Song: "With Wondering Awe" (Hymns 210)
Matthew 2:1–12: states that wise men (how many is not recorded), guided by a new star, came to Bethlehem to worship Jesus sometime after his birth. Who these men were we are not told, but it is certain they were not ordinary men. That they were privileged to search out the Son of God and give him gifts, and that they were spiritually sensitive and knowledgeable, suggests that they were actually prophets on a divine errand (Bible Dictionary, Wise Men of the East).
I love that it says they were privileged.
We know they eventually found Jesus, but they didn't come to see the baby Jesus in the manger. The scriptures say they found the family in a "house" and Jesus was described not as an infant but as a "young child" (Matt 2:11). We have no clue as to when they arrived, but it could have been as much as two years after he was born - because, based on their information, Herod ordered the destruction of all children two years old and under in Bethlehem. It could have been because he was seeking a child of that age, or he might have added a year onto his order to give him a margin of security (Matt 2:7, 16). Though they met with Herod’s deceit, they were “warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod” but should go home “another way” (verse 12). The Wise Men acted on this revelation from God and protected the holy family from Herod’s evil intentions.
("The Holy Men" by Liz Lemon Swindle)
When their search was finally over and they had found the Christ child, they “fell down, and worshiped him” and presented their gifts of tribute and worship (verse 11). But the gifts were more than that. They were symbolic as well.
Gold symbolizes kingship and royalty, and was appropriately given to the newborn King of the Earth. The gold most likely helped Mary and Joseph travel to Egypt when they needed to protect Jesus' life from Herod.
Frankincense is used as a perfume, but more significantly it was used as incense and burned on the altar of the Jewish temple as a symbol of prayers arising to God. Thus frankincense became a symbol of priesthood, but more specifically the white smoke rising is a symbol that there is a connecting link between heaven and earth. What a fitting gift frankincense was for the King of Kings, the great High Priest, who is our connection with heaven. Frankincense was mixed with oils to anoint newborn infants and those considered to be moving into a new phase in their spiritual lives, and was a symbol of Christ's divinity - the Anointed One, beginning His mission on earth.
Myrrh is harvested by cutting into the trunk of the long, spiky-thorned bush, and letting the wound bleed. The sap that oozes out and then hardens is picked from the tree and used for perfumes, incense, and embalming. The world myrrh comes from the Aramaic word murr which means "bitter." At the time of the Savior it was used in Palestine to anoint dead bodies in preparation for burial. As such, Myrrh symbolized Christ's healing powers, the "bitter cup" He would drink, and also His death (along with the crown of thorns he adorned) and burial.
What can we learn from the Wise Men?
"Like them, we should study the scriptures and know the signs to watch for as we all prepare the earth for the Savior’s Second Coming. Then, as we search and ponder the scriptures, we will more fully desire to seek the Lord every day of our lives and, as a gift to Him, give up our selfishness, pride, and rebelliousness. When personal revelation comes to alter the plans we have made, we can obey, having faith and trust that God knows what is best for us. And ultimately, through lives of true discipleship, we must fall down and worship the Savior in humility and love. This discipleship doesn’t necessarily require us to leave our sheep in the fields or to cross deserts. Our journey to Him isn’t physical; it is spiritual and behavioral. It involves accepting and embracing the fact that His Atonement is infinite and covers every aspect of our lives—our sin, weakness, pain, sickness, and infirmity (see Alma 7:11–13). It means that we can let go of those things that hold us down in the gloomy fog of our own inversion and live instead in the warmth and love of the Light of the World. As President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, has taught: 'The words ‘come unto Christ’ are an invitation. It is the most important invitation you could ever offer to another person. It is the most important invitation anyone could accept.' " ("Come Let Us Adore Him" by Elder Patrick Kearon, Ensign, December 2010.)
Wikipedia: Myrrh, and Frankincense; and the Christmas devotional plan compiled by Jen Lund (scroll down to Christmas).
For a list of the rest of my Christmas Devotionals, see this post.