February 29, 2016
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Hang on, wasn’t Jesus born in a manger? So how did he get into a house in time for the Magi to make their nativity scene visit?
Sidebar: This is one of those somewhat benign situations, and there are others, where we have gotten caught up in the trappings and wrapping of Christmas and allowed the folklore to overshadow the biblical text. In reality, the Magi didn’t show up in Bethlehem until Jesus was probably two years old (Otherwise Herod would have killed all the newborns instead of the toddlers). I know, it kind of ruins the pageantry of Christmas as we know it. It’s why the Church has marked the Day of Epiphany, January 6—the thirteenth day after Christmas, as the commemoration celebration of the Magi’s historic visit. Another minor point—while we know there were at least three different gifts presented to Jesus, the text nowhere tells us there were three kings. Sure, it makes for a great Christmas carol and it’s not a problem, but it gives us a good reminder of the need to be careful readers of Scripture. Don’t get me wrong—we don’t want to be “that guy”—the one who knows it all and loves to point out how John 8:1-11 and the ending of the Gospel of Mark shouldn’t actually be in the bible and how everyone gets the bible wrong but him or her. Don’t try to change the Christmas pageant at church or get rid of any nativity sets. We just need to be attentive to the subtle ways we can read things into the text that aren’t there.
Now to the text. On our pilgrimage through Matthew’s Gospel, I want us to pause at this scene of the visit of the Magi. Remember in the last episode those words the kings said to Herod, capturing the mission of their visit? We have come to worship him. So today they are making good on that commitment. We can so easily lose this in all the fanfare around the “Wise Men” and hearing small children try to pronounce frankincense. In fact, the gift giving seems to get all the action in our remembering of this story.
There’s a quite demonstrative Greek word in v.11 that cries out to be amplified. [T]hey bowed down and worshiped him.
Our snow village nativity scenes with one of the three wise men “getting a knee” doesn’t cut it. There are two Greek words working together here. Pipto (phonetic spelling), the first word, means to fall prostrate or to bow. Now if that weren’t enough we also see the word, proskuneo (phonetical spelling) which also means to get low to the ground and worship. The term literally means to “kiss” the ground between the worshipper and the one being worshipped. It signifies that the ground between us is holy ground by virtue of the presence of God. The pairing of these two words that mean almost the same thing gives the impression that Matthew wants us to see something. He wants us to see these dignified kings on the ground, on their faces, kissing the ground, worshipping this two year old boy likely in the arms of his mother. Try to visualize this scene unfolding before you.
Now, here’s a challenge by choice for you daring pilgrims out there. I want you to join them. Yes, walk up beside them and lay prostrate, flat-on-your-face, face-down on the floor before the Son of God. If you’re feeling bold, go ahead and kiss the ground. Not to be confused with the multiplicity of motions we go through in the average church service, THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE TO WORSHIP GOD. Yes, it’s humbling. Yes, it’s undignified. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it feels awkward and out of place. Yes, it feels fanatical. Yes, it feels like that church down the street that makes us uncomfortable. No, none of that matters. This is precisely what you would do if Jesus walked into the room right now. So if we believe he’s present with us by the presence of the Holy Spirit, what are we waiting for?
Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
One more bit. It’s interesting how they offered themselves to Jesus before they made the offering of their treasures. Don’t let the significance of that sequence be lost on you.
1. Have you ever privately taken a prostrate posture before God and worshipped him? Have you ever done this publicly? Did you do it today? What was the experience like for you?
2. Why don’t you think we bow down in this fashion in our weekly worship services? What impact might it have if we did—even occasionally?
3. People who give their money to the church without offering their whole selves to God often give God a “tip” rather than a significant gift. Whether this describes you or not, reflect and respond to this thought and whether you agree with it or not.
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.