We’re at the beginning of a new year. No doubt the dawn of this new year has come full of expectations and hopes and fears, and perhaps resolutions? How many of you have made new years resolutions? How many of you have broken them? As we’re at the start of the new year, it seems a good time to renew our focus and remind ourselves of our priorities as a church and as individuals. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be looking at worshipping God, making new disciples, and transforming communities, using familiar figures from the Christmas story to bring these themes to life. So first we begin with worship, and who better to journey with than the magi?
The Adoration of the Magi
They set out with one purpose – to worship the new-born king. Though we don’t know detailsl, it’s likely their journey was around 1,000 miles through inhospitable and uninhabitable landscapes. On foot. There would have been no hotels or creature comforts. The return journey would have taken months – and if you take into consideration the time they would have needed to prepare, you’re looking at six months away from home. Why? The answer is simple,
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
These mysterious magi from the east, possible ancient Persia – modern day Iran, came simply to worship the king. They didn’t just fancy a nice journey. They came to worship.
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.
You have to admire their tenacity. I wonder how much time they actually spent at their destination before making their long journey home? Not long, I imagine. But their journey no doubt must have been worth it, because they came face to face with the child Jesus. They came to worship him. They gave him their valuable treasures, but you know what, I don’t think their treasures were the most precious gifts they gave him. The most precious gift they gave Jesus was their devotion and their worship. They put everything else aside that they might bow down at his feet.
These magi give us a picture of worship. Worship is the devotion that we bring to Jesus. Often when we think of worship, we think of the type of worship that we like, and we can be critical, saying things like, well, I didn’t get much out of that today – whether that’s because we’ve not liked the hymn choices, or the style of the service. We stay away from church on those weeks when we don’t think we’re going to like the way the worship is going to be done. There has been lots of wrangling over the worship here in this church, which hopefully is something we’re over now. The problem with all this is that, although it’s appropriate that we are free and able to worship in a way that best enables us to meet with God, it all misses the point rather.
Worship is for God and not for us
We see worship as something we consume, something that is done for us. Worship isn’t about that at all. We’ve got it the wrong way round. Worship is something that we do. It’s something we offer to God. These mysterious magi, though they probably weren’t steeped in theology, they understood this – worship is something we give.
A man once heard a couple of people complaining about the service they’d been part of at church. One said to the other, I didn’t get much out of the worship today. Walking past, the man remarked, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise we were worshipping you.”
And that’s exactly the point. Too often we make worship all about us, when it’s all about Jesus. When it comes down to it, worship isn’t for me or for you. It’s for God. It’s what we offer to him in response to all he is.
“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.” – 1 Chronicles 16:29
You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. – Nehemiah 9:6
When we worship, we join with all of heaven to give God praise. Worship is, as it says in one of my favourite phrases in the Anglican liturgy, “our duty and our joy.”
We give thanks and praise to God for who he is, and all the incredible things he has done for us and given to us. We worship God, above all, to give thanks for the wonderful gift of Jesus – and it was wonderful to be reminded of this wonderful gift of Jesus’ coming into the world as we celebrated Christmas together just a few weeks ago. We gather weekly throughout the year, because Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas – he deserves our regular devotion – it’s the least we can do to express our thanks and praise for the fact he came to save us, to bring us new hope and new life.
Worship is about encounter
The magi met with Jesus face to face. Isaiah, when he had his vision in the temple, he met face to face with God. This is why he was so terrified.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
In the Old Testament it was well-known that no one could meet with God face to face and live. However, thanks to Jesus, who has taken away our guilt and sin, and made us pure. This means we can meet with him face to face. We gather on Sundays in order to meet with God together, and to be changed to be more like him.
Worship is a lifestyle
Worshipping God isn’t something that only happens when we go to church on a Sunday, or Wednesday, or whenever. Worship is a lifestyle. In Romans 12, St Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
In the Message version of this verse, we read …
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
Darlene Zschech, the worship leader and writer says, “My heart is not for sale. God has claimed all of it to be his own. My life purpose is to revere and worship the Lord, as is the purpose of every person on earth. Our hearts have been bought with a great price and they are not up for grabs. No deals, no financial contracts, no momentary pleasure, no earthly offer can compare to the fellowship that is given to those who love God with their whole heart.”
Worship is something that we’re called to do 24/7. Everything we do should be an act of worship. Give glory to God in all that we do and all that we are. The key aspect of our gathering together on Sundays is that we should be able to meet with God together, to learn more and grow deeper in our faith together, and that we might be equipped to live out our life of worship all through the week. We need each other to help us live our lives for Jesus. This is why it matters when you come on Sundays. If we all gathered together we could be such an encouragement to each other. It’s impossible to live out the Christian faith to the full on our own. This is why church matters.
In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a statement of faith written in 1646 and 1647, it declares, “Humanity’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”
Jesus is our goal
Jesus is the goal of our lives. We’ve been made to live and love for God, to worship him with our whole lives. Of course, it’s easy to find meaning in other things, to make them our idols. In the past week, I’ve been personally struggling, because I’ve been looking through the numbers of those attending on Sundays and the reality is that we’re not growing numerically as a church. I have pictures in my mind of the people who no longer come to church, and I feel responsible. I feel like a failure. But, the truth is, I’ve made numerical growth an idol. I’ve made the desire to be a successful vicar – and to be seen to be a successful vicar – my goal.
A platoon of soldiers was marching through the blistering heat of the Egyptian desert during the Second World War in desperate pursuit of water. The guide was confident of where to find it, but suddenly one of the troops spotted a beautiful desert lake several miles away. It was undeniable. So despite the guide’s pleading, they hurried off course towards the beautiful water. Sadly as they approached, the Lake grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared in the sand. It had been appearance without reality. They had chased a mirage, and we only know about this because one of the soldiers recorded in his journal in his dying hours.
For me, church growth, or the lack of it, is the mirage in my life. You may have other mirages – other things that, though good in themselves, should never become objects of worship. Actually, our goal should simply be Jesus.
Phil Vischer was an animator who became a millionaire when his production Veggietales became a worldwide hit. It then all went wrong, and he became bankrupt and the dream died. He later reflected –
“if God gives a person a dream, breathes life into it and then it dies, then God might want to know what is more important to the person – the dream or God? The impact God has planned for us doesn’t occur when we are pursuing impact. At long last, after a lifetime of striving, God was enough. Not God and impact or God and ministry. Just God.”
This year, I’m going to seek to make Jesus my goal, to live my life to his glory. My prayer is that we would all live this out as a church community. The rest is in God’s hands.
Let’s seek to surrender our lives to Jesus.