My family and I have been singing some of the old Christmas hymns during our daily family worship times this month. Personally, I cannot get enough of these great hymns of Christ’s advent, whether singing them as a family or hearing them on the radio. It is wonderful to hear Christ lauded as the Savior in so many well-written, classic songs.
One song my family recently sang together was “We Three Kings.” In that hymn the story is told of the wisemen travelling from the East to worship the newborn Jesus. Their famous query recorded in the Bible goes thus: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2).
In the song, each of the three wisemen offer their gifts and provide a brief explanation. The wiseman giving gold says, “Gold I bring to crown him again, King forever, ceasing never Over us all to reign.” The giver of incense says, “Frankincense to offer have I; Incense owns a Deity nigh.”
Gold for a King. Frankincense for the divine Son of God. Appropriate gifts, indeed. And encouraging praise appended to them.
But the final wiseman offers myrrh. And with it he gives a melancholic and somber explanation: “Myrrh is mine: its bitter perfume Breathes a life of gathering gloom—Sorr’wing, sighing, bleeding, dying, Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”
The hymn reminds us of the bitterness of Christmas.
Why did the Son of God take on flesh and become a man? So that he could be brutally murdered and suffer under the wrath of God in the place of guilty sinners. He came to earth to be a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He came to serve others, offend others by speaking the truth, endure the contempt of sinners, and be cut down in the prime of his life. Surely his whole life was one of “gathering gloom” as he prepared to face the unfathomable suffering of drinking the cup of God’s wrath on the cross (cf. Matthew 26:38-39; Jeremiah 25:15-17).
There is a bitterness about Christmas that is overlooked amid the frivolity that the season has become. Sin provides fragrant molecules to the holiday perfume—as I heard recently, sin is the reason for the season.
However, our age (like others before us) is one in which reflection on our own sin is deemed narcissistic and unhelpful. Sorry to let anyone down, but Jesus didn’t come to earth because you and I were decent chaps. He came because you and I are wretched, pitiable, vile sinners who were born in darkness, hating God, and hating others. As Paul told Titus: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
The perfume the newborn King received was bitter because of you and because of me.
Of course, it is not all darkness. As another classic Christmas hymn puts it: Christ was “Born that men no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.” That second birth (or regeneration) brings with it an awareness that our only righteousness, our only hope, is Jesus Christ, not anything in us.
I am thankful Christ not only received the gold and frankincense. I am thankful for the bitter perfume. Without that, without the horror of the cross, without the slaughtering of the Lamb, I would still be a hell-bound sinner. And so would you.
In fact, if you have not turned from your wickedness and trusted in the Savior, then you are still in your sins and face the gathering eternal gloom. For in Christ are met not only the “hopes” but also the “fears of all the years.” He is a bastion of hope to those born again by the power of the Spirit, but He is a Judge to be feared by the rest. “In flaming fire [Christ will take] vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8; cf. Matthew 25:31-46).
Come to Him as your Savior, lest you find yourself facing Him as your Judge.
And then, serve Him, even amid what seems to be a gathering gloom in our own day. There is work to be done for this King, for “He rules the world with truth and grace And makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love.” His kingdom reaches here to Lancaster County, as it does to the ends of the earth.
We cannot bring Him silver and gold, we cannot anoint Him with incense or perfume. In the words of my favorite Christmas song: we “have no gift to bring that’s fit to give a King.” But we can, by the power of His Spirit, play our best for him.
Christ procured His own Christmas gift via His death and resurrection: the nations are His inheritance (cf. Psalm 2:8). This coming year, and every year thereafter, let’s do our part. Let’s work to present Christ with a faithful, obedient Lancaster County.
That’s a gift fit to give a King.