We don’t actually know how many Wise Men came to worship the baby Jesus. Tradition maintains there were three because there were three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All three are significant in that they are gifts befitting a king. But in addition, all three have symbolic significance.
Frankincense is found in the scraggly, but hardy, Boswellia tree, and is harvested by slashing the bark and allowing the resins to bleed out and harden. The hardened resins are called tears. Frankincense trees grow in very difficult environments where most plant life could never exist such as out of solid rock. How it attaches to the stone is unknown, but a bulbous disk-like swelling of the trunk at the base of the tree allows it to adhere and grow. This growth prevents it from being ripped from the rock during violent storms that frequent the places the trees grow in. The bulbous swelling is slight or absent in trees grown in rocky soil or gravel.
Frankincense is used as a perfume, but more significantly it was used as incense and burned on the altar of the Jewish temple. Think about the last time you saw smoke rising and how it forms a “ribbon,” that connects heaven to earth. This is why incense and the smoke it gives off became a symbol of prayers which when uttered rise and connect us to God.
Frankincense is also a symbol of another connection between heaven and earth, priesthood, which is the power of God shared with mankind.
What a fitting gift, then, frankincense was for the King of Kings, the great High Priest, who is our mediator, our connection and gateway to heaven.