(Author’s Note: In this narrative I employ the ancient idea of shepherds and wise men arriving the same night. The Bible is not clear on this and the visit by the wise men could have been some time later. I cannot resist the truth of this first Christian congregation–the powerless and the powerful together. The truth of this is more important than any disputed details. SRP)
Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus were not alone for very long.
The first Christian worship service was about to happen in that stable with a manger as the central focus. The object of worship was not the manger but its contents—“the little Lord Jesus.” Perhaps this is the first lesson we should learn—it isn’t the building or the stage or the setting or the leaders or anything or anyone else who is at the center of our worship. It must be the Lord Jesus.
The shepherds were the first to arrive, the faces aglow with star dust and their hearts brimming with the praises heaven taught them. They had no gifts to bring beyond their joyful hearts but these were more than adequate. When they sought entrance to the stable there must have been something about them that allowed Joseph to grant them such a privilege. Otherwise no good husband would countenance such an intrusion at such a moment. Perhaps it was their testimony of angels for both Joseph and Mary could identify the symptoms of an angelic visitation. At any rate Joseph granted them passage.
They each one bowed to Mary and stretched their shepherd necks to see the child she was holding. The dim light in the stable seemed aided somehow by gentle illumination from undetermined sources as if there were star dust here as well. When they saw the little One, taking turns reluctantly, each shepherd began to weep. Past sins were remembered, repented of, and forgotten in the presence of this little One. Peace flooded each soul as tears rolled through deep smiles. Mary and Joseph somehow understood of all this, for they felt it, too.
Noises from outside broke the spell of this revere. Joseph investigated to find a large caravan crowding into the space around the stable. A bright star seemed to be leading them, filling the entrance to the stable with light reminiscent of angels. Three leaders of this entourage met Joseph and explained their quest. They seemed to Joseph to be in a hurry. When Joseph invited them to come in, they each retrieved gifts from their servants and cautiously entered the stable.
Quickly, wiping away their tears, the shepherds made room for the kings, feeling woefully unworthy. Each king, in a predetermined, well-rehearsed order, presented his gift with a little speech carefully written and recited. When the ceremony was completed, silence fell on this impromptu but long-planned congregation.
The Baby Jesus
In the silence, the Baby Jesus began to cry. His soft cries struck the kings and shepherds like hammer blows to the heart. Here was the Good Shepherd. Here was the King of kings. Stiffened backs began to relax as others bent low by social circumstance began to firm. Shepherd’s staff or kingly crown became superfluous. Cautiously, kings and shepherds looked at each other as a carpenter and his wife looked on in wonder. One king, perhaps their leader, extended his hand to one of the shepherds. The shepherd responded in kind. The others followed their lead and social barriers crumbled. Economic definitions of worth were discarded in the presence of the wealth of heaven weeping in a manger.
Today, as in that first Christian worship service, True Worship humbles the mighty, exalts the lowly, and equalizes everyone in the presence of Jesus.
Luke 2:15-20 NKJV
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Matthew 2:9-12 NKJV
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. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Lord Jesus, forgive us for posturing when we should be praying. Help us to hear Your voice calling us to repentance and humility. Banish pride from our minds and haughtiness from our hearts. As we worship You in spirit and truth, do Your personal work in each heart. Bring down those of us who are mighty in our own eyes. Lift up those who have been cast down by life and circumstance. Heal those who see themselves as worthless. Teach us the lessons of the manger. For Your Kingdom, Lord. Amen.
The First Noel
Words: Anonymous; Music: Traditional English Carol
1. The first Noel the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
born is the King of Israel.
2. They looked up and saw a star
shining in the east, beyond them far;
and to the earth it gave great light,
and so it continued both day and night.
3. And by the light of that same star
three Wise Men came from country far;
to seek for a king was their intent,
and to follow the star wherever it went.
4. This star drew nigh to the northwest,
o’er Bethlehem it took its rest;
and there it did both stop and stay,
right over the place where Jesus lay.
5. Then entered in those Wise Men three,
full reverently upon the knee,
and offered there, in his presence,
their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved