One knee up, one knee down

12/12/2014

"They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshipped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh."

(Matthew 2:11, The Message)

By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES Jr.

So many wonderful segments of the Christmas story have survived the centuries, but the one I like best is the narrative about the three wise men.

Scriptures do not go into great detail about who they were, but there are a few facts that help us fill in the blanks.

We know the wise men (also known as the magi) came from the East, most likely Persia or modern-day Iran. If from one of those, they traveled about 800 miles to see the Christ child.

No doubt they knew of the writings of the prophet Daniel, who had been the chief of the court seers in Persia. In the book of Daniel (9:24-27), there is a prophecy that gives the timeline for the birth of the Messiah.

In addition, the magi were probably aware of the prophecy of Balaam (Numbers 24:17), which specifically mentions a "star coming out of Jacob." This stellar event, often called "His star," guided them to Bethlehem. Some scholars say the wise men could have arrived days, months, or even years after Jesus’ birth; they can only estimate.

One thing we know: When they got there, they worshipped him.

Tradition says their names were Gaspar (sometimes spelled Caspar), Melchior, and Balthasar (also spelled Balthazar). We have no way of knowing whether these were their true names, but we do know their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were very costly.

For me, there is a singularly disturbing thing about the wise men as they worshipped. I wonder if it has ever crossed your mind.

In most Nativity scenes — where everyone including the magi gathers around the Christ child — Melchior is the only wise man with one knee on the ground and the other knee up!

I realize this scene is nothing more than an artist’s visual concept that has endured through centuries.

But that image raises questions that have so much to do with how we mark this Advent season and worship Christ in our time.

I puzzle about this. Why was Melchior kneeling only halfway — one knee up, one knee down? Could it be that he was only making a gesture of courtesy, just being polite?

Was there a part of him that could not accept that a king could be found in the straw of a stable, surrounded by shepherds, sheep, and other animals?

Or did Melchior keep one knee up in case his presence exposed him to danger, thinking it might be necessary to run?

Could it be that he wasn’t really sure who this child was or what would become of this young life? Did this wise man not know the baby born in that manger would change the world and ultimately give up his life to save all humankind?

I question why Melchior did not bow on both knees and press his face to the earth in humble submission that, indeed, this was the one whose name shall be called "Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

Maybe I seem overly concerned about this simple visualization that has long been recorded. Yet I believe it has more to do with us than you realize.

You see, Melchior’s knees are our knees. We bow — but not fully — before the epitome of love given to us in the form of a baby!

Some people are merely polite when this season makes its annual return. Some go through all the motions of celebrating the Christ child, but do not really hold him close in their hearts.

Each year, people find yet another way to take "Christ" out of Christmas!

People of faith declare this season is all about humbling oneself and remembering the birth of the world’s Savior. Do you? Perhaps you choose instead to give only part of yourself when worshipping the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

I believe many people are afraid they will "get too close" or give too much of themselves. They fear the influence of Christ will overcome their own purposes, and that causes them to be prepared to flee — just in case.

This is truth: You sing carols, decorate your trees and homes, and all the while nothing has changed within you!

Christian, if you wish to truly claim Christmas, you must worship on your knees! You must acknowledge God Himself came to earth in human form, humble and poor.

Unlike Melchior, can you bow all the way? Can you observe Christmas in deep honesty, courageously, instead of politely?

Can you offer your love to Christ as you kneel on both knees?

For Christ’s sake, I pray we all can!
 

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