If gold or myrrh isn't your offering, I'm fairly certain we've all got a little frankincense lying around to bring to the manger this Christmas.
Frankincense is another one of those "precious" oils that was probably fairly common around Jerusalem. Its primary use was as an incense. Specifically, the incense that was offered at the altar as a sacrifice to God. An aroma pleasing to the Lord. Something to cover up the smell of all that burning fat and hide and hair.
Is it any wonder, then, that a man we call a wise man carried frankincense to Bethlehem?
From the moment that brightest star rose over the stable, the wise man knew he wouldn't need this any more. He no longer had to concoct an offering to the Lord. He no longer had to mix the potent oils to blend an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Whatever he had been required under the old law to bring to the temple, he had no more use for with a Messiah lying in a manger.
He took his frankincense and laid it at the baby's feet. In essence, he said, "Whatever I've tried to do, it hasn't work. Nothing has made me right with God. Not for any good measure of time and not with any large measure of incense. Its aroma may be pleasing, but it scatters in the wind and I find myself always trying to catch up, always trying to make more amends, always trying to be enough and get this ritual just right. And tonight, I know that it's not about the ritual any more. There's something greater here, and all of this that I've done to try to get right with God, all my frankincense...I just don't need it any more. So I give it to You, baby Jesus."
In the same way, it is upon us to give God the same. To give Him whatever we've thought we had that might make us right with Him. To give Him our vain attempts to bridge the gap ourselves when nothing crosses the chasm but His one and only Son. To give Him our offerings, the things we've brought to Him here and there to try to establish our righteousness. To give Him the muddled mess and the mixed aroma of our attempts at our own justification.
We are to take Him our frankincense because the aroma pleasing to the Lord cannot be drawn from a tree; it can only be drawn from the heart. We lay down at His feet what might have covered our sacrifice....
...because our sacrifice lay before us in swaddling clothes. And we just don't need this frankincense any more.
The power of the Christmas story is overwhelming. A beautiful starry night. A pregnant virgin. A semi-sheltered, but somehow cozy stable. A promise fulfilled. A child given. A baby born.
And it's easy to get lost sometimes in how incredible it is that God would send His Son in such a tender, vulnerable, humble moment to somehow sanctify a people who continue to turn their backs on Him. It's hard to swallow the enormity of His gift. It's hard to sit here and know how completely hollow we are to offer anything in return.
What do you give the God who has everything?
We come to the manger in the beat of our own drum and play for Christ in the rhythm He's created in us.
We give Him our gold, turning our worth over to the God who defines it. We give Him our myrrh, admitting our inability to cleanse or to heal our own broken flesh, and embrace the touch of our Healing Lord. We give Him our frankincense, humbling ourselves before the only sacrifice able to bridge the gap for us and make us holy.
The greatest gift any of us can give in return for this child is to lay down our everything and open our arms to cradle this baby.
Embrace Christ this Christmas season.