Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, Bow down before Him, His glory proclaim; Gold of obedience and incense of lowliness, Bring and adore Him—the Lord is His Name.
These were the words of songwriter, John Monsell, who was an Anglican Priest and Vicar (Pastor) of several churches in England in the 1850s and 60s. When I came across them recently the phrase, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”, caught my attention and my mind immediately began to think of moments and experiences that I have had that might put such a phrase into context.
I am certain that we have all experienced this phrase to some degree, at one time or another, perhaps in a summer rain, a majestic sunset, or the breaking of an ocean wave on a rocky shore. These moments can be breath taking and inspiring, to say the least, and in their unique way reveal God’s wonder. I have had that experience when a mountainside became a sanctuary, and a spectacular view of some majestic landscape ushered in the presence of God and I was moved to worship!
And speaking of landscapes, I have always loved them. I remember the first time I saw Pike’s Peak; the majestic view was absolutely amazing. Cathy and I decided to drive to the summit several years ago while attending a minister’s conference in Colorado Springs. As we made the hour-long trip from the lower ranger’s station to the top, it was one of those “beauty of holiness” moments for sure. And when the clutch apparently went out in her little black sports car while we were at the peak, I was sure for a moment that we might literally see God face to face on the way down. However, a kind park ranger fixed it for us and we were on our way before we knew it. Although, he did say, “I’m going to park at “Dead Man’s Bluff” and watch you drive down to make sure you make it.” That statement sort of washed the wonder away for a moment. But we carefully navigated and survived the descent back down the mountain, and between hairpin turns with thousand foot drops and the shimmering reflecting pools of the mountain lakes that we passed on the way, we were blown away. It was a thrill ride, indeed.
But I am certain that with all due respect given to the incredible beauty and majesty of the landscapes of this world and awe inspiring visions that life and nature can provide, there was one moment in time throughout all of human history that stands alone in wonder, unparalleled in majesty and splendor. It was a moment so grand that Tyndale would say, when he spoke of it, that the Knighthood of Heaven itself stood at attention. And it happened at one of the most unexpected places and times imaginable.
Luke records it for us… Luke 2:4-7
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The season was probably early Fall, after the harvest was completed, a time when farmers would have had the money and time to comply with a Roman census for taxation that required them to return to the areas of their family’s nativity. (Luke 2:1) Further, it would have been before the cold rains of winter began when shepherds would have brought their sheep out of the fields. (Luke 2:8) It was perhaps during the Feast of Trumpets that would have certainly filled the accommodations and inns in and around Jerusalem (Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem) that Joseph and Mary (who was great with child) made the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They likely traveled with a caravan of other pilgrims, perhaps with others returning for the census or to the Feast. Traveling with a group would have offered some form of safety and companionship during the long and difficult walk. We don’t know exactly what route they took. Two options were available, one shorter but more strenuous along the trade route through the center of the region, the other a longer but an easier (flatter) walk through the Jordan River Valley. Regardless of the route, the approximately 100-mile trip would have taken them 8-10 long days of walking. It must have been an incredibly difficult trip for a young expectant mother and her husband.
Bethlehem at this time would normally have been an extremely small village of only a few hundred inhabitants but with the census and perhaps the feast, it would have been bulging with people. When they arrived, Mary had already gone into labor. There was no hospitality space or rooms for rent available, and the baby was coming! So, after what I’m sure would have been a frantic search for suitable shelter, they settled for the only available space, most likely, a cave where shepherds would take shelter while the sheep were still out in the fields. No doubt it would have been a dirty, smelly place, and not exactly sterile. But it was here where one of the most majestic moments in all of history would take place, the birth of a baby, a very special baby, The Lord Jesus Christ. Here in this simple place He would receive His first formal worship as King.
Luke tells us that in the same area there were shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. According to Mishniac sources (Shek. vii. 4) these shepherds were keepers of the Temple Flock. This flock was special and set apart from all the other flocks of Israel. These sheep were born and groomed to die as sacrifices for the sins of the people in the Jerusalem Temple near by. How fitting it was for the announcement of the Messiah’s birth (the Lamb Of God) to come to these shepherds first. As a matter of fact, a Jewish Prophet had foretold it. An interesting detail from a prophecy in the Old Testament declares that the announcement of the Messiah’s arrival (His revealing) would come at the Migdal Eder meaning the Tower of The Flock.
And you, O tower of the flock, hill of daughter Zion, to you it shall come, the former dominion shall come, the sovereignty of daughter Jerusalem. (Micah 4:8 NRSV)
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has brought forth… (Micah 5:2-5 NRSV)
Imagine with me a night of majesty and splendor as a royal delegation is dispatched from the presence of the Lord in Heaven to announce to the World that the Messiah has come. This announcement is to be made at the most fitting place in the world if the mission of the Messiah is to become the Lamb of God and die for the sins of the world. To the lowly shepherds who guard the temple flock, the sky was suddenly lit with the Light of God’s glory and the messengers of God made the announcement. All of Heaven and Earth stand to attention as the decree is made!
Luke chapter 2
9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
15 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.”
16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
The shepherds, following the Angel’s decree, quickly head toward the city and the place of Christ’s birth. When they arrive and locate the holy family, they find the Christ Child with His mother and earthly father. Then there in that most humble of places, they, without gold or precious stones, open the treasure of their hearts and “worship in the beauty of holiness”. In a way, their worship released and fulfilled hundreds, even thousands, of years of Messianic anticipation and prophetic expectation. The adoration must have flowed like a river.
I have seen some sights, some of the most magnificent this world has to offer, but nothing to compare with the Shepherds who were the first on this earth to worship the Messiah, Jesus Christ. During this holiday season relive the moment and make it a point to find your way to the feet of the Messiah and join with all of Heaven and earth as together we “worship in the beauty of Holiness”!