Smell is, apparently, the most evocative of all the senses, the one that leaves the deepest embedded imprint on our memory. In fact, smell can trigger memory that lies deeper than our conscious memory: there is a perfume scent I sometimes catch as a random stranger passes by me in the street that I know is somehow associated with my early childhood. Was it a scent my mother wore back then? Was it something I tasted, even? (For scent and taste are closely related.) I can’t access it – not helped by being too reserved to call after a stranger and ask, “What perfume are you wearing?” – but this particular smell tries to stir a memory I can’t bring into focus.
Christmas has its own smells: mince-pies, fresh from the oven; fir tree sap; frankincense and myrrh candles, or infusers. Smells on which memories will become entangled, inhaled, lodge themselves deep within.
Frankincense and myrrh, of course, with gold, were gifts presented to the infant Christ by the magi, or astronomer-astrologers who read his coming in the skies and set out on an epic journey to find the new-born king (he may have been two years old by the time they found him). Incense, which covered the smell of blood sacrifice; myrrh, which was used to embalm the dead: strong smells, both of them.
Do not underestimate the significance of smell as a means of making room for Jesus in Advent.
Advent: making room for Jesus – in smell.