Advent Attitude: Reverence
When we worship God we make Him known.
(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 & Luke 2:8-20 in your Bible. I’ve used the NIV (1984) for my research.)
Every year about this time we lament the “commercialization of Christmas” and silently pledge not to go to such extremes next year. Somehow eleven months go by and here we are again. it seems the only solution is to laugh at ourselves and stay out of the stores until February! In that vein, I offer a couple of Christmas stories involving kids and gift-giving.
“Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents' house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. The younger one began at the top of his lungs:
‘I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE...’ ‘I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO...’"
“His older brother leaned over, nudged him and said, ‘Why are you shouting? God isn't deaf,’ to which the little brother replied, ‘No, but Grandma is!’"
One father thought he’d found a new angle and told his daughters that Christmas is Jesus' birthday and he only received three things. So they were not be upset with what they found under the tree.
As it happened on Christmas morning, one little gal expressed her disappointment with her gifts, very nearly in tears. When the father reminded her about Jesus only getting three things, she responded "How do you think Jesus felt when he got three things and none of them were toys?!”
Now, at the end of Advent, we add the fourth and arguably the most necessary Advent Attitude: Reverence. We must seek to regain a sense of the awe of the shepherds, the wonder of Mary, and reenact the worship of the Magi before we throw ourselves into gifting and feasting. We must pray for God to recreate some of dazzling light of the star that will lead us to Jesus.
Reverence is quiet. It is understated. It requires a little solitude and some time for undistracted attention to the Spirit of God in us. Hands need to be folded and kept still. Hurried thoughts need to be gently brought back to an inner vision of the radiant baby, the Son of God.
1. The Magi worshiped God with their giving
Their first gift was to seek Him because their journey was long in both mileage and time. We have so little information on these visitors, all we can say with certainty is that there more than one (“magi” is the plural form of “magus”) and that they came FROM THE EAST. Not knowing an exact point of origin it’s impossible to say when they started, but we have four clues about the timing of their arrival.
In v. 1, it plainly says AFTER JESUS WAS BORN. Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ birthday; all that comes from Luke.
In v. 7, King Herod directly asked the Magi THE EXACT TIME the star appeared to them.
Add to that v. 16 where King Herod had all the boys in Bethlehem TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER killed. This was an attempt to slay the newborn king whom he thought must be no older than two years, based on the TIME the Magi told them.
In v. 11 the text says they came to a HOUSE, not a stable. For whatever set of reasons, the family did not immediately return to Nazareth, but remained in Bethlehem for some time.
Their journey started with one fact (a new Jewish king was born) and an idea where he might be found (in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews). That’s going to a lot of trouble on the basis of very little information.
Their journey had some danger. In addition to the usual hazards of travel, there was the danger indicated in Herod’s lethal reaction to the Magi not reporting in to him as he’d commanded.
From the Magi we learn that worship is more about the giving than the gifts. Their gifts have been thoroughly analyzed by Bible scholars, without much insight added. People have tried to say that the various gifts are various symbols. What makes the most sense to me is that they were the kind of expensive gifts one would present to a king to curry favor. What’s more important is following their example by making sacrificial gifts, whatever we might see as “valuable.”
God’s purpose in these gifts is that they funded the family’s escape to Egypt. They were small but sold for a hefty price.
2. The angels worshiped God with their singing
The song was the culmination of their message. The message was: “The most wonderful thing has just happened.”
“I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY THAT WILL BE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. This is a major theme of Luke’s Gospel.
“TODAY IN THE TOWN OF DAVID A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU; HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.
“THIS WILL BE A SIGN TO YOU: YOU WILL FIND A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER.”
The song is an example of heaven-sanctioned worship.
“GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST.” In other words, “May God be praised in heaven” and/or “to the highest degree.” Pointing to God is one job humans and angels share; we give Him the glory. For example, in Luke 19:38, the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem shout, “PEACE IN HEAVEN AND GLORY IN THE HIGHEST.”
“ON EARTH PEACE TO MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.” What we generally hear at Christmas is “on earth, peace, good will toward men.” That line is based on a mistranslation in the KJV. It should actually read as the NIV translates it. The point: God bestows PEACE on whomever He chooses and He chooses His people. Paul confirmed this teaching in Romans 5:1; THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, WE HAVE PEACE WITH GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
Worship is more about the singing than the song. Of course I am NOT referring to any quality of musicianship. Seven times the Psalms urge us to MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD. Those verses put the focus on the worshiper’s heart, not his or her vocal chords. I am referring to the attitude of the worshiper. As usual, the inner parts are more important that the outer ones.
Because we are committed to your having a MERRY Christmas, I want to conclude with a couple humorous versions of the account of the visit of the Magi.
Three wise men walk into a barn...yes I said BARN...and see Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Joseph asks why they are disturbing them as his wife had just given birth and needed rest. The first wise man said "I have brought gold for the child." Joseph thanked him but asked them to leave. Then the second wise man said "I have brought frankincense for the child." Again Joseph thanked him but was getting annoyed as they were interrupting a special moment between him and his wife. He then, forcefully, asked them to leave.
The third wise man said "But wait there's myrrh!"
It is true that most of what we think we know about the magi has come from tradition or legend, not from the Bible. As we’ve seen, the Bible does not give us a number of Magi, but legend says there were three, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. They are so named in the book Ben Hur.
I recently came across a legend of a fourth Magi named Jacques. Jacques did not make the trip to Bethlehem but stayed behind in Persia. He refused to go because he was caring for a baby dolphin.
When the other three came back, they were full of wondrous tales of the journey and praise for the newborn king of the Jews. When they had at last told all, Balthasar sighed and leaned back and said, “Poor Jacques, you missed all these things to stay home and feed that baby dolphin.”
Jacques merely waved him off. He said, “I like to think I have served a youthful porpoise.”
Throughout this Advent season we have observed the attitudes of joy, expectation, obedience, and reverence. May the days ahead bring all these experiences to you. May they transcend all the distractions the world offers so you will know the fullness of joy and satisfaction that only God can provide.
When we worship God we make Him known.
With this in mind, let us make worship the central part of Christmas. Let us make Jesus known in our homes, our community, and our world.