Christmas officially ends today.
Now you may have thought that it ended on Dec. 25, after you unwrapped the presents, consumed the Christmas ham and shoved the last of the kinfolk out the door. However, for hundreds of years, the church didn’t start Christmas celebrations until Dec 25 and carried them through Jan 6; hence, the “12 Days of Christmas.” Each day was dedicated to a particular saint or focused on a biblical story in the early life of Jesus.
Today is Epiphany Sunday, a day to recognize the awesome revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Some cultures call today “Three Kings Day,” because they celebrate the visit of the Three Wise Men to the Christ Child—who were probably not kings at all, but a priestly band of stargazers. Children in Latin America leave hay outside the door for the wise men’s camels and empty shoes for the Magi to fill with small gifts. In some European countries, children hold star-topped poles and carol from house to house.
The biblical record of the wise men takes up 12 short verses in the Gospel of Matthew. They are not mentioned anywhere else, yet their story continues to fascinate us today.
This is the first message in an Epiphany series entitled “Lord … Reveal To Us.” Today I am asking the Lord to reveal to us true worship. Worship is what makes the church the church. The church does service work, but so does Rotary and Kiwanis. The church has fellowship, but so does the local lodge and the ladies’ bridge club. Worship is the distinct priority of the Body of Christ.
Three brief lessons on today’s text:
1. TRUE WORSHIP BEGINS WITH A DIVINE REVELATION.
The Star in the east was the revealed sign that set the Wise Men on their journey of worship. Now I don’t mean to get all mystical and mysterious with you, but worship is always connected with a revelation from God. You can go to a worship service every Sunday without worshipping. You can even believe in God without worshipping, because worship is not an intellectual nod to a Supreme Being; it is a passionate response to the living God who has shown His heart to you. When the Heavenly Father reveals a hint of His glory through creation…when Jesus divulges the depth of His love through the Cross…when the Holy Spirit shines a light on a sin that causes us to repent…true worship begins.
I recently came across a photo blog of actual bridegrooms who see their bride for the first time, all dressed in their wedding splendor. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Look at these photos. This is true adoration; this is real reverence. When the beauty of the Lord is on display, we worship. It brings tears to our eyes, takes our breath away, melts our hearts, imparts unspeakable joy, impels us to give thanks. The Bible says, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps 29:2).
Secondly, TRUE WORSHIP COSTS US SOMETHING.
When the Wise Men saw the star, they “headed up and moved ’em out.” The Magi hailed from Persia, which is modern-day Iran. Traveling by foot, with perhaps a few camels in tow, they began a thousand-mile journey that undoubtedly took them months to complete. They could have faced howling sandstorms. Highwaymen could have robbed them of their precious gifts. They did not know where they were going as they followed the mobile Star. When they arrived in the Holy Land, they confronted King Herod with the question, “Where is he born King of the Jews?” Herod was a murderous, half-Jewish puppet of the Romans, insanely jealous, constantly plotting. The Magi took a big chance insinuating that Herod had a claimant to his throne. You can see that it cost them something to find the Child and worship Him.
I remember reading a story, many years ago, about a professor at a college who was walking to church in the rain. Some of his students whizzed by in a car and asked him the next day, “Hey, Prof, at what point yesterday did you decide to go to church in such nasty weather?” The teacher replied, “I didn’t decide yesterday. I decided to go to worship long ago when I became a Christian.”
The English word for “worship” is actually a contraction of “worth-ship,” an ancient term meaning “to ascribe worth to” or “give honor to the honorable.” The Psalmist proclaims, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts” (Ps 96:8)
Lastly, TRUE WORSHIP FOCUSES ON GOD, NOT US.
We all have our particular worship preference. Some like contemporary music with guitars and drums; others prefer high church with hymns and organ. We get into trouble when we push style over substance. Over the last ten years, I have attended Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC, a service at an Assemblies of God church where they raised hands and shouted “Amen” and more Methodist revivals than you can shake a stick at where, in some, we sang to poorly-tuned pianos in musty old sanctuaries. I found God at all these services because I was looking for Him. Jesus said, “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). He did not say, “Those who worship Him must find a Gothic cathedral” or “Those who worship Him must have theatrical fog, laser lights and a kickin’ praise band.”
Years ago, I visited a church where the pastor was upset that the altar guild had forgotten to change the paraments. It was Communion Sunday and the paraments should have been white, but they were green. He obsessed about it the rest of the morning. Now I’m not saying that paraments and candles and stained glass and mood lighting cannot aid in worship, but they should never become objects of worship. The French author, Antoine de Saint–Exupéry, wrote in Wind, Sand and Stars, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”
The Wise Men looked outward in the same direction and discovered God’s sign of a newborn Messiah. They traveled together, hoped together, asked together the same question: “Where is he born the King?” They did not waver. They did not falter. They did not give up their search until they found the Child with his mother. The Bible says that when the Wise Men saw the Babe, they “bowed down and worshipped” (Matthew 2:11). The word that Matthew used for worship means to “fall prostrate” or “bow before a superior.” Some scholars believe that the term originally meant to kiss the hand of a king as a sign of reverence and respect. What a scene! The most intellectual men of their day, scientists and scholars, bent their knees before a baby boy, the Messiah Child.
Would you be great? Would you be honored? Would you be as wise as the Magi? Then worship the King! Bow before him. Yield your all to the One whose birth was trumpeted by angels, marked by a Star and visited by lowly shepherds and resplendent magi alike.