The story of the wise men has long been a favorite. It tells the account of three important gifts being delivered to the Christ child shortly following his birth. Gold, the first of these gifts, is easily understood, but what were the other offerings, frankincense and myrrh? What were they used for at the time of Jesus’ birth, and are there people still using them today? Let’s take a closer look at the Magi’s gifts.
In biblical times, much like today, gold symbolized wealth, nobility, royalty, and power. For the baby Jesus, this would have been further symbolic of His’ Kingship,’ of course. As for frankincense, it represented peace, health, worship, prayer, His priesthood, and holiness. Myrrh signified His suffering, mortal death, resurrection, and the saving of humanity.
Frankincense and myrrh are harvested from the resin of trees grown in the mountainous regions of Africa, India, Asia, and the Middle East. Their use in making incense, perfume, and holy oil traces back over 5,000 years. During Jesus’ life the resins were used for religious, spiritual, and medicinal purposes. Although the FDA has yet to approve their medicinal use, they are still used for various health remedies today. The oils are used topically for healing, can be ingested, commonly via capsule, or mixed with spices, burned, and inhaled.
Historically, frankincense was used on the battlefield to help treat soldiers’ wounds. Some cultures use the resin as an antiseptic, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory. Frankincense may help to improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and asthma symptoms. It also aids in improved oral health, has been tested recently as a cancer-fighting agent, and research notes it may even prevent cancer cells from spreading. If I were Jesus, or anyone else, I’d definitely want some.
Myrrh, in addition to the historical use of embalming and the spiritual benefit of anointing, is a potent anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant. Mixed with frankincense and burned as incense, the pair significantly decrease airborne bacterial counts to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. Myrrh is used in oral hygiene products and may reduce the growth of skin fungi, including ringworm and athlete’s foot. Both resins are used in perfumes and cosmetics today.
There are many medicinal possibilities on the horizon for both frankincense and myrrh. Take time to learn their benefits and common reactions before using them. As always, if you are pregnant or nursing, have problems with heart disease, are planning a surgery, or taking medications for diabetes or blood thinners, ask your doctor’s advice before using these resins.
It is clear why the Magi chose these gifts in particular for the Christ child – power, priesthood, and saving the world. They truly were wise men—the best for the best.
Wishing you and your loved ones a very merry holiday season and a most prosperous new year!
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