Men and women will gather in churches this day to worship Jesus Christ. Today and in these coming days many of us will respond to the Advent story by worshipping Christ. So what does it mean to worship?
William Temple famously defined worship in this way: ‘Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of the will to his purpose – and all this gathered up in adoration – the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.’
So what does that mean? What does that actually look like?
True worship is active, not passive. It involves giving, not taking. We give our adoration, our love and ultimately our very selves to Christ. We see this wonderfully in the way the Magi worshipped Christ at the first Advent and how their giving of worship involved physical giving, spiritual giving and material giving. Those three elements normally make up mature, holistic worship.
First, there was a physical giving. The Magi came before Jesus and they ‘bowed down’. Their bodies aligned with their souls, modelling respect, honour and adoration. They didn’t just stand there with their hands in their pockets. They didn’t just mumble some meaningless words. They bowed down. The physical act of giving worship is always important. Our posture says so much about our intent. That’s why we need to be aware of what our bodies are doing when we worship and allow them to align with our hearts. If you’ve never intentionally stood up in respect, or knelt in humility, raised your hands in praise, clapped your appreciation or bowed in honour before Christ, then this Christmas would be a great time to start! Because true worship always involves a physical giving.
Second, there was a spiritual giving. The writer of Luke’s gospel tells us they ‘worshipped‘, using the Greek word proscunio, which means ‘to come towards to kiss’. This is the language not of cold religion but of warm relationship. They drew close. There was intimacy. There was love. True worship always involves this kind of giving – a spiritual giving – showing and telling Jesus that we love him. The Magi show us what that’s like. So give Christ your heart-felt worship this Christmas.
Third, there was a material giving. The giving of gifts by the Magi wasn’t an after-thought to, or separate from their worship. It was part of it. They literally gave Jesus things. Material things. Things that were important to them and costly. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. This reminds us that true worship always costs. We give our first-fruits. Our money. Our stuff. It all belongs to the Lord anyway so we’re only giving back what he gave us in the first place! Many outside the church will not understand why followers of Jesus give away so much of their money, but we know it’s all about worship. Material giving is a crucial part of our love for Christ. Whilst no gift is ever sufficient, we give all we can as an expression of generosity and love.
So, what kind of worship will you be offering this Christmas? Think about your body. Your heart. Your wallet. Give him all you can. But most of all give him your self. Because if he has your self, then these other things will be naturally given too.
Christina Rossetti, author of ‘In the Bleak mid Winter’ got it so right when she ended her carol with the helpful words: ‘What can I give him poor as I am. If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part. But what I can I give him, give my heart.’
ACTION: Take your Notebook and write down the various physical postures that you use when you worship. Is there more you could offer? Then think about your material giving too. Do you know how much you’ve given away in 2015? If not, why not take some time to look back over your finances and find out. With 2016 approaching, is this something you need to work on, as part of your worship?
PRAY: Pray that you would give Christ costly worship this Christmas. Worship that is active and from the heart. If you think that will take you out of your comfort zone (note: it often does!) then ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to lay down your pride and humbly worship. He deserves it all!