The wise men who came to worship the baby Jesus famously brought with them the very first material Christmas gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
These gifts had special properties as well as symbolic meaning. While it’s impossible to know exactly what the wise men intended when they brought these gifts, historical context allows for some guesses. A closer look at these gifts and the properties they possessed suggest that the wise men knew precisely who Christ was — the King of kings, the great High Priest, the Sacrificial Lamb — and exactly how His life’s mission would culminate.
The precious, economically valuable metal was a fitting gift for the baby who would grow to become “king of kings.” It was also highly valuable, making it especially useful for Joseph and Mary who were very poor. At the time, gold was also symbolic of kingship and royalty, fitting because of both Jesus’ heavenly heritage as the Son of God and his earthly parentage as a descendent of King David.
Frankincense is an expensive oil derived from a sweet tree resin, used as perfume, sweet-smelling incense and — most notably — in priesthood ordinances. The gift of frankincense to the boy Jesus is rich in symbolism.
First, high priests used frankincense in sacrificial ordinances, indicating that the wise man saw Jesus as a holder of the high priesthood. In the Savior’s time, the high priest was also considered a mediator between the people and God — an obvious symbolic tie to Christ’s role as Mediator. The gift also alluded to the offering of a sacrificial lamb, which Christ would become as he performed his atonement. And as part of a sacrificial offering, frankincense had been offered as a gift to God for centuries. In these ways, the gift of frankincense symbolized Christ’s role as the great High Priest, the Sacrificial Lamb, the mediator and the Son of God.
Myrrh, an aromatic resin, was bitter-smelling and also very expensive. Myrrh is known primarily for its medicinal and preservative qualities; in the Savior’s time, it was often used in embalming.
During Christ’s life, he healed many who were physically afflicted. The gift of myrrh could be symbolic of His role as healer, both during His ministry and as a result of His atonement.
Part of Christ’s earthly mission was to die for the sins of the world and to be resurrected, breaking the bonds of death for all mankind. Myrrh, used often in embalming, was a fitting gift for one who came to the Earth in order to die.
Where you can get it
Gold: Still commonly used in jewelry; find gold for sale at jewelry stores.
Frankincense and myrrh: Still used as essential oils for restorative and healing properties. Find these for sale online or from most essential oils companies.