As we approach Christmas, it is the season that church has, historically, called Advent. I thought I would re-share some old thoughts about Christmas in this time. Hymn numbers are from the 2008 Baptist Hymnal (which the Apostle Paul would not have used, since he didn’t speak English), but it was the hymnal I had when I wrote this. Apart from Scripture quotes, the copyright on this completely mine.
“Then their father Israel said to them, ‘If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds.” Genesis 43:11 (ESV)
Coming to the last gift, we find myrrh. Myrrh, like frankincense, was an all-purpose spice. It is another agricultural product. Well, more like a silvicultural product since it comes from trees, but you get the point. It is not something valuable because it is rare. It is instead valuable because people liked it.
How do I know people liked it? If you look through the Bible alone for the uses of myrrh, it shows up in many places. The above passage is the gifts Israel, or Jacob, sent to Pharaoh during the famine. Exodus places myrrh into the sacred oil used to anoint the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. Proverbs and Song of Solomon move myrrh into the intimacy of marriage.
It is, apparently, a pleasant scent. Unlike frankincense, myrrh is nice on its own: frankincense is burned to release a smoke and an aroma. It can be heavy and oppressive, while myrrh is lighter. Myrrh even has medicinal effects, with some research indicating it can help with pain and cholesterol.
The main use of myrrh, though, was in embalming. Ancient Egypt used myrrh in the preparation of mummies and many other nations used it for a burial spice. In prior times, deceased bodies were packed in spices to alleviate the odors involved with death.
It should not seem odd to you that the same fragrance is associated with worship, intimacy, and death. After all, modern Americans do the same thing with flowers. You find flowers on Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and at funerals. You find them in hospitals to cheer the sick and on tombs to mourn the dead. We use flowers for apologies and for congratulations.
Myrrh had a similar function: it was congratulatory and conciliatory, celebration and consolation.
It is nearly the perfect fragrance for Christmas. Christmas is about the senses and the sacrifice. About God becoming man so that our senses could understand better. About Jesus being the atonement for our sins, the sacrifice that we needed for forgiveness.
Scripture passage for the day: John 19:39-40 (ESV)
“Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night,
came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes,
about seventy-five pounds in weight.
So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices,
as is the burial custom of the Jews.”
Hymn for the Day: Nothing but the Blood #223
Prayer: My senses, Lord God, are easily distracted. I ask that You help me focus them. I also realize I need to understand better what it is that You are my sacrifice. There can be no doubt that I need Your help to draw near. I ask that You work through me in Jesus’ name, Amen.