God is perfect. He created us in his own image and likeness to reflect his divine beauty and perfection. Created in the image of God, every human person is called to seek God, find him and worship him. In other words, we live to worship the Lord. The Christian feast of Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ the newborn King to the world. Christ is manifested as the King to whom all men must render obedience and worship. Epiphany therefore calls all creation (and humanity in particular) to acknowledge the baby born of Mary in Bethlehem as their King. It is a summons to submit to the authority of Jesus the King. True, perfect worship consists in submitting to the sweet rule of Christ Jesus. Because God is perfect and all-holy he deserves complete submission to his holy reign. Anything short of that is at best, mediocre worship, which is no worship at all! Mediocre worship consists in giving a half-hearted response to the summons of God.
In the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-12, New American Bible), we can discern two types of worship. The first is represented by Herod, and the second is exemplified by the Magi from the east. Let us start with Herod. This is what Matthew says about him: “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt 2:1-3). Notice how terrified Herod is. He is “greatly troubled” at the thought of an approaching King. What exactly is his problem? Herod feels that the newborn King is a threat to his throne and crown. For him, Jesus is a threat to be eliminated. With all his strength he refuses to acknowledge the new King. He holds on to his thrown. At this point, he almost sees the birth of the Messiah as a declaration of war on his kingdom. The birth of Christ makes him feel insecure. He is even more concerned when he learns that the magi are on their way to “worship” the baby King. Herod takes his resistance to another level, when he puts up a malicious pretense to want to “worship” the newborn King (cf. Matt 2: 7-8). Sometimes, many people are like Herod in their attitude to worship. There are some who find Jesus threatening. They have created their own little kingdoms, wearing their own crowns of gold. They live in their comfort zones and power zones. If they allow Jesus into their lives, into their comfort zones, they feel Jesus might deprive them of comfort. They feel Jesus might ask them to abandon their own thrones and crowns and surrender completely to his Kingdom. It is hard to give up one’s throne and authority and submit to someone else’s. Sometimes, we all are like Herod. We feel threatened when Jesus comes close. We feel that if we surrender completely to Christ and worship him with everything, we will lose something precious to us.
For Herod, the precious thing he could not afford to lose was his throne. For us it might be something else that keeps us from surrendering to the authority of Jesus the King. We have our own precious thrones; there is one throne, however, that always comes between us and submission to Christ: the ego, the ‘I’. Our ego is sometimes so exalted that it becomes our throne and crown. It shows itself in our reluctance to let go our pride, our arrogance, our rebellion, our desire to be on top of the world, our desire to be praised and “worshiped”. This leads us to one of two things. We either resist the authority of Christ completely, or we “feign” worship; we pretend to be believers and worshippers of Christ, but within us we know that we have not completely surrendered to the Lord. We enter the Lord’s kingdom while we still sit on our “ego-throne”. Either way, we become like Herod; we create a situation of two Kings, Christ and the ‘I’. But for Christ to be King, we must be willingly to bid farewell to our “ego-throne”. It is hard; isn’t it? Yes, I know, for I am also a mortal like you. By the grace of God I am what I am. Herod refused to give up his throne. Will you give up yours? Herod was troubled when Jesus came close. Are you troubled too?
Let us now take a look at the second type of worship, that exemplified by the Magi. Matthew (2: 9-11) says: “After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”. Unlike Herod, the magi are quick to acknowledge the newborn Child as King; and they did so gladly and unreservedly. When they saw Jesus, they submitted completely, abandoning their own “thrones” and “crowns”. By prostrating themselves, the Magi seemed to be saying: “Jesus, we worship you as the true King. We give up our own thrones and crowns. We submit completely to your authority. Reign over us. We are not troubled by your coming. In fact, we have being expecting your coming. And we are glad to have you as our King. Long Live the King!” Now, that is worship. It is an act of surrender to the will of God. It is that fundamental decision to embrace the Kingdom of God, that is, the rule of God. The magi did exactly that when they surrendered their own crowns and thrones. Matthew goes on to say that they opened their treasures and offered the Lord gold, frankincense and myrrh. That is worship. Worship means opening up completely to the Lord, and giving him full access to the deepest part of you. It means cheerfully, generously, lovingly and lavishly giving the Lord your best, what you treasure most. It means total surrender of your body, soul and spirit to the Lord. That is what St. Paul means when he writes to the Romans (12:1): “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Revised Standard Version).
John’s vision of heaven in the Book of Revelation also gives us an idea of how our worship of God should look like. It tells us about how the twenty-four living creatures prostrate themselves before the throne of God, and throw down their golden crowns in worship: “At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads. . . And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created”” (Rev 4:2-4, 9-11, RSV). Worship means wholehearted acknowledgement of the absolute majesty and sovereignty of God! That is what the Magi did. That is what we must do. And that is what Epiphany is all about. Epiphany is a summons to render the Lord uncompromised worship.
Invitation to Prayer:
Dear Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner. Wash me in your Precious Blood. I acknowledge you as the King. I yield completely to your divine authority. I renounce every throne or crown I have prepared for myself. I fall at your feet in worship. Lord, take control, and let your will be done in my life. Amen!