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The Gathering of the Gifts

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
~ Matthew 2:1-2

The Gathering of the Gifts

Melchior traced his fingers across the sky. He muttered the prophecy under his breath, “On that day, the King shall dance with Love before the rising of the Bright and Morning Star.1 His light will shine in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.”

His eyes opened wide. He quickly called for Balthasar and Gaspar. They came running, and they gazed in wonder at the sign in the heavens.

A prophecy fulfilled in their lifetime … could it be?

The appearance of the sign meant the wise men must pay homage, but first, each of them was to gather the finest gifts.

Gaspar would travel east to the Indus Plateau where villagers sifted gold from sand dug up by marmots while making their burrows.

Melchior would head south to Sheba to seek the farmer who carved from the tree.

Balthasar would go southwest to Kush where the medicine woman extracted the best cures.

The men immediately set off on their camels.

Gold: His kingship

On a high plateau, Gaspar found furry marmots digging up heaps of sand with their burrowing.2 The sand was laced with gold buried deep within the earth. Villagers watched from afar, sifting gold from the sand.

He stepped forward cautiously.

The marmots scurried forward, clasped their paws and stood behind mounds of gold-laced sand. Villagers came forward to present the gold to Gaspar.

In his hands, Gaspar held the world’s most priceless gold—mined not by people, but by the mountain mice—fit for the king of kings.

Frankincense: His priesthood and deity

Meanwhile, Melchior met the farmer delicately cutting off the bark of an ancient Boswellia tree. The farmer slashed the tree and let the sap dry.

Fifteen days passed, and the man harvested the resin, cutting the same spot again. A third incision was made another fifteen days later, yielding the most aromatic harvest of frankincense.

As the tree was wounded, so would the High Priest who would stand between God and man as the unblemished sacrifice to atone for the transgressions of all mankind.

The farmer handed Melchior the holy incense and sent him on his way.

Myrrh: His death

The medicine woman was tarrying in anticipation of Balthasar’s arrival.

The woman smiled as she retrieved a salve from the Commiphora tree, harvested in the same manner as the frankincense.

Balthasar sniffed the granules of myrrh to ensure its authenticity, taking in the familiar aroma of temple worship, and death.

Myrrh, an ingredient used in anointing oil for priests in the temple. Myrrh, which would bind the wounds of he who would traverse from hades to the heavens in triumph.

The search

The men had journeyed to the corners of the earth for the finest gifts, even as the sign in the heavens started to wane. They hurried on to the land of the Jews.

Surely a King as great as he would be born in a palace?

In one of his many palaces, the wise men asked Herod the Great where they could find the King of the Jews.

Herod did not know, but the priests and teachers of the law searched the Scriptures, which said:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
~ Micah 5:2

 

Dejected, the wise men trudged forward with only one clue. How would they find the hidden Messiah? They were looking for a needle in a haystack.

Melchior, the old wise one, who knew the directions to all the treasures, was at his wits’ end. He lifted his hands to the heavens and prayed to the Almighty God.

Then the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them just like the pillar of cloud and fire which guided the Israelites in the wilderness. The wise men were overjoyed to see the star again. It stopped over the place where the child was dwelling.

There, nursing on his mother’s breast was the Bright and Morning Star, humbled as a little child.

They-presented-unto-Him-gifts

He had no stately form or majesty, no beauty except that of a tender shoot. Dressed in plain linen, he appeared as a suffering servant—the child of a carpenter and his wife—rather than a conquering king.

Before the spotless lamb of God, the wise men stood in their fine robes, their iniquity laid bare. Unclean men, with unclean lips. They felt the urge to withdraw, their sinfulness creating a chasm, and yet, felt drawn to the holy one.

The wise men approached Jesus, bowing low. Presenting their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they prostrated themselves before the Christ, their faces to the dust. And they worshipped.

The wise men brought extravagant gifts of gold (representing the kingship of Christ), frankincense (used in temple worship signifying Jesus as the High Priest) and myrrh (an indication that the Messiah was to come and die). What would you offer him in worship today?


1 Some astronomers have suggested that the conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which occurred around the time of the birth of Christ, could have been the phenomenon seen as “the Star of Bethlehem”.

2 Greek historian Herodotus first wrote of “gold-digging ants” that throw up sand laced with gold dust. According to his writings, the Indians would go after the sand with little sacks, filling them as quickly as possible because as soon as the creatures caught their scent, they would give chase, leaving the humans no way of coming out alive. This record was later corroborated by modern-day explorers who believe the creatures to be marmots, a type of ground squirrel.

If you enjoyed Dominique’s art, visit Sound of Art’s Christmas exhibition, “The Art of Christmas”. Details on www.soundof.art/artofchristmas23

Interview with the illustrator …

Q&A with Dominique Fam

The two images used in this story, “Wise Men from the East” and “They Presented Unto Him Gifts”, were illustrated by Dominique Fam, a full-time illustrator and member of Wesley Methodist Church. These two paintings are part of a Christmas Story series made up of five paintings. They have been reproduced here with permission from Sound of Art (https://www.soundof.art/).

MM: There are many artworks depicting the Christmas story. What inspired you to do your own series?
One of the things that has always nagged at me (especially during Christmas time) was the conflation of events in Luke 2:8–20 and Matthew 2:1–23 in order to create a single nativity scene. I decided to present the timeline of events more accurately through a series of paintings, which covers the first two years of Jesus’ earthly life.

MM: How did you conduct your research?
I looked at three sets of information— Scripture; historical and archaeological information; and information about the culture and tradition of the time, in that order. The biblical texts described the scene and then I filled in the details by referring to historical and archaeological records. Finally, cultural details were added to the scene. My intention is to create scenes that were hopefully faithful to the way they are described in the Bible.

MM: What was the stylistic approach you adopted and why?
I thought about how to best translate Scripture into a visual form. I decided on a hyper-realistic style so that viewers would focus more on the subject, rather than the art style.

MM: Tell us why your artwork is different from other depictions of the wise men.
Traditionally, three wise men, or magi, are depicted in most Christmas artworks because three gifts are mentioned. However, there is nowhere in the Bible that suggests there were only three of them. The magi were prominent men who probably travelled with a significant company of armed guards, which is possibly why we read in Matthew 2:3 that, “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” If there had been just three men, it might not have caused such a stir. So I wanted to suggest that. Perhaps there were more than four wise men, but I also thought it unlikely that Joseph and Mary would have been able to afford a house big enough to accommodate all of them at the same time, so I only included four.

MM: Are there any “Easter eggs” in your artwork?
If you look at the top of the painting, you will see some pieces of wood, which hint at Joseph’s (and later, Jesus’) profession. But there are also three nails which foreshadows Jesus’ finished work on the cross. There is also no lamp in the room. The light is coming from the star that the magi followed (possibly from an open window).

Sophia Huang attempts daily to find her true worth in Jesus while pursuing her work as a children’s book author, copy editor and mother of three. She writes for several Christian publications and attends Redemption Hill Church with her family.

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