Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Sunday, December 7, 2014

DAY EIGHT – Matthew 2: 11 – Frankincense

Going into the house they (the wise men) saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense...

Frankincense is made of Olibanum, an aromatic gum resin secreted as a milky-white substance by certain species of trees. After ‘Resin canals’ are cut into the bark, the gum comes out as transparent beads, which, once congealed and pressed into cylinder shaped yellowish pieces, are ground into a powder. The highest quality Frankincense is that which has come from the clearest gum and makes the whitest powder. The name in Hebrew for Frankincense ‘Lebona’ means ‘White or Shining’.

The Frankincense powder is burnt and provides a pleasant, penetrating odor (similar to balsam). It was used, not only by the Israelites but by other religions as well, as ritual incense at various festivals and religious occasions.

In the book of Leviticus five offerings are outlined that the people of Israel were to make to God. Frankincense was used in connection with the ‘Meal Offering’.  It was a voluntary offering, a gift made to God to maintain God’s favor.

If you cook meat or flour in oil, it doesn't give off a particularly sweet smelling odor. But when frankincense was added, that changed things. The Frankincense released a strong smell that overcame all the other odors. (I wonder why no one has ever invented frankincense socks? Just think of the service they would provide to wash baskets throughout the universe!)

Frankincense is an offering connected with prayer and praise to God. The Frankincense that we are called to give God is the offering of prayer and praise.  As believers in Christ we make our prayers and praise in Jesus name, for we believe He is the great High Priest who gave His life as an offering for sin.

Frankincense symbolizes prayer and devotion. If our lives are to be an effective witness for Christ then those strands of spirituality must be woven into them. The most prayerful life in the New Testament is that of Jesus Himself.

Yet in order for Frankincense to be used as an offering it had to be burnt. We use the expression about somebody who is excited about something, that they are all ‘fired up’. So we also need the fire of God's Spirit to burn in our hearts, if we are to live lives of prayer and worship to God.

"Frankincense to offer have I ,
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high."

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