Wednesday, December 13, 2017


On a quiet night in Bethlehem, a second wise man brought to the baby Jesus the gift of myrrh. And this gift, too, comes again in Christ's story, although if we are waiting to see the myrrh, we must wait until almost the very (almost) end.

As Jesus hangs dying on the Cross, He cries out. Those in witness believe Him to be in pain (He probably is, although He does not cry out from pain, but from agony). Someone orders quickly for a sponge to be brought to Him, and on this sponge is myrrh, which is supposed to take away the pain.

Myrrh in olden times was used, among other things, as an analgesic. It was not an anesthetic; it did not put a man to sleep. It was an analgesic; it soothed a pain. You might think of it as an antiquated Ben-Gay, although it could also be taken orally, like Tylenol.

Which makes it all the stranger a gift to give a newborn, doesn't it? If there was anyone in pain in that stable, it was more likely Mary, from the hard pain of labor, but the gift is not for her. Or perhaps it was Joseph, from Mary's bone-crushing hand-squeezing, but the gift is not for him. The gift is for the baby Jesus. 

Welcome to this broken, messed-up, painful world, Kid. You're gonna need this.

But it was, perhaps, an acknowledgement of Jesus's tender and very real flesh. It was perhaps a recognition that this baby was, in fact, fully human. He was subject to the same hurts and wounds that the rest of us are. His human existence would not be immune to anything that our human existences are not immune to. 

In this world, you will have pain. But take heart....

This is what makes what happens on the Cross such a beautiful thing. At His birth, He is brought this gift of myrrh that recognizes that He is a baby born in flesh. At the Cross, He is offered a drink of this myrrh, and He rejects it. 

He wants us to know that He is fully in this flesh. For real. For the long haul. For whatever it takes. He does not get a pass; He won't take one. His sacrifice demands that He feel the full weight of our brokenness. 

So the dying Christ, the living God, the Son of Man, this Jesus turns His head away from the gift that would take away His pain in order that we might know how fully, how sincerely, how truly He has taken ours. 

It was a gift given to acknowledge His flesh, and it was a gift used, far later, to confirm it. Our Lord who came to live among us came wholly as we are, that He might somehow make us holy through His own aching flesh.

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