What Does It Mean to Worship This Christmas?

Challenge Central: a CBC devotional

By: Rev. Charlie Lyons

In this season, when so many diversions and activities invade our worship, I thought it would be good to remind our hearts as Christ-followers about the nature of true worship. These truths might transform how you sing, pray, and enjoy this Christmastime.

The old adage rings true: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” The mysterious Magi of Matthew 2:1-11 can inspire our true worship during this season of mass distraction. As we seek to have a Christ-honouring and spiritually meaningful Christmas, we can learn much from these Christ-seekers from the East.

Now, without too much speculation or detail, it’s important to note a few facts about the Magi. These men were students of astrology and astronomy, probably from Persia (modern-day Iran). There’s no evidence that there were only three, just that they brought three gifts. They were not from the Orient, nor were they kings. They likely rode on Arabian steeds rather than camels, as is traditionally depicted. They were probably aware of Balaam’s prophecy of the star out of Jacob from Numbers 24:17. We know that the Jews expected a star as a sign of the birth of the Messiah. Somehow, in God’s providence, these Magi also were aware and eager to understand more.

The Magi’s example of authentic worship is notable. So, look with me at six brief characteristics that show us what it means to worship well at Christmas.

Acknowledgement (v. 2)

The account of the Magi’s worship journey begins with these words: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East…'” Authentic celebrations of Christmas can only occur when we first acknowledge the identity and character of the season’s centrepiece. God had shown the wise men that the one they sought was not just another religious leader or political figure. He was the King of the Jews, spoken of in prophecy and anticipated by the faithful.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” Real Christmas worship involves a clear and accurate appreciation of who Christ is. Warren Wiersbe said, “I am not worshipping Him because of what He will do for me, but because of what He is to me.” Worship begins by acknowledging Jesus for who He really is.

In John 1:49, Nathanael, the prospective disciple, acknowledged the identity of the King when he said to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” When He stood before Pilate at His trial, Christ testified, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Someday in eternity, we will stand before this one who came as a baby on that Christmas night. According to Revelation 19:16, His identity will be indisputable, “And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.'”

Someday in eternity, we will stand before this one who came as a baby on that Christmas night.

The Magi responded to the revelation given to them, even though it was somewhat obscure and mysterious. We can’t help but feel astonishment as we observe their faith and determination to find and worship the young King.

This Christmas, thank the Lord for the complete and glorious revelation you have received in His word, His son, and the beauty of His world. Worship Him in spirit and truth, as His indwelling Spirit helps you acknowledge Christ the Lord in this season of celebration.

Attention (v. 2)

These men were accustomed to gazing at the stars. Yet, they could recognize this unique star that would direct them to the Christ child. The passage tells us, “…For we have seen His star in the East….” Among a countless array of stars in the sky, they were aware that they had seen “His star.”

Every Christmas, we face the challenge of missing the moment of worship because so many distractions dull our sensitivity to the central message of Christ. Myriads of lights, commercials, traffic jams, and activities can keep us from paying attention to His person and message.

This Christmas, don’t let the confusion of the busy season, the attraction of materialism, the temptations of your heart, or mere religious activities distract you from concentrating on the one worthy of your undivided attention and worship.

Action (v. 2)

Notice the words of the Magi, “…and (we) have come to worship Him.” Having seen the star, these wise men were not content to worship from afar. They were determined to make the long trek to find the Child. Their worship was more than acknowledgment and attentiveness – it resulted in sacrificial action. For them, it required the thoughtful preparation of gifts, the sacrifice of many days of travel, and the inconvenience of rearranging their lives and schedules.

Pastor Jim Cymbala is known for saying, “The highest expression of worship is sacrifice.” The New Testament tells us in Romans 12:1: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

This Christmas, may the spirit of giving start with our worship of the King as we act in sincere adoration of Him.

Anticipation (vv. 9 & 10)

The passage tells us of the trap Herod was trying to set. After consulting with his advisors about the prophecies of the Messiah, and His future birth in Bethlehem, Herod told the Magi to find the Child. He intended to use the Magi to locate and destroy this “king” who threatened Herod’s rule. As we know, God later warned the Magi to avoid Herod’s trap and go home by a different route.

After this initial interchange with Herod, the Bible says, “When they heard the King, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”

God now directed these Magi straightforwardly and supernaturally, with a stellar manifestation of His glory. The Magi rejoiced with inexpressible, abounding joy – not because of the star, but because of where the star would take them. Their joy was centred on the privilege of worshiping this young King. A.W. Tozer said, “We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.” This 24/7 preoccupation is one of great anticipation and joy, knowing how worthy our King is and how “worth it” it is to experience His person and presence.

We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.

A.W. Tozer

This Christmas, may God give us consistent anticipation for the joy of daily worship, especially during the Christmas season.

Abandonment (v. 11)

Notice this profound commentary: “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.” What a powerful picture of true worship! These grown, dignified, and respected men see the young Jesus with His mother. In humble and utter abandonment, they fall on their faces in worship.

We all can relate to the temptation of worrying more about our dignity than His worthiness when we worship. We are often more conscious about the opinions of onlookers than the call of the Saviour to praise Him in complete freedom and sincerity.

The Bible compels us to abandon our souls and bodies to Him. Psalm 95:6 says, “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” The Book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of our worship in Heaven. Surrounded by myriads and myriads of angels, we will declare His worth with loud and unrestrained voices. This futuristic biblical account says, “the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5:11-14).

This Christmas may our worship be so Christ-focused and unrestrained this Christmas season that we, too, will honour Him in sweet and sincere abandon.

Adoration (v. 11)

The familiar narrative tells us, “And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

We’ve heard of the beautiful symbolism of these gifts:

  • Gold was a gift for royalty. Christ is the King of the Jews and the King of Kings.
  • Frankincense was an expensive fragrance used in worship. This symbolizes Christ’s deity.
  • Myrrh seemed a strange gift for a newborn king as it was most commonly used for embalming the dead. Perhaps God led these Magi even in selecting their gifts as this particular item pointed to His sacrificial death as Saviour and Redeemer of the world.

Will our gifts this year be thoughtful, sacrificial, and worthy of Christ? In 2 Samuel 24:24, King David said, “‘…I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.” In that same spirit, in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

This Christmas we should give our first and best gifts to the “guest of honour” at the birthday celebration.

The old Christmas Carol declares, “Oh, come, let us adore Him!” Friends, let’s allow the revelation of all He is to evoke a response of all we are – in true Christmas worship. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in the mid-20th century, said, “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

This Christmas, may this be the nature of our worship – for the good of others, growth in ourselves, and the glory of God.

To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.

William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury
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