men and sages, called "Magi" that Daniel had encountered in his babylonian exile. In Dan ch 2 we find some of them at a loss as to how to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and their lives were at stake. Daniel saved them by the superior revelation, or "epiphany" of Yahweh.  We might well assume that the college of the Magi persisted in existence long after Daniel who among other things would have left a certain legacy: "Then Daniel answered  the King:"No wise men, enchanters, magicians or astrologers can show the king the mystery which the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in latter days." (Dan 2:27-28) Whatever the Magi would have been, this much we know: they were appraised by God of the birth of Christ and they knew God well enough to obey the prompting to go and seek out the gift of God to mankind. However far the road took them, they took that road.

And not empty-handed as we are told in the narrative. "On coming to the house, (no longer in the stable) they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh." Admittedly this was one of the most remarkable "baby showers" of history. Should we conclude that they would have been men in order to have such a strange selection? Or is it because they did not worship the child, but the King that the child would become? It may be true in part that every mother looks on her child with adoring, if sometimes misguided, eyes and hopes the greatest for her child. Mary however had primary knowledge that would have supported her dreams beyond the dimension of mere ordinary motherly pride. "You are to call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him 'Immanuel' (which means God with us.) Matt 1: 21, 25

To the parents the visit of the Magi would then not have been expected but certainly reassuring and confirming to them what they already knew. But no doubt they would have been eager to see what gifts had been brought and possibly been pleasantly surprised by their message. They may have had an initial reaction of 'Oooh', er.. 'very nice but...a tad impractical at this moment..' But even if it was so they would have known to keep the gifts. And they certainly came to know the total reasonableness as the life of the Child Christ developed. Joseph had to see the events from the other side of his own passing over to the far side of life in the world. As early as the Baptism of Jesus he seems to have been no longer in existence. Every mention of the family of Jesus in the gospels refers to sisters, brothers and mother. Never  once of Joseph the virtual father.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh are in deed odd gifts to a newborn child. True the gold would maybe have paid for a few sets of diapers and meals or been kept for his "Bar Mitzvah" when he came of age, and a 'son of the covenant', to join the world of men who could form the minimum number of participants for a prayer circle in the synagogue. But neither frankincense nor myrrh seem to be very useful for the child just born. Or maybe we need to  take a step back and check.

GOLD  The (AU) aurum of the ancients has the number 1 B in the "periodic table" and is a most precious commodity. It has characteristics and properties that single it out from all the rest. This is the material for everything from Golden calves to fine connectors in electronic industry. From teeth to earlobe gold is useful. It cannot be eaten but can feed many, it cannot itself lust but instantly turn the heads of thousands of men into a mad gold rush. It causes decent men to revert to the lowest animal state. It feeds avarice, greed and murder to get as much of it as possible. It is obviously worth risking one's life over.

It hardly ever exists in but minute flecks and specks. The extraction of it uses one of the planets most toxic substances; cyanide. Millions of tons of rocks are crushed and milled and submitted to the effects of acid in order to free the gold from the rock. If found in streams and riverbeds it has to be washed out from tonnes of debris. Hard to come by and therefore made valuable by the sheer cost of getting a hold of it. 

We esteem it for it's beauty as an ornamental object in jewelry and as decoration. We clothe book covers, furniture and picture frames with it, we carry it and treasure it as rings and charms. It has a value that used to be the basis of every currency in the world. It is stable and does not oxidise, it does not join with other metals easily and only 'the kings water' (aka Aqua Regia) can solve it. (Yes, even refined gold perishes, or dissolves, when exposed to aqua regia (royal water), a mixture of three parts hydrochloric acid and one part nitric acid.)

And it has one defining relationship for anybody who is a christian believer. It belongs to God. See Hezekiel 16:17 and Haggai 2:8 Without further ado the ownership of the gold is placed squarely in the hands of the creator of the same. You would not think so seeing how gold has become the essential symbol of idolatry and inhuman graft and avarice.  A beautiful woman lacking in integrity and wisdom is said to be alike a swine with a gold ring in the snout. A more graphic description of mankind hot on the heels of a pursuit of vanity is hard to conceive. 

Gold is the base of every bribe and pride. And yet on the other hand, a gold ring is a sign of achievement, either through academic studies or benevolent distribution of favours by the mighty to their loyal subjects. Study how often a gold ring is given to people in the bible. Study how decadent women are described in Isa 3:16-26 and in 1 Pet 3:3. Right through the worship of Israel gold is present. In the utensils of the Tabernacle, in the overlaying of all wood with gold, and in  the creation of the Lampstand and the Mercy seat, which are both made of solid gold. But so was the Golden Calf that responded to the devastating idolatry of a God that could be seen and handled. It was never the gold's fault that men worship it!

The gift of gold to the Newborn King was most suitable as it is the only suitable gift for The King of Kings. It is not where a child is born that matters  but to whom and for what? The gold of obedience is the tribute most suitable for such a one. But the transcendent value of gold is in its insufficiency. It acts as a pointer away from itself towards the even more valuable. "You know that you were ransomed from your futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." 1 Pet 1:18 (RSV) All the silver and gold in the world is not enough to buy man free from bondage to sin. The blood of Christ is. How much that was known by the Magi, we are not told.

FRANKINCENSE.

(Boswellia Sacra)

Now we are talking of ointment and incense. What we find gently smoking away in asiatic shops and which is sold to us in packs for our own incense-burners is a compound of sweet smelling resins from various plants from the deserts of the world. The instructions about how to make an acceptable incense for the Tabernacle of the Lord are found in Exodus 30:34-37 " And the Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part),  and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; and you shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. And the incense which you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves; it shall be for you holy to the Lord."
Each of the substances are worthy of their own chapter but I want to point to "PURE FRANKINCENSE" because that is the most significant element. There are two bushes in the deserts which are the producers of the resin in question. Living in the clefts of the rocks they wedge themselves into the crack of the rock and grow slowly in conditions of which one would have thought nothing can survive. Towards 50 centigrade in daytime and down to minus 10 at night, drought for months on end, water from dew more than rain most of the time. After ten years of growth the bushes experience the first cracking of their stems and in order to protect their cambium, that is the water-transporting layer under the bark, they exude the resin to cover their 'wounds'. This resin is then collected by the merchants and turned into the commercial product. The majority of these bushes live on both sides of the Suez strait in the deserts of the arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa. The Catholic church is the largest consumer of frankincense.

The bushes belong to two varieties of the same species: Boswellia Sacra och Boswellia Serrata. They are very sensitive to the way their resin is harvested and when the harvesting is too hard the seeds of the plants lose their ability to germinate. Heavily culled trees may give seeds with only 16% ability to germinate at all.

What is the main message of Frankincense? "Pain and sorrow protected by grace and beauty." The entire message of Isaiah 53 is symbolized by Frankincense. Take time to read those 12 verses and you will see how He was wounded by the climate we have produced by sin.


It was Frankincense that was used to anoint the new born child, powdered and mixed with fine oil. The natural layer of grease from the womb is washed off after birth and the Frankincense oil was used to re-protect the skin of the child.

Above all else the incense made from Frankincense was used at the altar of intercession. Symbolic of the "prayers of the saints" it has been rising continuously for thousands of years and will not cease until we all are before the throne of the Lord. Then the prayers will turn to praise.
Modern day research has found that this humble desert resin contains ingredients useful in cancer treatment. There is indeed a balm in Gilead that heals not only the wounded soul.(See Gen 37:25 for a reference to goods from Gilead.) 

For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded,
    I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
    not been restored? 
(Jer 8:21-22)

Go up to Gilead, and take balm,
    O virgin daughter of Egypt!
in vain you have used many medicines;
    there is no healing for you.
(Jer 46:11)

See also Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 for the prayers rising.

MYRRH is the third of the gifts and it has basically one message beyond everything else. It comes from another living being, the plant species 
Commiphora Myrrha,  Commiphora myrrha Myrrh, Myrrh Gumand what is extracted from it is a 'sweet smelling perfume'. The bride in the Song of Solomon has it in her beauty box, it is used in the burial oil that was designed to cover the smells of decomposition. It has anesthetic properties and was mixed with vinegar or wine to ease the suffering of the dying as it was given to Christ on the cross.  When you see the illustration above you realize that the crown of thorns would also have been twisted together from it."Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table.  But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?  For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.”  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.  In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Matthew 26:7-11

Her identity is not given, in contrast to the similar event that took place in Bethany according to John 12:3 as Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus whom Christ had raised from the dead. There it is referred to as 'pure nard'.

Note that Jesus understood what the ointment was for: his death and burial. And the magnitude of her sacrifice in breaking that alabaster jar made her, although for the time being unknown to us, immortal in the best sense of the word. As long as the gospel of God will be known this woman will be praised.

so we may safely conclude that the Magi gave their third gift in direct reference to the Death of Christ. The life that Christ came to live qualified Him for the Death that He died on our behalf, and in our stead, so that the Life that He had lived would become the Life that we share with him through His resurrection. That is the gospel of God.

In Hebrews chapter 11 we are shown parts of that great host of Witnesses who are surrounding us as latecomers in the Kingdom of God. All these 'died in the faith'. They did not just have a faith for life but faith for a death also. "
 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith." Heb 13:7   What a man says and does in those days when he had no reason to think of the end should always be seen in the light of the end he came to and how.

Myrrh has also shown its medical properties. It is used for as widely divergent treatments as breast cancer and some Horse illness. And, incidentally, it was used in a powerful mouthwash thousands of years before Sensodyne, Glister and Colgate.

The fact that there were three gifts has led to the creation of legends around the visit of the Magi which to my mind at least add nothing to the reality just described. On the contrary it tends to rob the actual meaning of its content. Who cares how many they were? Who cares if one was a "morish" person, or if they were some sort of kings? What God did not see fit to tell us in the word is to be deemed to be less importance than that which is.

What did you get for Christmas? The Biblical question is exact opposite: What did you give Him?


Teddy Donobauer, Doncaster January 7th 2019

How will the church come to Christ if not with these gifts? Only these wand what they symbolize truly cover the spectrum of what He deserves.

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