Category Archives for "Christianity"

Christianity offers a legacy of love and compassion, which is often confused and distorted by modern-day interpreters. This misinterpretation is often willful but sometimes merely mistaken. These articles explore some aspects of the wonderful Christian faith, which is a cornerstone of western civilization.

What is the Meaning of Easter and the Resurrection for Christians?

The meaning of Easter

What is the Meaning of Easter?

The meaning of Easter

What is the meaning of Easter? Easter is a special holiday for celebrating the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection occurred on the third day after his crucifixion on the morning of Passover in 30 CE.

While most people understand those basic facts, the meaning of Easter is something that many people tend to overlook.

The Easter holiday is a reminder that Jesus sacrificed himself for the sins of those who believe in him. It is also a time to remind ourselves that we have the power to overcome original sin and lead righteous lives. However, this is just a small part of the reasons why Christians celebrate the resurrection.

As Easter Sunday approaches, you may want to reflect on the origin of Easter and what it means to celebrate this special holiday.

Understanding the history of Easter

Looking at the history of Easter is a great way to gain a better understanding of its significance. The earliest Christians celebrated the Passion of Christ but there was not a set date for worship. 

Traditionally, they celebrated the resurrection on the same date as the Jewish Passover. However, Jesus had his Last Supper on the evening of the Passover. The following morning, on the day of Passover, the crucifixion occurred.

Early Christian leaders decided that they should continue to celebrate the holiday following Passover. After the date of Passover was set each year, Christian leaders would set Easter for three days later. This resulted in Easter landing on different days of the week, depending on what day Passover landed on.

Some Christians began to celebrate it on the Sunday following Passover as Jesus rose from his grave on a Sunday, three days after Passover. Sunday is also the day set aside as the Lord’s Day.

Separation of the Meaning of Easter from the Jewish Calendar and tradition

Christians also began to distance themselves from Judaism and the Jewish calendar. During the reign of Constantine, the Council of Nicea established rules for determining the date of Easter.

They decided that Christians must celebrate Easter on a Sunday and never on the same date as the Jewish Passover. It would instead land on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the start of the spring equinox.

Christians continue to celebrate the holiday at the start of spring, which brings additional significance to the holiday and the resurrection.

The Spiritual Meaning of Celebrating Easter

Easter is always on a Sunday following Good Friday and at the end of Holy Week. Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus while Easter celebrates his return.

On Easter Sunday, people are commemorating Christ's defeat of death. However, there is even more than that to the meaning of Easter.

If Jesus had not defeated death and risen from the grave, Christian faith would have been in vain. In fact, the defeat of death is central to the whole theme of Christianity and its message of a God who dies for the sins of his people yet rises again to show them that death has become but a gateway to salvation.

“And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching and your faith.”1 Corinthians 15:14

The meaning of the holiday also requires a closer look at its connection to Passover and the New Covenant. Early followers of YHVH celebrated Passover long before Jesus.

There were also other covenants. God made these covenants with the Israelites. Some of these covenants were to bless the Israelites or to allow them to prosper and multiply.

In return for these covenants, God required His believers to acknowledge and confess their sins and ask for forgiveness. The believers would also commonly offer animals as sacrifices for their sins.

The Sacrificial Lamb and the meaning of Easter

Before Jesus, the Passover tradition included sacrificial lambs. When retracing the Passion of Christ, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for Passover and on the morning of Passover, making him the sacrificial lamb for his followers.

Jesus understood that this would occur, as he explained during the Last Supper. According to Luke 22:20, when Jesus shared his bread and wine with his disciples, he said,

 “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”

Based on these understandings of the origins of Easter, the meaning becomes clearer. This holiday commemorates our redemption from original sin. It offers the possibility of rebirth and salvation along with renewed or reaffirmed faith.

Why is the holiday called Easter?

Besides the meaning of the holiday, you may want to know how Easter got its name. There are two leading theories on the origin of the name.

The most popular theory involves a seventh-century monk called the Venerable Bede. At the time, Christians did not have a specific date for the celebration.

Bede agreed with the idea of celebrating it after the spring equinox. He explained that pagans had celebrated a goddess named Eostre during this time of the year. She is the goddess of fertility and the spring season and many believe that the word “Easter” comes from her name.

Another theory is that the word “Easter” comes from an Old German word for “east”. The Old German word comes from an older Latin word for “dawn”. The spring equinox brings dawns that mark the start of days outlasting the nights.

These are just two of the theories behind the name. No matter the reason for referring to the celebration as Easter, the meaning behind the holiday remains the same.

When does Easter occur each year?

The date of Easter is determined based on the spring equinox. The actual date of the equinox can vary each year, landing between March 19th and the 21st. However, the church uses March 21st as the start of the spring equinox.

To determine the date of Easter each year, you need to determine the date of the first full moon after the start of the equinox. The first Sunday after this full moon is Easter Sunday.

The date of Easter can vary each year, depending on the date of the full moon. The earliest date is March 21st while the latest date is April 25th.

Determining the date of Easter is also necessary for determining other Christian holidays, including:

  • Good Friday
  • Palm Sunday
  • Ascension Day
  • The dates of these holidays depend on when Easter lands during the year. For example, Good Friday is always the Friday before Easter Sunday.

    What does the Easter Bunny have to do with the Meaning of Easter?

    Leading up to Easter, grocery stores often begin selling Easter candy, which frequently contains images of the Easter Bunny.

    The exact connection between the Easter bunny, Easter eggs, and the celebration of Easter Sunday is not entirely known. However, many theologists believe that it started with the feast of Eostara.

    Eostara was a pagan holiday held at the start of the spring equinox to honor the goddess of fertility and rebirth. Eggs and rabbits are both symbols of fertility that may have appeared in these celebrations. Tus we see the Christian meaning of Easter being essentially corrupted by the association with pagan fertility rites.

    As Christianity spread, Christians adopted many of these early traditions for holidays held around the same times of the year.

    There are also several theories concerned with why Christians continued to use eggs and rabbits during Easter celebrations.

    The Easter Tradition of Decorating Eggs

    The practice of decorating Easter eggs started in the 13th century. In those days, the churches required followers to abstain from eggs during the 40 days of Lent. They could then resume eating eggs on Easter Sunday. What this abstinence has to do with the meaning of Easter is still unknown. 

    In anticipation of Easter Sunday, they would decorate the eggs. By the 19th century, Russian aristocrats had begun exchanging jeweled and ornately decorated Easter eggs.

    The modern Easter bunny may have started in Germany and came to the United States in the 1700s. Early German immigrants continued an Easter tradition of allowing their children to make nests for an egg-laying bunny called the “Osterhase”.

    As this tradition spread, it eventually grew to include chocolates, candy, and other treats for the children. Decorated Easter baskets eventually replaced the nests.

    What are the symbols of Easter?

    Modern symbols for the meaning of Easter

    The Easter Bunny is a modern symbol of Easter. There are also many traditional symbols linked with this holiday, including lambs.

    As Jesus was our sacrificial lamb, it has become a tradition to serve lamb on Easter Sunday. Jesus is the Lamb of God so at least this symbol preserves the true meaning of Easter.

    The white Easter lily has also become a symbol of Easter. Many believe that this flower grew in the Garden of Gethsemane, which is where Jesus wept during the Passion. The white lily symbolizes honesty and purity.

    The palm branch is another symbol. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, his followers waved palm branches and placed them on the ground to mark his path. Many churches distribute palm branches to their congregations at the start of Holy Week.

    Conclusion: Easter is a time of rebirth

    Easter is the holiest of Christian holidays. Unfortunately, as with Christmas, the true meaning gets obscured behind the commercialization of the holiday.

    It is not a holiday about bunnies and eggs. It is a holiday that celebrates when Christ defeated death. The resurrection of Christ signals rebirth and hope.

    Easter also marks a time to reaffirm your faith in the everlasting covenant. According to Romans 10:9,

    "Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved.”

    As Christ died for your sins, Easter is the time of the year to remember this sacrifice which carries the true meaning of Easter, and your commitment to your faith.


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    The Meaning of Christmas

    What is the meaning of Christmas?

    The Meaning of Christmas

    A guest post by Christian writer Sandra Devenish

    The meaning of Christmas is riddled with modern day contradictions. I was in the shops earlier today, in yet another futile attempt to find comfortably fitting clothes.  The Christmas Carol playing on the sound system was something about Christmas time being the happiest time of the year. Singing along, I just had to chuckle at the blatant lie.  People are unhappy at Christmas time, sometimes more so than during the rest of the year.

    There are so many people who cause themselves financial problems by spending money unnecessarily in order to give meaning to Christmas. Some individuals are made more depressed by the way other peoples’ celebration of Christmas emphasizes their loneliness.

    Jesus of Nazareth and the meaning of Christmas

    As a Christian I find the meaning of Christmas tied up with the life of Jesus of Nazareth who lived in the vicinity of Jerusalem during the time of the Roman occupation of the Middle East. There was nothing about his physical appearance and occupation that caused him to stand out from other Jews of his age.    

    During the last three years of his life, he went around to the Jewish places of worship, calling himself the Messiah and the Son of God.  This caused such upset amongst the Jews that they demanded his crucifixion by the Romans.  Yet what made this man extraordinary was that crowds of people followed him wherever he went and after his execution his friends claimed that he came alive again. 

    His friends started a religious movement that was different from the religions of the time in that they were peace loving and shared whatever they had with anyone who asked.

    Letters by Christ's Followers

    We know about the life Jesus of Nazareth and the meaning he gives to Christmas, because the letters his friends wrote each other eventually became the New Testament of the Bible and a few Roman historians also made casual references about the man or his followers. 

    In two of these letters by men called Matthew and Luke, we are told about the birth of Jesus.  The baby’s parents went to Bethlehem during a census and it was here that the baby was born in a stable because there was no other accommodation available.  Wise men from the east went to Bethlehem to worship him as a King and gave him gifts. (Matthew Chapters 1 and 2 and Luke Chapter 2)

    Gifting the Meaning of Christmas

    This is where the story told by Luke and Matthew and the meaning of Christmas meet, because people celebrate Christmas based on these few lines in the Bible.  It is also here where my problem with the way Christmas is celebrated starts, because I feel the giving of gifts is overemphasized and the rest of what is said of Jesus and by Jesus is too easily forgotten.

    Father Christmas and the Meaning of Christmas

    What is the real meaning of Christmas - this?

    During the first few hundred years after the execution of Jesus his followers did not celebrate his birth.  The habit of giving meaning to Christmas only started in the year 336 CE. It was the Roman Catholic Church which decided that the 25th of December will be the day on which his birth will be celebrated.  Eventually the church decided to give some men the honor of being saints. It is one of these saints namely Saint Nicholas, who inspired the Father Christmas figure.

    Capitalism, Ecology and the Meaning of Christmas

    For instance, the giving of gifts and Christmas decorations seem to have much more in common with non-Christian religions than about the life of Jesus.  The global community buys large amounts of gifts to give meaning to Christmas and I don’t know if anyone realizes that this gift giving might be principally to celebrate the capitalist good harvest.

    CApitalism and the meaning of Christmas

    Now in the spirit of transparency and the meaningfulness of Christmas, I would like the difference between Christian Christmas and non-Christian Christmas to be more pronounced.

    Capitalism and quality have never been words you would use in the same sentence, therefore the sheer quantity of objects manufactured and sold as gifts and decorations to give meaning to Christmas simply amounts to mountains of waste which in turn create ecological problems.

    Parents and their Children and the Meaning of Christmas

    Children also do not except just any old present, because they have to look good in the eyes of their friends.  This means it has to be electronic gifts, which just add to the already insurmountable mountain of waste. 

    Christmas generates debt

    Parents seem to think that it is a good idea to buy gifts even if they simply do not have the money to do so.  Huge amounts of debt are accrued by buying gifts that few people actually need in order to give meaning to Christmas.

    Children also do not except just any old present, because they have to look good in the eyes of their friends.  This means it has to be electronic gifts, which just add to the already insurmountable mountain of waste. 

    The Inter-Christian problem of Christian

    Even in Christian circles this emphasis on presents creates problems.  I grew up in a Protestant household and my dad simply refused to buy gifts because according to him it had nothing to do with the meaning of Christmas.  It is also possible that he simply did not have enough money to buy presents. 

    My husband on the other hand grew up in a Methodist household where his mother went out of her way to buy presents and put up the Christmas tree and decorations on the 1st of December and to cook an enormous amount of food on the 24th and 25th

    Angry child told Santa does not exist

    I remember once when my young daughters asked me for toys which I refused to buy.  Their retort was that they will then ask Father Christmas.  I was so irritated and frustrated by the fact that my in-laws were teaching my children a meaning of Christmas which I did not agree with, that I decided to tell them the truth there and then: Father Christmas does not exist and I pay for your toys!

    It was interesting that this particular event created a problem for my daughter’s teacher because when my daughter announced the nonexistence of Father Christmas to her classmates, the teacher had to appease the parents for whom the Father Christmas fable is a fun way to entertain their children.

    It's My Party - is this the meaning of Christmas?

    Parties also give meaning to Christmas.  Let’s be honest, these parties are more a celebration of Dionysius as the god of food and drink, than a celebration of Christ.  Although Christ himself did enjoy parties, he did demand a high moral standard so that drunk and disorderly behaviour is  just not acceptable as a way of celebrating the birthday of Jesus. (Mark 2: 13 to 17)(Luke 4)

    The Gift and the Meaning of Christmas

    The gift Jesus gave people was not an object.  It was the third person of God, namely the Holy Spirit.  No one can buy the Holy Spirit or get it any other way than believing in Jesus as the Messiah. (Acts 8: 9 to 25). 

    A miracle of Christ - a gift from God

    Jesus never put emphasis on what he could get from people.  People followed him everywhere and he helped them without receiving anything in return.    When the crowds following him were hungry, he performed a miracle in order to feed them.  He did not send a plate around to ask for money, he send baskets around for the people to take food from.  (Matthew 14 and 15)

    Jesus told the story of the old woman who gave her last few cents, to emphasize her faith in God, not to show how much she loved people.  (Mark 12: 41)

    The Meaning of Christmas - Conclusions

    Christians will say that to give gifts is to show your appreciation of the love of Christ. I would argue that we are also custodians of the earth and that we should therefor decide what our ecological responsibility is.

    Therefore, in the spirit of transparency let us decide, before we start our celebration of the meaningfulness of Christmas, who our god is:  is it Dionysus, Capitalism, Christ or none of the above?

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    Cross vs Crucifix – A Fascinating Study for Christians

    Cross or Crucifix?

    The cross vs crucifix controversy has a long and complicated history. In this in-depth article, guest writer Sandra Devenish traces the remarkable history of these Christian icons and shows us how they reflect the history of the Christian church. NB: "A crucifix (from Latin cruci fixus meaning "(one) fixed to a cross") is an image of Jesus on the cross, as distinct from a bare cross. The symbol is less common in churches of other Protestant denominations, which prefer to use a cross without the figure of Jesus (the corpus)" -  Wikipedia

    Cross vs Crucifix and Division of the Church

    The Christian Churches can be divided into two groups, according to their preference for either the cross or the crucifix. We will deal first with Christian Churches of the Cross:

    The Reformed Church and its divisions

    In the choice of cross vs crucifix, the Reformed Churches favour the use of the cross. These churches include amongst others the Methodist, Presbyterian, Apostolic, Protestant, Evangelical and Charismatic Churches.  They came into existence after the Reformation started by Martin Luther, Johannes Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli.  These divisions resulted in a series of religious wars fought between 1517 and 1648 in Europe.

    martin-luther

    The Core Dogma of the Reformed Churches and cross vs crucifix

    The dogmatic views on which 'reformed' churches differ from the Roman Catholic Church are many. These differences include the belief that the bread and wine consumed during Holy Communion  are merely symbolic of the blood and body of Christ. i.e.they believe  that the substances do not transmute (change into the body and blood of Christ).   Reformers do not worship Mary, because they believe in the Trinity, namely the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  They also do not agree that the priests can forgive sins, because only God can forgive sins. We can see here that the reformists would lean towards the simpler symbol in the cross vs crucifix choice.

    The Cross and Chi Rho as used by the Reformed Churches

    Chi Rho

    The Reformed churches display simple crosses outside churches. They might also have a cross against a wall inside, mostly behind or attached to the pulpit.  Sometimes they exchange the cross for the Chi Rho.  The Chi Rho sign is a P with an X crossing the down-line of the P.  This is still a very simple symbol compared to the elaborate crucifix.

    The X (xhi)  and the P (Rho)  are the first two letters of the Greek word Kristos. In some churches you might find a cross and a candle on a table next to the pulpit.  The churches are mostly without decoration and the symbols on display will have a definite meaning. Each of these symbols and meanings are created for a certain time of year such as Easter.

    At Christmas you might even find a Christmas tree in the church.  Lately it is in fashion for the ladies of the church to make a patchwork rendering of the crucifixion. In some ways this may be considered as an ongoing need to elaborate that resulted in the original contention of cross vs crucifix.  This will be hung near the pulpit.

    Note: The symbol of the Cross is not necessarily Christian

    crucifixion on a stake
    Ankh

    There is some inbuilt irony in the cross vs crucifix contention, because even the cross in its simplest form is not originally a Christian symbol.

    Although it seems obvious that the Cross as a symbol for Christianity arises from the fact that it is the structure on which Christ was crucified, unfortunately, the reality is not that simple.

    Historians argue that Christ was not crucified on a cross. This is because in the original Greek texts of the Bible, the word used to describe the instrument of execution on which Christ died was called a stake (see image). 

    The early Christians also did not use the cross or crucifix  to mark graves in the catacombs in Rome.  Although one could argue that it is because they were themselves executed in the same way. 

    The cross was used as a religious symbol before the birth of the Christian faith as a “Symbol of Life”.  The Egyptian Ankh for instance, looks similar to a Christian cross (see image).

    Modern reproduction of Roman cavalry vexillium

    Constantine the Great who made Christianity the state religion had a vexillum as his standard.  A vexillum consisted of a flag hanging from the crossbar of a cross, similar to the Processional Cross used in processions by the Roman Catholic Church.  The design on his standard was the Chi Rho. What we have shown here for illustrative purposes is a reconstructed Roman military vexillum.

    The Crucifix and the Roman Catholic and Other Orthodox Churches

    In the choice of Crucifix vs Cross, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Churches prefer the crucifix, in other words a statue or statuette attached to a cross.  The crucifix can be small enough to wear around the neck or life size and hanging from the roof.  It is also often rendered in paintings or manuscripts as part of the passion of Christ, i.e. depiction of his death by execution.

    A Note on The  Catholic Church as State Religion

    The Roman Catholic Church is the same church started by Constantine as his state church. Some people say that Constantine was converted to Christianity.  Others feel that he used the religion to unify his empire as it was the one religion under which all the pagan religions could be subsumed.  This could also explain why there are so many remnants of paganism in the Christian Religion. Just as paganism was laden with symbology, so early Christianity leaned towards the history of  the cross vs crucifix 

    The Catholic Schism 

    The Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 11th century.    The split or “Schism” was caused because of theological and political differences between the Christian East and West.  This infighting had been going on for centuries, which of course  reflects strongly in the choice of cross vs crucifix.

    Celtic Christianity

    celtic cross

    Celtic Christianity originated in Egypt, Syria and the British Isles and was eventually forced into non-existence by the Roman Catholic Church in about the 7th century after Christ. This branch of Christianity used both cross and crucifix in its highly stylized Celtic designs. although the stylized cross was the more common by far.

    Christ on display

    It was in the Orthodox churches of the East where the crucifixion of Christ was first portrayed.  The Monothelite and Monophysite heresies were causing problems for the Church.   The proponents of the Monothelite heresy believed that Christ was only divine and not human and the Monophysite heretics believed that Christ was half God and half man.  In order to deeply entrench the dogma that Christ was both completely human and completely God, Christ was depicted as hanging from the cross. ​ Here we see the first root of the debate for crucifix vs cross. This was continued in the Rabbula gospels.

    The Rabbula Gospels

    The Rabbula Gospels, written in 586CE carried the first depiction of Christ on the cross and although it was not completely realistic, it would be the inspiration for many to come. Remember also that by this time the cross would have been used widely in the church, therefore it would naturally be rendered as a stake with a cross bar.

    rabbula crucifixion

    The heresies unsettled some of the monks in the east and they migrated to Italy.  From there the style of the Rabbula Gospels spread all over the Christian world.  The Crucifixion was, for instance depicted by Celtic artists in illuminated manuscripts from about 670 CE.

    The Rood

    As from the late eleventh century the depiction of the crucifixion took on life size proportions.  Sculptures in wood of the crucified Christ were attached to beams or screens at the entrances to chancel of churches. This type of crucifix is known as a rood. An example of these crucifixes is the Lucca Rood and copies from it are to be seen across Europe.

    The Lucca Rood

    Charlemagne king of the Franks and the Feast of the Sacred Heart

    The King of the Franks, who lived between 742 and 814, converted the Franco-German people to Christianity.  It seems as if the inclination of these people to be more morbid than the people from Italy brought about a change in rendering the crucifixion. They portrayed their crucifixes with blood gushing from the wound in Christ side.  The emphasis on blood eventually led to the Feast of the Sacred Heart, during which Christ’s love for humanity is emphasized.

    sacred heart of Jesus

    Saint Francis of Assisi Further differentiates Cross and Crucifix

    Another change came after the wounds of the crucifixion mysteriously appeared on the hands of St. Francis of Assisi in September 1224.  From that time Christians became interested in depicting the five wounds of Christ.

    The Crown of Thorns

    The body of Christ on the crucifixes were crowned with a crown of thorns after 1239.  This happened because the church in Constantinople sent King Louis IX, what they believed to be the Crown of Thorns from Constantinople.

    Editors Note: Crown of Thorns, the wreath of thorns was placed on the head of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion, whereby the Roman soldiers mocked his title of “King of the Jews.” A relic purported to be the Crown of Thorns was transferred from Jerusalem to Constantinople by 1063. -  Britannica 

    crown of thorns

    The influence of fine art over the centuries

    Gradually and after many centuries artists, commissioned by the Church, rendered the Crucifixion of Christ in a realistic manner.  At the end of the Middle Ages this realism became almost excessive. 

    Pectoral and reliquary crosses

    The custom of wearing a cross hanging from a cord or chain round the neck appears to have been known since the fourth century.  Not only priests and monks wore these crosses; but lay people too.  The crosses were sometimes made of metal or with a cavity for relics. 

    In the West people associated with the church would wear crosses around their necks as a sign of rank.  This habit started after the Reformation as a symbol for the Counter-Reformation.

    This pectoral cross or encolpion as it is known when worn by bishops of the Orthodox Church, suggests that the original cross on a chain was a portable reliquary, in other words a cross that holds a relic.

    Reliquary

    Contemporary use of cross and crucifix

    After about 2000 years of religious wars, dogmatic differences and general unpleasantness about religious symbols, to many, the cross might have lost a little of its prominence as a Holy Christian symbol. 

    It frequently appears in design and art and it is worn as jewelry by Christians and atheists, by gospel singers and Hip Hop artists, often with no understanding of its deeper meaning.

    But Christians know that true conversion happens in the heart, therefore it makes no difference which design you display. 

    Cross or crucifix? Which one would you choose?

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    Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

    Three Wise Men

    Learn why the three wise men brought Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the birth of Jesus Christ

    As we approach the season of the birth of Christ Jesus, we consider one of the major events attending his birth - the arrival of the 'Three Wise Men' and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This article has been written by guest writer Sandra Devenish. Here we go:

    Who were these kings who attended the birth of Jesus Christ?

    We three kings of Orient are
    Bearing gifts we traverse far….
    .

    Did three kings visit a stable in Bethlehem?  Wouldn’t an ancient king take his whole household along with him when visiting a neighboring kingdom?   Wouldn’t he take soldiers with him to protect him on a journey?  Even contemporary royalty and presidents can only travel after all kinds of preparations and communications were finalized.  Can you imagine the Queen of England suddenly appearing at your back door? And why gold, frankincense and myrrh?

    What the Gospel of Matthew  says about the three wise men

    The author of the Matthew Gospel wrote that the Christ Child was visited by Magi or Wise Men.  The word Magi comes from an ancient language, Avestan, spoken by the Priests of Zoroaster. The religious texts of Zoroastrianism were written in this ancient language. The religion had its origin somewhere in modern day Iran and is one of the oldest religions still active today. 

    The Zoroastrians

    Painted clay and alabaster head of a Zoroastrian priest with Bactrian-style head-dress, Takht-i Sangin, near Tajikistan and Afghanistan border, ancient Bactria, 3rd-2nd century B.C.

    These Zoroastrian priests were astrologers, a highly regarded science in ancient times.    Astrologers use the position of the planet in relation to each other to predict what will happen in the future. 

    The word “priests” were translated “kings” in writings from around 500AD and with this change came the erroneous belief that the gift givers were rich and powerful. 

    We can deduce that the Zoroastrian priests were not rich or powerful.  They were scholars who believed that the position of the planets pointed to something important that were about to happen in Bethlehem. It is also possible that the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were small in value and quantity.

    Promoting a Belief

    So why would only the author of the Gospel according to Matthew make mention of the visit? 

    When reading a Bible, one might forget how much has gone into the process of producing a copy of the original text. Bible scientists do not have the original letters of the New Testament.  They have various copies, which in turn are also just  copies of some long lost documents.  It is a science in itself to determine whether any words were added to the documents we have now.  They also do not know who the actual authors were and although the Gospels must have been written sometime during the first century, Bible scholars cannot date it precisely.

    Contemporary scholars can also not agree on what the astrologers could have seen in the sky.

    But what we do know is that the letters of the New Testament was written to convince the readers that Christ is indeed the Messiah. 

    Now in order to convince people of the validity of an argument, it is general practice to refer to people who are highly regarded in society.  For the same reason the author of the Gospel of Matthew highlights the visit by the Magi and challenge his readers:  If these astrologers know the actual status of the Christ Child, who are you to doubt?

    The Gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: What Made Frankincense a Gift of Choice?

    Frankincense from Yemen

    From Exodus 25 onward a person can read how, during the 40 days and nights Moses spent on Mount Sinai, God told him exactly how to construct the tabernacle.  God told him how everything inside should be constructed and how He wanted the space to be sanctified for worship. God also gave Moses the recipe for the incense that was to be burned in the Holy Place, on the altar of Incense.  The ingredients included frankincense.  The recipe could not be copied and could only be used in worshiping God.

    When the author mentions frankincense as a gift to the Christ child, he would have wanted the readers to make the connection with the incense being used in the tabernacle.  The author would want them to realize that the life of the Christ Child would have only one purpose:  to glorify God. 

    The Gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: Why Myrrh?

    The Myrrh Tree Commiphora myrrha

    God told Moses to mix an anointing oil containing, amongst other ingredients, 6 kilograms of myrrh.  This oil was to be used to anoint the tabernacle, everything in it and all the priests.  (Exodus 30:22ff) The tabernacle was to be the tent were God would dwell amongst the Israelites during their forty years in the desert.  The oil was not to be used for any other purpose. 

    In Matthew 26, Mary the sister of Lazarus washes Jesus’s feet with perfume.  Jesus tells the people who criticize her that she is preparing him for burial, not wasting the perfume that can be sold to help the poor.  This perfume could have contained myrrh, because in John 20 Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus embalm Jesus’s body using a mixture of myrrh and aloes.

    Christians believe that Old Testament characters like Isiah and David made prophetic statements that alluded to the Messiah.  In Psalm 22 for instance David writes a poem about suffering, but some of the lines have an uncanny resemblance to how Christ would come to die. 

    By pointing out the gift of myrrh at his birth, the author of the gospel was alluding to the death of the Christ Child.  He wanted to create the impression that the Magi and the Old Testament prophets had similar prophetic experiences. 

    Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh  as Gifts for Today

    Frankincense and myrrh will still make a suitable gift today.  It still carries the same meaning as in biblical times. 

    Frankincense can be used to anoint a member of a congregation during a service. This anointing can be because of conversion to the Christian faith or because of illness.

    Incense can be burned during private devotion and prayer because of the association with worship.  It can also symbolize a person’s reverence and respect for God.

    Myrrh still has embalming properties and as such can remind us of our own mortality and also the death of Christ.

    Granules of these spices can be kept in a glass container as a visual reminder of faith in Christ.

    Frankincense and myrrh can be given as a gift at Christmas.  It can be a novel way to remind a friend or family member of the true meaning of Christmas.  Why give the usual gift if it can be the actual gift Christ received?

    We'll skip the gift value of gold - that hasn't changed in millennia! 

    Conclusion

    Does it matter whether the men from the orient were kings or priests?  I don’t think so, because we know what gifts they brought - gold, frankincense and myrrh, and it is in the gifts that the true meaning of the life and death of Christ is symbolized. We can still hold the spices in our hands or smell it burning as we sing:

    We three kings of Orient are

    Bearing gifts……

    Buy your very own frankincense and myrrh incense from us - sorry - no gold!!!

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    frankincense and rosewood incense
    Myrrh Incense

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