Worship at the Birth of Christ
Featuring Worshipedia Posted on April 21, 2010
Acts of worship accompanied the incarnation of the Son of God, as the gospel accounts of the birth of Christ in both Matthew and Luke demonstrate. Luke‘s narrative is especially rich in worship materials; he incorporates several early Christian hymns, which later came to be known by their opening words in Latin: the Magnificat of Mary (Luke 1:46–55), the Benedictus of Zacharias (Luke 1:68–79), the Gloria in Excelsis of the heavenly host (Luke 2:14), and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32). Without denying that these hymnic utterances could have come forth from those to whom Luke‘s account originally ascribes them, one cannot help but observe that his gospel narrative has much the character of a modern nativity pageant with traditional Christmas carols interspersed at appropriate points. These hymns owe much to their Old Testament antecedents in the Psalms, and in the case of Mary‘s hymn, to the song of thanksgiving uttered by Hannah at the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10). All these hymns have a common theme: the ascription of glory (doxa) to God for his new and gracious act in the deliverance of his people, an act that not only fulfills the promise made to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, but also extends the covenant blessing of peace and salvation to the Gentiles and to all on whom his favor rests (anthrpois eudokias, Luke 2:14). (The hymn of the heavenly host finds an echo later in the third gospel, in the acclamation of the disciples at Jesus‘ entry into Jerusalem, Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! [Luke 19:38].) Other acts of praise in the Lucan infancy narrative include the rejoicing of the shepherds, who returned from Bethlehem glorifying and praising God (doxazontes kai ainountes ton theon, Luke 2:20) and of the prophetess Anna, who on seeing the infant Jesus, gave thanks to God (anthomologeitot the, Luke 2:38).
As for Matthew‘s account of the Nativity (Matthew 2:1–12), his narrative stresses the homage paid to the child Jesus by the Magi, who bowed down and worshiped him (Matthew 2:11) as they offered their gifts. This passage uses the term worship (proskune) three times (Matthew 2:2, 8, 11). As with Luke, who stressed the salvation to come to the Gentiles through the appearance of the Christ, so with Matthew the worshipful Magi are not Jews but Gentiles.
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