January 4, 2009
They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts …. – Mt. 2: 11
Worship seems to be a fundamental human trait. It seems to be an instinctual response when confronted with something or someone that is awesome, overpowering, & even intimidating. One typical emotion is fear. We’re dealing with something that has power over us for good or ill, & since we’re not sure which it is, our literal knee-jerk reaction is to kowtow in the hope of appeasing this mysterious force. Herein lies a characterization of all ancient religions regardless of where they originated.
The problem with this scenario is that it is based on fear, & that can obtain only so long as we are prisoners of fear. Worship in this sense is a self-defense mechanism. If you can’t fight it, try joining it or at least pretend to go along. This version of worship, however, leaves a bad taste in our mouths if not our souls, & rightly so.
When the magi prostrated themselves before the babe in the manger, however, they changed the nature of worship forever. Now the motivation is not fear but love. They were in awe of the indescribable love of God for His creation, specifically the human part of it. Given humanity’s track record, this could not have been anticipated nor even hoped for. Yet there it was!
When we find ourselves truly loved by someone, the initial reaction is disbelief. How can this be? What does this person see in me? Yet as we slowly come to accept the reality of it, we are overwhelmed by joy & gratitude. We cannot do enough or give enough to the beloved. Gold, frankincense & myrrh become mere tokens, trinkets if you like, to indicate just how blessed we feel. Indeed, there is not enough one can DO for the beloved to show how grateful we are.
So we have not just the magi, but the mysterious woman pouring precious ointment on our Lord’s feet & wiping them with her hair. There are also apostles like Peter & Paul & deacons like Stephen & Lawrence who give everything, even their lives, in gratitude for what God has done for them. For those who have not experienced this kind of passionate love affair with God, the loss is theirs.
In the end, worship is not about manipulating the divinity like the pagan religions tried to do, nor is it about having our spiritual gas tanks filled, nor about edification nor entertainment. It is not about us. It is about offering the best we have (& that includes our hearts & souls) in gratitude for the enormous compliment that has been paid to us. God has offered us something more precious than what such substitutes for worship can provide: an eternal love affair.
I once had an uneducated black man (after a suicide attempt) say to me: “I can’t LIVE without love!” How profound that statement is! It is the only thing that can make us truly whole, & if we haven’t found it in our lives, we’ve probably been looking in all the wrong places. We won’t find it in all the sentimental claptrap surrounding Christmas, but only in the babe in the manger. Would that we knew what the magi did! AMEN!