Study Guide

Gospel of Matthew Gifts of the Magi

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Gifts of the Magi

It's okay to admit: we all love getting presents. And these magi characters guys give some pretty good ones—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Trust us, these are more than just stocking-stuffers.

The Meaning of the Gifts

Why these gifts? Why not a nice gift card to Sandals 'R' Us? The answer: because gold, frankincense, and myrrh are gifts fit for a king.

  • It's easy to see why you'd give gold—it's valuable. Kind of like getting a big wad of cash in your stocking. 
  • Frankincense is a lovely, fragrant incense that was often used in religious ceremonies. Think scented candles. 
  • Myrrh is oil that was sometimes used for anointing. Sort of like a bottle of fancy, designer perfume.

Overall, it's a pretty sweet haul.

There's a lot of debate as to what the gifts mean. One theory, proposed by 2nd-century Christian writer, Origen, is that gold is for a king, frankincense honors a god, and myrrh represents death. All three are aspects of Jesus's story, so those could definitely fit.

Most Ironic Christmas Ever

Don't forget the irony of the wise men's gifts. Here we have three foreign, non-Jewish guys, who have traveled from afar on the hunch that something good is about to happen. They bring gifts and bow down to honor "the King of the Jews," while the actual Jews in the story (Herod and the power-hungry creeps in Jerusalem) are desperately trying to kill their messiah. Not exactly what God intended to happen.

Or is it?

The Gift of Shout-Outs

The magi's awesome gift-giving abilities have inspired loads of writers and artists:

  • O. Henry wrote a story called "The Gift of the Magi" about Christmas gifting gone wrong. 
  • The wise men and their gifts are commemorated in the Christmas hymn, "We Three Kings."
  • In T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Journey of the Magi," a weary wise man travels to see the baby Jesus.
  • And no nativity scene would be complete without the three wise men, bowing down, and holding out their haul out for baby Jesus to see.

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