Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Selah

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
Matthew 2:11


It was a strange baby shower, to say the least.  Total strangers, evading a jealous king, coming to a small home in little hick town, using a star as a GPS system.  No baby shower games with these guys.  No baby blue streamers and balloons, cartons of diapers, loads of layette.

Just a declaration.

A child born to be the King of the Jews.

They came as the most exalted minds of their culture, the sages, the brilliant ones.  They entered His infant presence on bended knees and with voices full of praise.  They knew what they had read in the astronomical arras.  They came to worship.  They came to verify.

They came to find Him.

And they brought gifts.

We have romanticized the treasures they brought to Him.  We imagine these Magi dressed in opulent silks, mysterious in their Eastern garb.  We sketch them holding beautiful treasure chests, ancient forms of gift bags.  We imagine a ransom of gold and spices pouring from their giving hands.

But these were actually very controversial, provocative, prophetic items.

In bringing this infant gold, the Magi were recognizing Him as a king.  And in so doing, they may have paid for the travel expenses realized the next day when Joseph is told in a dream to escape with Mary and Jesus to Egypt to avoid the murderous clutches of a paranoid King Herod.  In showering the infant Christ with gold, they covered Him in the very material covering the Ark of the Covenant, the container of the Law.  They provided Him with the precious metal which adorned the vestments of the Levitic priests. Their gift of gold recognized Him as priest and king.

Frankincense was the only incense allowed to be used alongside the altar in the Holy of Holies.  Imagine the Magi laying beside this small baby, the human and divine representation of the altar, the one fragrance allowed to perfume the very presence of God.  Imagine the scent wafting up toward His mother, her wonder at the richness of the aroma.

But it is the last gift that it stunning, a favor faux pas.  They bring this little child, they present to his mother, the equivalent of a bottle of formaldehyde.  They come to the baby shower with the materials needed for a successful funeral.  Because myrhh, in the ancient world, was used for preparation of the body for burial, a resin that could perfume and preserve the grave.  It was valuable, yes, it was prized, but it was hardly a sweet endowment.  Myrhh's very name means bitter.

It's not something a young mother would want to put on the baby register.

And yet, in their shocking final gift, we see the prophecy painted again.

He came to teach us how to live.  He came to give us eternal life.  And to do that, He was willing to die.

And at His baby shower, His nursery was stocked with that reminder.

It was an odd baby shower, strangers bringing treasures of gold for a king, bringing perfumes worthy of the holiest places in the Temple.

And bringing a vat of formaldyhyde.

And in the doing, they inscribed into the pages of His baby book the very days written for Him:  to come as the King, to become the altar and the Presence of God with us.

And to die.

To live again.

And now He brings the same gifts to us.  The gold of His kingship, the fragrance of His abiding, the bitter sadness of His sacrifice that preserves eternity for us.  Becoming nothing to give us everything.  Taking the treasures of that baby shower and transposing their meaning into the fabric of our salvation.

Gold, frankincense, myrrh.

Kingship, heaven's scent, sacrifice.

Selah.



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