Frankincense is often remembered this time of year because of its part in the Christmas story of Matthew 2. The wise men from the east brought gifts to honor the Messiah and one of these gifts happened to be frankincense. Matthew 2:18 says, “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, frankincense and myrrh.”
But I had never paused before to take a good look at this gift, not until I looked up its history. I found out that frankincense is a tree resin that has been used by ancient cultures for thousands of years. It was usually used for weddings, funerals, and religious rites. Its aromatic presence creates a refreshing atmosphere of reverence. Frankincense is part of the sacred incense recipe that the Israelite priests used in the sanctuary: “And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy.’” But the part of this article that really jumped out at me was that frankincense wasn’t just used for aroma. I learned that the ancients also used frankincense for a very practical, mundane task—fixing cracks in jars and pottery. The resin was not only aromatic, but its gumminess was a handy binding agent for cracks in earthenware pots (Hirst).
I have to admit I was surprised when I read this. Frankincense always struck me as incredibly valuable, rare commodity that you’d only find in kings’ palaces. People were using frankincense to glue together their broken pottery! Such a humble task! But this mundane, yet practical use is a fitting illustration of Jesus’ mission. Think what He was leaving behind—the glories of heaven, where beauty has no equal. He gave that up for the cold, prickly hay lining a feeding trough in first-century Palestine. Though this was a very humble setting, His sufferings would open the way for bridging the gap, fixing the crack you could say, between sinful humanity and our Heavenly Father. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18) He took on a humiliating task, full of suffering, but it was all for a beautiful reconciliation!
Hirst, K. Kris. “History of Frankincense.” Thoughtco.com. 19 May 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020. Online. https://www.thoughtco.com/frankincense-history-ancient-aromatic-tree-resin-170908#:~:text=%20History%20of%20Frankincense%20%201%20Purposes.%20Frankincense,is%20the%20oldest%20known%20reference%20to...%20More%20