Have you ever wondered about the significance of the gifts the Magi brought to the child Jesus, in honor of His birth?
"And when they [the Magi] had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh." (Matthew 2:11 NKJV)
Linda Sue Park wondered about it - especially the last gift, myrrh - and it led her to write the tender story, THE THIRD GIFT, with captivating illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline. A boy helps his father harvest the resin ("tears") of shrub trees native to the Arabian Peninsula...
One day the boy finds "the biggest tear yet." When he and his father go to the marketplace, the merchant tells them he has some important customers waiting for them. These three brightly robed strangers are looking for a gift to bring to a special baby. They already have gold and frankincense, but are looking for a third gift.
In the Author's Notes at the end of the book, Linda Sue Park wonders about the connotations of Christ's death in connection with the Wise Men's gift of myrrh, brought to Him as a baby. She cites a reference to this foreshadowing as noted on a curator's label of the 16th century Brueghel painting, The Adoration of the Kings, hanging in the National Gallery in London.
What the author may not be aware of is that St. Irenaeus (a 2nd century Bishop from Lyon, France) also wrote about the gifts of the Kings to the Christ Child:
Matthew says that the Magi, coming from the east, exclaimed "For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him;” and that, having been led by the star into the house of Jacob to Emmanuel, they showed, by these gifts which they offered, Who it was that was worshipped: myrrh, because it was He who should die and be buried for the mortal human race; gold, because He was a King, “of whose kingdom is no end;” and frankincense, because He was God, who also “was made known in Judea,” and was “declared to those who sought Him not". [source]
When the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the Magi came from the east and worshipped Him as incarnate God. Eagerly they opened their treasures and offered Him precious gifts—pure gold for that He is King of the ages; frankincense in that He is God of all; and as dead for three days they offered myrrh to the deathless One. Wherefore, come, all ye nations, let us worship Him Who was born to save our souls.
Why is this hymn not sung in Orthodox churches on the feast of Epiphany? In Eastern Orthodox tradition, the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child is commemorated on Christmas Day. Epiphany commemorates Jesus' baptism. The word Epiphany in Greek means "to show forth" and is used interchangably with the word Theophany, which translates from Greek as "appearance of God".
The feast day is called Theophany because at the baptism of Christ the Holy Trinity appeared clearly to mankind for the first time -- the Father's voice is heard from Heaven, the Son of God is incarnate and standing physically in the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descends on Him in the form of a dove. (You can see last year's post and book recommendation for Theophany HERE.)