On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Matthew 2:11
“Tebowing,” or that characteristic bow in reverent prayer on the football field that derives its name from Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, is not as shockingly original as we might be inclined to think. It turns out that the three wise men who journeyed to the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh “tebowed,” too. And if we think it a bit amusing, laughable or even offensive to our sensibilities to see a fully grown man in his football jersey and spandex tights kneel to give God the glory, imagine the scene just over 2,000 years ago: three otherwise dignified aristocrats bending down on arthritic knees to worship a newborn child in a make-shift crib of straw in a dung-smattered stable. It is hard to think of anything more ridiculous- maybe even worthy of contempt- than that.
The magi’s audience was not a stadium full of loud, cheering fans. In addition to the sheep, maybe a cow and a few noisy chickens who were there to witness the men’s somewhat embarrassing, worshipful stoop, there are all of the millions and millions of people who across the centuries have read the wise men’s story. A story about three guys “from the east” who if too proud to ask for directions were content to see a star and follow it all the way to a dump in Bethlehem- and then fell to the ground in worship. They may not have worn helmets, but I imagine they sported some sort of exotic head gear which they would have had to remove a bit clumsily in order to bow so dramatically.
Many of us are uncomfortable with such public, overtly self-effacing displays of worship. We are quick to label them as only for show- another demonstration of that regrettable tendency among public figures to wear their faith on their sleeve, as a kind of secret handshake for all truly God-fearing types. Our discomfort here is understandable. When politicians like former Alaska governor Sarah Palin make their latest big cause the Obamas’ holiday card and its regrettable omission of the Christian code words, “faith, freedom and family,” we have good reason to be suspicious.
The sad thing, though, is that our justified discomfort can leave little room for an appreciation of the nature of true worship when it happens, which is usually spontaneous, with little consideration for how we look. If you’ve ever gazed at the sky on a clear, dark night, marveling at the eternity of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy and the trillions of stars in the many other galaxies beyond ours, then you know what I’m talking about: chances are your jaw dropped open, agape in awe and wonder at the magnitude of our universe and your own smallness in it. Chances are that a passerby walking by would have thought you looked a little silly as you stood there, your mouth hanging open like a kid in a candy shop.
Critics find “tebowing” too much “PDA,” or “public display of affection,” for God. They sound a bit like Jesus on “Saturday Night Live” when he implies Tim Tebow should “tone it down” a bit. And, if “tebowing” is just another gracefully scripted play on the field, then I suspect these critics are right. Tim Tebow can find another place to “tebow.” Didn’t Jesus say, after all, that when we are to pray we should go into our room and shut the door (Matthew 6:6)? (The locker room would probably suffice.) But if “tebowing” comes from the same place of worshipful awe that causes you and me to marvel at the breadth of the universe and brings three grown wise men to their knees in stupefied wonder, then we will have missed something important in what it means to be human.
If you missed the “Saturday Night Live” episode, here it is for more LOL: