Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.The Love of the Cradle (For Christmas Day)
The Church has ever held that in all the estate of His Humiliation—in the whole sad three and thirty years of His earthly life, our Lord offered up an atoning sacrifice. He suffered life as well as death for us. But a great saint and doctor has well reminded us that we are ready to be so dazzled by the love of the Cross that we often forget the love of the Cradle. We forget that our Lord endured the weakness of death and the weakness of infancy no less. He Whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain did not abhor the Virgin's womb. In this He descended to the farthest depths of humility. He spared Himself no ignoble circumstance. He came to us in the winter death of nature. He was laid in a manger because there was no room for Him in the inn—He who died to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Of a verity the ox knew his owner, and the ass his master's crib, but Israel did not know, His people did not consider. Christ from the beginning emptied Himself. He devised liberal things for His people. He was liberal of the co-eternal and coequal glory which He had with the Father before all the worlds. He was liberal of His own humility and wearinesses and sufferings. What more could He have done for His vineyard that He has not done?
I. It is well for us as the Christmas season comes round to bend our thoughts to the love of the Cradle, if it were only for the reason that we are called to follow Christ rather in His progress towards the Cross than in His endurance thereon. The love of the Cradle rather than the love of the Cross finds its reflection in Christian lives just now, and is the chief means by which His earthly kingdom stands and is spread. Once it was otherwise, and it may be otherwise again. There was the glorious age of the martyrs, and the blood of the martyrs may again be the seed of the Church. Indeed, it is but yesterday since men and women died for Him in a strong agony like His own. But for most of us now the lesson is spoken from the Cradle. What did Christ do for us in His first advent?
(1) First of all He came to dwell among us. He did not merely visit His people. At Nazareth He took up His abode among them. It is coming home to the heart of His Church that in this our Lord must be followed. It is good to visit the outcast and the poor, but they will never be brought back by visits. It is only as Christian men and women who might live in the peace and comfort of congenial surroundings deliberately make up their minds to forsake these and share the lot of those whom they go forth to seek by day and by night, month after month, and year after year, that the world may be won.
(2) Again, He teaches us that to be great in His service we must take the road of humility, and of a peculiar humility. We have to empty ourselves in measure, not merely of our sins, but of things which, were the state of the world different, might lawfully be our pride.
(3) Once more, we must follow Him in consenting to be despised. All His experience in this life, from the Manger to the Tree, was an experience of scorn. We can put our fingers on one incident after another, and say, 'That was scorn'. The fashion of His Cross, the purple He wore, the sceptre in His hand—all these were meant in scorn. But the closer we read the history, the more we shall see that He bore reproach all the way, and still His faithful servants in proportion to their fidelity will encounter the cold disdain of the world.
II. With all this the temper of Christmas is peculiarly the temper of hope. And why? Because Christmas reminds us that He has intervened. He said in the days of His flesh, 'Which of you intending to build a tower sitteth not down first and counteth the cost whether he have sufficient to finish it?' On Christmas Day He began visibly to build the tower. He has ever since laid stone upon stone, and His purpose is to finish it. This is the Christmas hope, and it is peculiarly needed in these days as a cordial for drooping spirits.
In Worcester Cathedral there is a grave with one word inscribed, Miserrimus. Who was it that died brokenhearted? The question was long unanswered. It turned out that the word was on the tomb of Thomas Maurice, a kindly, gentle old man, whose heart was broken by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which extinguished the last hope of the exiled family to which he most faithfully adhered. He cherished his dream of allegiance as the one secret of his blameless life, and was eager to rest in a nameless grave if only the stone should witness by a single word to his undying loyalty. But no Christian need ever go to his grave in despair of the kingdom of Christ.
—W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 401.
I. No room for Whom? For Him Who was 'the Desire of all nations,' of Whom prophets have foretold, poets sung, and for Whom holy men of old had been waiting in devout expectation. No room for One Who had come to open the eyes of the blind, to bind up the brokenhearted, to set the bondslaves free; Who had brought with Him healing for the sick, pardon for the guilty, life for the dying, salvation for the lost. No room for Whom? For the King of glory, Who hath a Name above every name (see Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11; Php 2:10). Room might be found for the rich trafficker, for the powerful sheik; for such the highest room in the inn had not been too good. But He, the Lord of glory, must be left to begin His earthly life as He was to continue it, 'without a place where to lay His Head'. This suggests to us a picture of what may be seen going on in the world even now. Who are the Christ-in-the-manger Christians?
II. (a) Those who, without intending it, are prone to put something else in His stead. There is something comes between their souls and Him. They do not live a life of faith in Him; they do not feel their soul's strength and safety to consist in spiritual union with Him. He is not their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. If it is Christ with them, it is not all Christ. If they have allowed Him a room, it is not the highest, the chiefest, or the best.
II. (b) Those who are prone to be desponding, and fearful, and sad at heart We know such mean no dishonour to Christ; but they do dishonour Him for all that. They prize His comforts more than Himself; they even put them instead of Himself. Christian in the Slough of Despond thought of nothing but how he might make his way out of the quagmire the soonest, not how he might get to Christ the soonest. And greatly did he suffer for this, as shall we all if we make more of getting relief under our spiritual distresses than of laying hold of Christ. We may seek joy, and hope, and peace in believing, and the tokens and witnesses of our acceptance with God are privileges much to be desired; but these are not Christ, and many have found Christ who all their life long could not lay claim to such blessings.
We are not to make a Saviour of our spiritual experiences, a righteousness of our feelings; not to welcome to the inn, and its best place, the gifts of His grace and mercy, whilst He, the Almighty Giver, is left outside.
'Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My Voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.'
—D. Moore, Thoughts for Church Seasons.
Church, do you say? Look eighteen hundred years ago, in the stable at Bethlehem: an infant laid in a manger! Look, thou ass, and behold it; it is a fact—the most indubitable of facts: thou wilt thereby learn innumerable things. Jesus of Nazareth and the life he led, and the death he died, does it teach thee nothing? Through this, as through a miraculous window, the heaven of Martyr Heroism, the 'divine depths of sorrow,' of noble Labour, and the unspeakable silent expanses of Eternity, first in man's history disclose themselves. The admiration of all nobleness, divine worship of godlike nobleness, how universal it is in the history of man!
But mankind, that singular entity mankind, is like the fertilest, fluidest, most wondrous element, an element in which the strangest things crystallise themselves and spread out in the most astounding growths. The event at Bethlehem was of the Year One; but all years since that, eighteen hundred of them now, have been contributing new growth to it,—and see, there it stands: the Church! Touching the earth with one small point; springing out of one small seed-grain, rising out therefrom, ever higher, ever broader, high as the Heaven itself, broad till it overshadow the whole visible Heaven and Earth, and no star can be seen but through it. From such a seed-grain so has it grown; planted in the reverences and sacred opulences of the soul of mankind; fed continually by all the noblenesses of some forty generations of men. The world-tree of the Nations for so long!
—Carlyle, Latter-Day Pamphlets, via
References.—II. 7.—E. A. Askew, The Service of Perfect Freedom, p. 37. W. P. Balfern, Glimpses of Jesus, p. 7. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 360. J. H. Holford, Memorial Sermons, p. 14. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 173. H. D. Rawnsley, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiii. p. 1018. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas to Epiphany, p. 97. Spurgeon, vol. viii. No. 485. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i. p. 30. H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 1. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 27. II. 8.—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. i. p. 64.
The Shepherds of Bethlehem
Luke 2:8-91. When the shepherds had their vision, they were out on the hills tending their sheep. The vision was given to them at their posts; they would have missed it all had they been elsewhere. It is as true today as it was nineteen hundred years ago that the vision and the glory come that way.
2. Again, it is well worth observing from our story that the very event which interested all heaven was an event which the village disregarded. In minimis Deus maximus says the old Latin proverb—it is in the least things that God is greatest. A crying babe in a rude village may be more to God than all the Roman emperors.
3. This exquisite story also teaches me that the angels may go, but Jesus Christ remains. We may go to the lowliest tasks in His companionship. For the kingdom of God is not in the clouds of heaven, nor are its voices those of untempted hierarchies. The kingdom of God is in your heart and mine, and its King will never leave us nor forsake us.
—G. H. Morrison, The Scottish Review, vol. i. No. 25, p. 617.
Why this great event which we commemorate today should have been first announced to shepherds we cannot say. May we, clergy, hope that, as we are so frequently in the Bible—especially by the prophets—called 'shepherds,' it was to signify to us—for our great encouragement—that the Gospel is first delivered to us, that we may deliver it to you?
I. A Fearless Joy.—Is it not a very humbling fact that the first feeling of anything sudden, however bright and however happy it may be, awakens in the mind fear? Would it be so if the conscience were perfectly clear? The angel's first work was to remove the fear. And what we want is a fearless joy. What is that joy to us, behind which there is always lurking a gloom? How can we have a fearless joy? There is only one answer. You must feel safe. How safety is to come let us learn from the angel's Christmas message.
II. Which the Saviour Brought.—See how the angel put it 'Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.' The joy was to take the place of, and so to banish, the fear. This joy was the sense of safety. 'For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.' I often wish that in the place of 'save' we used more frequently the Saxon word 'safety'; and instead of Saviour, 'One who saves us'. A Saviour is one who makes us quite safe. This is exactly what Jesus did. He made us safe. Safe from ourselves. Safe from our past. Safe from an upbraiding conscience. Safe from Satan. Safe from death. Safe from the judgment to come.
III. Unto You.—And what have you to do? Simply to appropriate it. You have it in the angel's opening words, 'Unto you is born this day a Saviour which is Christ the Lord'. Only echo that. Say, 'Yes, Lord, unto me—a poor miserable sinner—unto me wast Thou born this day a Saviour'. And by that act, simple as it is, you make Him, and His work, all your own.
The Shepherds and the Angels
When we think of how great a place the birth of Jesus holds in Christianity and how awful a fact it is believed to represent, the language of the record becomes quite curious in its simplicity.
I. The circumstances of the announcement. (1) The persons to whom the announcement was made: Shepherds: men about their daily work. (2) The time: by night. (3) The heralds: the angel of the Lord and then a multitude of the heavenly host.
II. The angel's proclamation. (1) Saviour. (2) Born. (3) To you. (a) That He might reveal God. (b) That He might be our example. (c) That He might die.
III. The angel chorus. (1) Glory to God in the Highest. (2) On earth peace.
Reference.—II. 8-20.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 40.
The Manger Unveiling
Luke 2:8-39 (with Matthew 2)
The world did not prepare for Christ's coming. There was no royal triumph to welcome the advent of this King; but throughout the whole spiritual realm there were tokens and evidences of the vastness and the importance and the marvel of the thing that was taking place just in the stable of a wayside inn in Judæa. The supreme splendour is not that of these things; the supreme glory is not that of singing angels, and prophesying, and singing, men and women; the supreme splendour is the thing itself—that the God of angels and of men, high enthroned over all, is coming into human history in the form of a servant; in the likeness of men.
The supreme glory is the hiding of the glory; the most transcendent splendour is the veiling of the splendour. And the thing that has held captive the minds of spiritual, thoughtful men through the centuries is not the song of the angels, not even the spiritual movement amongst men at the moment, not even the underworld of evil manifesting itself in the murder of the innocents, but the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
I. The history of the angels is itself full of fascination. Clouded in mystery, so far as revelation is concerned, but we find them in our Bible as intelligent beings, unfallen and without sin, interested in man's history. In one brief touch Job tells us that these angels, the sons of God, sang for joy at creation. And we see them in the Garden of Eden, and we find them all through the Bible ministering to men through the long years. They seem to link earth with heaven. Bringing messages, rebuking prophets, comforting saints; ever and anon we find them.
II. But come to the next level and watch in connexion with the birth of Jesus the activity of man; and I am speaking of that activity on its highest plane. There are three things I would have you notice. I merely group them, leaving them for your further consideration. The voice of prophecy, long silent, was heard again. Great songs and anthems—none had been composed for long years—broke spontaneously from the hearts of men and women. And finally, seers who knew not the oracles, and were without the covenants of Jehovah, were led by the shining of a star to the hour and to the attitude of worship.
III. I said by way of introduction that the supreme splendour of that birth was the lowliness of it, the humiliation of it. By that lowliness and humiliation God did reveal to all ages the essential dignity of human nature. I know it is revolutionary; I know two millenniums have gone and the world does not yet believe it But there it is, God's lesson for all ages. When God stooped; when He brought the First-Begotten into the inhabited earth; when He laid hold upon our human nature; when He was made flesh—I am trying to group some of the actual expressions used concerning this birth in Holy Scripture—then mark this fact: He proved that surroundings neither ennoble nor degrade humanity. A court and a crown would not have ennobled the Babe; the stable and the manger did not degrade Him. Behold the Babe lying in a manger—and as though to emphasise the weakness and the humility and the simplicity of it—wrapped in swaddling clothes. This, said the angel, shall be the sign unto you, not songs at midnight, not the star moving through the heavens, not the wrath of man, but the Babe, that is the sign. Humanity needs no court, no crown, no garments to make it full of dignity. Humanity cannot be degraded in itself by the circumstances in the midst of which it comes. There is the supreme splendour of it. Manhood in its perfection is closely allied to Divinity and Glory. And humanity, closely allied to Divinity and Glory in its perfection, lies with a wonderful perfection and dignity, even in babyhood, in a manger. And this morning all the spiritual intelligence of the Christian Church gathered about the manger, forgets the manger for looking at the Child, and where it is necessary to reconstruct the manger in the middle of the church, and to make a procession around it, it is because they have forgotten the dignity of the Child. The circumstances of absolute lowliness: that man might know that man cannot be ennobled by the accidentals of a passing hour and by the flimsy trappings of an earthly dignity, cannot be degraded by the limitations and the poverty of a passing hour—that is the supreme splendour.
—G. Campbell Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXVII. p. 9.
References.—II. 9.—W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 19. Scottish Review, vol. vi. p. 52. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 366.
It may seem strange to us that the angel's Christmas song should come in the ordinary course of our Sunday lessons at this season of the year; yet it is not without a significance of its own. It seems to emphasise the fact that Christian joy should occupy a large share in our lives. Not at Christmas only, but all the year through the Christian should be 'always rejoicing'.
I. What is Joy?—There are many kinds of joy, from the indulgence of the lowest carnal appetite up to the purest, saintliest rapture of the spirits in glory. Most joys are, in their very nature and necessity, short and capricious. They exhaust themselves; they evaporate by their own intensity. So that as respects the pleasures of this world, there is almost as great and imperious a necessity for its joys to turn to sorrow as there is for the Christian that his 'sorrow shall be turned into joy'. And therefore we are, perhaps, too much accustomed to think and speak of all 'joy' as a fugitive thing, and to draw a contrast between joy and peace, and to say peace lasts and increases; joy lessens and goes away. This is unjust to joy, else Isaiah would not have said, 'The meek shall increase their joy'; he would not have twice called joy 'everlasting'; and our Lord would not have said, 'These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full'; and again, 'Ask and receive, that your joy may be full,' where all ascribe permanence and growth to joy. True joy always connects itself with love. Thus 'the Fruits of the Spirit' are ranged: 'Love, Joy, Peace'. Joy stands next to love—its first shoot. Joy is love triumphant; peace is love quiescent; both are essentially united with love; both are developments of love.
II. Joy in Christ's Presence.—(a) What a different world this would have been if the Lord had never come to it. But He came, and His coming brought salvation. And all that beautiful life He lived, it is all mine, for I am in Him; God sees me in Him. He sees His righteousness my righteousness; and I can stand before God—poor, wretched sinner as 1 am—I can stand before God perfect. Is not this 'great joy'? There is no greater joy upon earth than when a man first awakes to the simple sense and consciousness of the fact—'I am pardoned; I am saved; I am a child of God'. That joy is love.
(b) Think again of His coming to us now; of His presence with us always; of His presence at this moment in my heart. There is free communion between God and man everywhere. Christ is at my side. I lean on Him. I hear His whispers. I tell Him everything. He supports me; He guides me; He keeps me; He is my very life. I am united with Him. We can never be divided. Is not that 'great joy'?
(c) But beyond this—He is coming again! I shall see Him. I shall be 'caught up with Him in the clouds.' I shall reign with Him. I shall be like Him.
III. 'Great Joy 'it is to Know these Things!—'Great joy' to feel these things! 'Great joy' to tell these things! And if you do not feel the 'great joy,' may not one reason be that you do not talk about them. But true joy doubles itself by imparting. The angels minister because they are happy, but no less they are happy because they minister. We do not put sufficient joyousness into our religion. Why is religion always so solemnly grave? Why are religious people almost always looking so sad? Cultivate joy. Pray for joy. Encourage joy in your own heart. What cannot joy do? Do we not all do things best when we are happy? Do we not work best, pray best, live best, when we are happy? And if holiness makes heaven, heaven makes holiness.
Glad Tidings (Christmas Day)
Subject: The Good News of Christmas.
I. The Gospel Tidings.—The good old word gospel means good tidings, good news.
We open the volume of the New Testament, and the whisper of the good news swells into the angels' song, and we see the winter stars shining over the Bethlehem hills, and the lowly cattle shed, and the consecrated manger, and the good news is fulfilled.
II. What the Good Tidings Mean.—What does" Christmas mean to us? To get the right answer we must go even unto Bethlehem, we must go yonder and worship in the church, the true House of Bread, or we cannot understand. The outside world knows it is Christmas; but not why. It talks of a festive season, of merry-making, of joy, but it forgets the source of all this. The Son of God is as much neglected by the world as ever, He is left in the House of Bread, the Church, and the careless world makes merry outside. The inn of the world is so crowded that there is no room there for Jesus.
But it is not so with the faithful of Christ's Church. They rejoice because unto them a Child is born, unto them a Son is given. They rejoice because all the long line of prophecies is fulfilled, because the faint, far-off whispers of the old-world gospel have grown into the triumph song, 'Jesus Christ is born today'. They bring their offerings of praise and worship to the Altar, as the faithful brought their offerings to the manger.
III. God with us.—There is the central point of the good tidings, God is our God, God with us. We feel that He is our God to be reverenced and worshipped; but He is also our Brother, our Friend, to whom we can open the secrets of our heart.
IV. The Good Tidings Teach us the True Nature of Man.—Before the Incarnation man was regarded as fallen from his high estate, as an exile from Paradise, as a defaced image Jesus, by taking our nature upon Him, raised it up, as a king might lift a fallen traveller by the wayside and clothe him in purple and fine linen. Jesus, by becoming man, gave him back his lost beauty, his lost dignity. Human nature is no more poor, but glorious human nature, capable of the highest, noblest, purest things.
—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Notes of Sermons for the Year, p. 26.
Samuel Marsden, 'the Apostle of New Zealand,' preached from this text to the Maoris of New Zealand on Christmas Day, 1814. Dr. Stock describes this service as 'one of the great historic scenes in the history of missions—indeed, one of the really great scenes in the history of the British Colonial Empire, for the very existence of the now flourishing colony of New Zealand is due to the courage and faith of Samuel Marsden in flinging himself among the Maoris. The Mission he instituted on Christmas Day, 1814, tamed the race, and then, in poured the colonists.'
References.—II. 10.—E. A. Askew, The Service of Perfect Freedom, p. 32. W. P. Balfern, Glimpses of Jesus, p. 29. B. J. Snell, The Virtue of Gladness, p. 73. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 727, and vol. xxii. No. 1330. F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life, p. 248. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 237.
With no thought of fulfilling a prophecy did Joseph and Mary undertake that long journey of eighty miles to Bethlehem. Like other citizens, they obeyed the Imperial edict, that every one should go to be taxed 'into his own city'. It is a marked characteristic of the Scripture prophecies that there is no trace of human intention, no seeking on the part of the friends of Revelation to put themselves in accord with the Divine purposes. The immediate agents knew no more of the ends they were furthering than does the clay while being fashioned by the potter.
'She brought forth her first-born son and laid Him in a manger.'
I. Observe—(1) The poor accommodation provided for the Blessed Saviour at His first appearing on this earth. It was as an outcast from the abodes of men. It was a type of His deep abasement, and prophetic of men's unwillingness to make room for Him in their hearts and homes.
(2) In making the great announcement one angel does not suffice. The soothing words of the herald angel being uttered—'Fear not'—the assurance being given that he was a bearer to the shepherds of good tidings; the joy of the heavenly choirs can be no longer restrained, and the firmament rings with the glad announcement: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men'.
Of this supplementary announcement by the collective body of angels, we see the design. It was that they might do homage to their liege-Lord in the first stage of His wonderful abasement For the next thirty years no nobler employment could they have than to wait upon Him until His Ascension. Oh, yes, this our glad Christmas Festival is a high day among the angels of God! It is the inauguration of Redemption's triumphs, of many sons brought unto glory; it was the world's second birthday.
(3) The conduct of the shepherds on hearing this announcement. They said one to another, 'Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us'. They required no other reason A message from heaven had told them what they must do, and which if they would do, they should of a certainty find the Lord's Christ.
II. Consider: (1) How many such messages have been sent to each one of us! By voices loud and clear as the strains of angels, by the voices of Prophets, of Evangelists, of Apostles, of ministers, by the teachings of conscience, more than all by the arresting voice of the Spirit of God, speaking to us through affliction, through sickness, through bereavement, we have been told where we shall find a Saviour, mighty and merciful—'a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord'. Have we found Christ as truly as these shepherds found Him?
(2) The shepherds obeyed the vision, and 'they made known abroad the saying which had been told them concerning this child'. Far be it from them to keep back such an inestimable discovery. Every friend, every neighbour shall be told of it. In the same spirit as Philip (John i. 45), of the woman of Samaria (John iv. 29), these shepherds sought out those dear to them. To one bowed with fear, to one oppressed grievously with a sense of sin, to some feeling after Christ, 'if haply they might find Him,' to some afraid to die, they would say: 'Come with us to Bethlehem!' 'Unto us is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord.'—D. Moore, Thoughts for Church Seasons.
I. The Lesson of Reverence.—It seems to me that, if we come down to our ordinary lives, what we ought to feel when we approach the subject of the Incarnation in our inmost being, is reverence for the power of God. When we come to commemorate the great events of today, it seems to me that we are in danger on two sides.
(a) This day may have become a day which is a name, accepted just conventionally—a day which conveys to us no living meaning.
(b) Another danger is this, that those who have realised, or are trying to realise, the meaning of today, are overwhelmed by the fulness of the thoughts which burst upon them.
How time and business and the world blot out and wear out the impression of what is really meant by such mighty words as God, Jesus Christ, Redemption, Everlasting Life! In our everyday life, even when we are on our knees at our prayers, we forget the significance of those mighty terms. As we approach the subject of the Incarnation of the Son of God, let us learn in our inmost being the lesson of reverence.
II. The Lesson of Purity.—We all know, when the Lord and Saviour came among us, amid what innocence, with what purity and innocence He came. All the sanctities of Heaven were embodied in human flesh. Is not this, I ask you, a spectacle to make you and me thoughtful, and consider our own experience of life and society? Let us turn to the Holy Child and His mother. Let us learn there the lesson of strength and manliness, for purity means manliness.
III. The Lesson of Humility.—Can there be any such thing amongst you and me that can compare for a moment with the abandonment of glory which Jesus abandoned? Think of any humbling thought which may have come to our minds; can any humbleness compare with the circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ the Son of God?
IV. The Lesson of Gladness and Joy.—Rejoice! the Prince of Peace is come, whatever war may rage, whatever troubles may oppress the mind. He is God, and He says today, 'Rejoice, because I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people'.
References.—II. 10,11.—Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. i. p. 494. J. O. Dykes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 161. D. L. Moody, The Fulness of the Gospel, p. 21. II. 10-12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 1026.
The Child Jesus (For Christmas Day)
I. We see in that manger our Saviour, nothing else. 'Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour.' Are we sure that that is what we want? The Jewish patriot will be disappointed. There will be no lead against Roman usurpation. The human disputant will be disappointed. 'He shall not starve nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets.' The intellectual Rabbi will be disappointed. He will be a teacher who will make strange demands on the intellect, advance paradoxes and proclaim a gospel which will be an offence to those who hear, a shame and a burden to those who preach.
He will not be a militant reformer of abuses, while at the same time His teaching will make abuses cease to be possible.
His mission is to save. This is His name, 'Saviour'; this is His mission, 'Salvation'. This is to be the burden of His life, His cry of victory, His achievement and crown—salvation. It has become a word so easy to say, so commonplace, so trite, that we hardly realise what it means.
II. 'Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour.'
As we gaze in adoration into the manger-cradle, our thoughts as to salvation take a new shape. Here is no royal visit to earth of a king disguised, who visits his subjects without the usual insignia of royalty. Heathen mythology knew of such visits conceived too often in the interests of man's lowest degradation and inspired thereby. Here is God entering into humanity by the usual entrance into life as One Who has determined to pass through its every stage, from helpless infancy to mature manhood. Stop to see the completeness of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ pauses at the threshold. He will not hurry by, He has to save child life as such, to dignify child life, to show its importance and to secure its protection 'as the new wine is found in the cluster and one saith Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it,' so Christ in the fulness of His Redemptive Salvation lingers in childhood.
The Child Jesus! It is one of the most beautiful conceptions of Christmas, which for ever forbids us to hurry over and destroy that most blessed time in life's development. Happy the man whom God has led on by easy stages through innocent childhood, through spotless youth, to vigorous age along the graduated path of Christian progress. Innocence is a power of which we know too little, but irresistible in its fearless strength. At this Christmas-time, full of the joy and laughter of happy children, let us pray with all our hearts that God may preserve the simplicity of our homes in all purity and holiness. For Jesus the Christmas-child still says to us, Whosoever shall receive one such little child in My Name receiveth Me, and, whosoever receive Me, receiveth Him that sent Me.
III. But as we ponder and pray at Bethlehem we read for ourselves the note of sacrifice. Here is no royal cradle, no cradle fitted even for a human being, but the feeding-place of animals in the stable of an inn. It is the beginning of a life of which afterwards it was said that 'the Son of man hath not where to lay His head'. The homeless Saviour is a note which we must not neglect at a festival of the home like Christmas.
Here is an Infant born in discomfort, Who will live in much obloquy and die in pain. It is a sad spectacle of the position which a perfect life will hold in a fallen world. Men saw perfect goodness and they hated it; a life which reflected Heaven, and they would have none of it; a life of love and absolute benevolence, and they killed it.
The late Bishop King, writing to a friend as to one who had opposed him with doubts, says: 'Your friend says that he has studied and thought over the Bible and does not believe it. Now, giving him credit for having done this, I am not the least surprised that he does not believe it, unless he can add that he has done it—i.e. put into practice all that he has read.' 'If any man do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.' The little Infant of Bethlehem asks us to grow with Him and into Him, and bids us learn that at every stage we shall find that which corresponds with the manger, 'In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world'.
IV. These are stern lessons, too stern for Christmas with its tenderness and joy. The little Infant in the manger means completeness in our Redemption, means a life of sacrifice, and yet, perhaps above all, an intense sympathy.
It is for our sakes that He became poor. He took not on him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Beyond the conception of Jesus the Saviour, far beyond the conception of Jesus the teacher, there stands out the conception of Jesus the friend.
Jesus our friend keeps open house on Christmas Day. He calls all to Him—the sad, the sorrowful, the suffering; above all, the sinner. There will be many happy gatherings today; there will be much real gladness, much forced mirth; but no Christmas Day will be happier than his who has found Christ, who has learned where to lay his sins and his sorrows, who has come to Christ as his judge and has left Him his friend—a friend that sticketh closer than a brother, Who has known his soul in adversities.
—W. C. E. Newbolt, Church Times, Dec. 30, 1910.
The Purpose of the Birth
Luke 2:111. Christ was born to declare God. He declares God to us in His human life.
2. Christ was born to die. The death of Christ stands in quite a peculiar relation to His life. It is the purpose of it all
3. Christ was born to be our Brother.
4. Christ was born that He may lift man to the Throne.
References.—II. 11.—F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 572. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Beading, p. 32.
The Sign: A Babe
It is to be frankly acknowledged that the first impression made on our minds is a sense of incongruity; as if the humiliation—the cynic would say degradation—were too great to be credible. But on calmer and deeper thought it will become more and more apparent that if the Word were to be made flesh so as to dwell among us, it must be through the gate of helpless infancy that He enter; and that if He is to be the Friend of man, reaching down to the poorest and lowliest, it must be through the strait and narrow gate of poverty that He came into the world to bless it. On this great subject—for it is a great subject—a few thoughts, briefly and rapidly presented, are all we can hope to reach.
I. Child-life is nearest heaven. According to outward appearance baby-life is at the bottom of the scale. But the measures of heaven, remember, are not measures of bigness; and according to measures of heaven, child-life is not at the bottom of the scale of humanity, but close at the top.
II. The sign is most appropriate, because it makes it-evident that the Saviour of the world meets us at the extremity of our weakness and helplessness. Had the anointed Saviour entered the world miraculously as a full-grown man, suddenly springing into being like the fabled Minerva from the brain of Jupiter, or that other from the foam of the sea at Cythera—had this been the manner of His entrance, where would have been the Gospel for the children? And where would have been the Gospel for the poor? How could we ever have believed Him to be 'bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh'.
III. The swaddling clothes and the manger were the sign of our Lord's humiliation. They stood for the whole course of self-denial which marked that holy life throughout, until the cruel cross finished what the lowly manger had begun. Now this self-denegation was the special signature of heaven in the life of Jesus. Not His miracles. These are not to be undervalued. But even in His mighty deeds it is not the marvel of them, but the love and mercy which find expression in them, to which the sacred historians specially turn their readers' thoughts. The great revealing was the revealing of the Father's love. Now that love could not be really revealed to man apart from the humble, lowly life of which the manger birth was the fitting portal.
—J. Monro Gibson, A Strong City, p. 87.
References.—II. 12.—H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, p. 183. J. Adderley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 46. II. 13.—W. F. Shaw, Sermon-Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 13. II. 13, 14.—W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 24. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading (2nd Series), p. 99. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 37. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 164. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 86.
The Angel's Song
I. Listen to the angel song. The song consists of three parts: (1) The object of our Redemption—'glory to God in the highest'. (2) And they sang also of the result of Redemption—'on earth peace'. This was a new note in the song. (3) They gave the source of our Redemption—'goodwill toward men'.
II. Has this song, then, ever been repeated, or was it just one solitary note in this world's darkness and gloom? No, the angels always sing this song on Christmas Day. What, say you, do they keep Christmas Day in heaven? Aye, the angels always sing this song on Christmas Day, for every day is Christmas Day when Christ is born, not in a broken manger, but in a broken heart, and whensoever Jesus Christ is born again in any poor sinner's soul, there is always joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. And they sing this very song. You may bring glory to God, and the angel choir will sing once more, 'Glory to God in the highest'.
III. And so you, too, will catch something of the Father's will; and you, too, will seek to throw goodwill upon this weary world; and so you, too, will reecho the song; you, too, as you go out into the world will seek to bring glory to God, you will answer your own prayers.
—E. A. Stuart, The City Pulpit, vol. x. p. 137.
The Chimes of Christmas
The song of the angels is an epitome of the Gospel. Let us hearken to the three notes struck by the heavenly host.
1. Glory to God in the highest. The power, the wisdom, and the love of God are manifested in nature and in His Word, but the gift of His Son is the supreme revelation of the glory of His attributes.
2. Peace on earth. Observe in detail: (1) Christ is driving slavery from the earth not by the sword or penal enactments, but by teaching the brotherhood of men. (2) Christ has elevated woman to her true dignity by proclaiming the equality of the sexes. (3) Christ has softened the horrors of war. Non-combatants—women and children—are not now massacred by the conquerors in 'civilized 'countries.
3. Goodwill toward men. The Gospel is democratic from beginning to end. All minor distinctions of age, and sex, and wealth, and race are lost in Christianity, or regarded as mere accidents. Celsus, one of the earliest antagonists of the Gospel, repudiated it because it made no social or political distinctions among men. Thank God, His love encircles us all, for He 'will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth'!
—W. Wakinshaw, The Preacher's Magazine, vol. vi. p. 558.
The Message of the Angel
Luke 2:14I. The birth of Christ is the entrance and abiding of the Divine love among men.
II. The birth of Christ is the beginning of peace on earth. How? By giving a new power to humanity which (1) subdues self; (2) is hostile to all violence; (3) makes all men brethren by reason of His manhood.
III. The birth of Christ is the cause of the angels' praise.
Becket, says Froude, towards the end 'was probably weary of the strife, and may have felt that he would serve his cause more effectually by death than by life. On Christmas Day he preached in the cathedral on the text, Peace to men of goodwill. There was no peace, he said, except to men of goodwill.'
Surely, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men are words which as yet belong more to prophecy than to history.
Compare the opening lines of Coleridge's poem, Religious Musings, and Longfellow's poem on this text entitled Christmas Bells.
Darwin, in one of his letters, observes, 'I always think the most perfect description of happiness that words can give, is Peace on earth, goodwill to men'.
Hee professed alwayes to love and seeke Peace: and it was his usuall Preface in his Treaties, that when Christ came into the world, Peace was sung, and when Hee went out of the world, Peace was bequeathed.
—Bacon's Henry VII.
On a house near Durham there is a Latin inscription to the effect that it was built 'in the year 1697 of the peace of the Gospel, and in the first year of the Peace of Ryswick'. The latter is almost forgotten now, but, as Macaulay points out, it was considered most vital and permanent at the time; trade revived, the army was to be disbanded, and a happier age inaugurated. All in vain. The treaty proved ere long an idle basis of peace. For only the peace of the Gospel abides.
References.—II. 14.—F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 1. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas to Epiphany, p. 87. R. Brewin, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 556. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 168. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. i. p. 273. G. B. F. Hollock, Christian World, Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 396. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 113.
Luke 2:15I. Let us; then that tells us that there are others who will not. A merry Christmas is not of necessity a happy Christmas.
II. What is going to Bethlehem? Ah me, what a joy it would be—would it not?—if we could tomorrow be carried away to that real Bethlehem, see the church that stands over what was once the manger, see where the angel appeared, see where the shepherds worshipped! But remember what He, who cannot lie, Himself said, 'Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed'.
III. We can go in thought We can see that poor little Baby, the very and eternal God, laid in a manger, while yet sitting on the Throne of the Father. We can see what kind of courtiers He had, the ox and the ass, as it is written: 'The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master's crib'.
IV. Let us now go (good advice of the shepherds to you not to put it off) even unto Bethlehem, the 'even' showing that it is not an easy thing. Easy! it is the hardest thing, the one thing of your lives; it is the thing in which that better life begins.
—J. M. Neale, Sermons to Children, p. 45.
This is a world of changes and chances. Very well; but He that was born in Bethlehem came into that world; came to be subject to them, came to overcome them.
This is a world of sorrow. Very well; but He that was born in Bethlehem came into that world to bear it, to be the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, to raise us up to the pleasures that are at His right hand for evermore.
This is a world of poverty; but Bethlehem is by interpretation the House of Bread, and He was born there who not only gives Himself as the living Bread to us, but who has promised that if we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, He will answer all other questions for us—what we shall eat, or what we shall drink, or wherewithal we shall be clothed—better than we could answer them for ourselves. This is a world of unsatisfied desires, but in Bethlehem was the spring for which David thirsted, saying, 'O that one would give me to drink of the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate'; that spring to reach which the three mighty men burst through the host of the Philistines at the jeopardy of their lives. And so in Bethlehem, the Fountain, as the prophet says, is opened for sin and for uncleanness, the Fountain of whose waters, if a man drinketh, he shall never thirst again.
—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College Chapel, vol 1. p. 55.
Go Unto Bethlehem
The shepherds give us an example of Christian decision. They went at once. Faith outruns calculation. The path might be dark and steep and rugged, the way might be long, but the shepherds thought only of the Divine impulse and of the Divine end. And for us, all this is a living parable. The words of the shepherds will come, if we give heed to them, as a trial for ourselves.
I. 'Let us now go even unto Bethlehem 'that we may find Christ. The words are still as they were of old time a profession of faith. Christ does not show Himself in the place where we should have been inclined to look for Him; He does not show Himself in the guise in which we should have been most ready to acknowledge Him.
II. So 'Let us now go even unto Bethlehem,' that we may serve Christ. The words are not only a profession of faith, they are also a profession of devotion. He who has found Christ will not rest till he has done something for Him.
III. 'Let us now go even unto Bethlehem' that we may carry thence the thought of Christ to our pleasure and to our work. The words, which are, as we have seen, first a profession of faith, and then a profession of devotion, are also a profession of hope. If we have found Christ in His lowly resting-place, if we have served Him in the person of one whom He came to raise and cheer and save, we shall have learnt the secret of a noble and a happy life.
—Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 40.
The Pilgrimage to Bethlehem
Bethlehem, or 'The House of Bread,' was a small village six miles south of Jerusalem, on the way to Hebron. It never was a place of much importance. Micah calls it 'the least among the thousands of Judah'. It is not mentioned in any of the catalogues of Judah's cities. Yet to the student of the Bible its interest is surpassingly great. In the district of Bethlehem lay the fields of Boaz in which Ruth gleaned. Here the son of Obed was born. David was anointed in Bethlehem. Best of all, in Bethlehem was Christ revealed. It was not without significance that Bethlehem, 'The House of Bread,' should be the birthplace of Him who had come down from heaven to be the Bread of Life for men.
On this the second Sunday after Christmas, while the angel's message is still ringing in our ears, let us imitate the pious shepherds and 'Now go even unto Bethlehem,' in thought, 'And see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us'.
And Whom there shall we see?
I. A Virgin's Child.—We are not to suppose that this was discovered to the shepherds, although it clearly was one of those things which Mary herself pondered in her heart. In this respect we occupy a vantage-ground above the shepherds. The Gospel records enable us to see that in the thing which had come to pass in Bethlehem, was fulfilled the ancient prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son'.
II. The Messiah of Israel.—From the commencement of her history Israel had been taught to link her destiny with the future. Her true position and power as a nation were to be realised when Abraham's seed should be born, when the prophet like unto Moses should be revealed, when the Greater High Priest of whom Aaron was a type should stand and minister in her midst at God's altar, when David's Son should sit upon His father's throne.
III. The Saviour of the World.—It is unmistakable that Christ is represented in the Word of God as holding peculiar relations towards believers as their Saviour; but it is just as palpable that all through the Gospel He is held up and set forth as a Saviour for mankind, sinners as such—'able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God through Him'. It is possible to preach either of these doctrines in such a way as to exclude the other. He best succeeds in exhibiting the truth as it is in Jesus who preaches both with equal clearness and fulness.
IV. The Son of God.—Bethlehem's wonder culminated in this, that Mary's Child, and Israel's Messiah, and the world's Saviour, was also God's son. The Son of God became incarnate, that He might reveal the Father, that He might exemplify human virtue, that He might take away our sins, and that He might be able thereby to make us partakers of His own Divine nature.
When Paula, the friend of Jerome, came on her pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, she said to the saintly companions who were kneeling beside her: 'I swear to you, that with the eye of faith I see the Divine Infant, wrapped in His swaddling clothes. I hear my Lord crying in His cradle. I see the Magi adoring the star shining from above; the Virgin Mother; the careful nursing father; the shepherds coming by night to see the Word which was made Flesh; the slaughtered children; raging Herod; Joseph and Mary fleeing into Egypt.' And with mingled tears and joy, she said: 'Hail Bethlehem, House of Bread, where was born the true Bread, which came down from Heaven. Hail, Ephrata—the fertile—whose fruit is God.' All the prophetic passages of Scripture came into her memory, she quoted them in Latin, in Greek, in Hebrew, as they occurred to her, and her pious companions taxed their memories with her. 'And have I, a miserable sinner,' she cried at last, 'been accounted worthy to kiss the cradle where my Saviour uttered His first cry? Have I been accounted worthy to offer my prayers in this cave where the Virgin Mother brought forth my Lord? Here be my rest, for it is the country of my Lord! Here will I dwell, since my Saviour chose it,' and turning to Eustochium [her daughter], she added, 'and my seed shall serve Him'.
—E. L. Cutts, Saint Jerome, p. 125.
References.—II. 15.—E. C. Chorley, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 554. R. G. Soans, Sermons for the Young, p. 187. C. Gutch, Sermons, p. 137. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas to Epiphany, p. 108. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (1st Series), p. 37. Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 65. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1. No. 2915. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 391. II. 16.—E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 55. A. M. Mackay, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 323. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 130. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 47. II. 17-20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 666. II. 18-19.—J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas to Epiphany, p. 268. II. 19.—T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 6. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas to Epiphany, p. 118. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 405. II. 20.—H. Elvet Lewis, Sermons by Welshmen, p. 193.
Suffering with Christ (Feast of the Circumcision)
Subject: New Year's Day and the Circumcision. I. History of the Festival.—In the primitive Church the Feast of the Circumcision, though ranking as a festival, was observed rather as a fast, and for this reason. The heathen festival of the Saturnalia, which began in the middle of December, was continued till the beginning of January, and accompanied by every kind of riot, disorder, and debauchery. There was a great danger of the newly baptized Christians going back to their old habits at this season, and so the Fathers of the Church were never tired of denouncing the evils of the Saturnalia, and the Church directed that the first of January should be observed as a day of fasting and humiliation for the sins of the heathen. S. Chrysostom, in one of his sermons, denounces the season as the devil's festival.
At first the festival of the Circumcision was known as the Octave of the Nativity: later it was observed under its present name, or in some places as the Festival of the Name of Jesus. The actual date when the Feast of the Circumcision became universally observed throughout the Church is doubtful, but in England it was settled by the Synod of Oxford in the year 1222 under the presidency of Stephen Langton.
II. The Church and the World.—Jesus was sinless, yet He fulfilled the obligations of the two Covenants: He was circumcised as a Jew, because He came to save the Jews; He was baptised into the wider brotherhood of the Christian Church, because He came to save all men, Jew and Gentile. At the very season when the heathen world was observing its impure rites, Jesus, Who was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, consecrates the season by His blood-shedding which the world had stained with its wickedness.
III. Our Sacrifice.—For us there is a sacrifice, a circumcision, inward and spiritual. We must begin a new lease of life with an offering. We must present ourselves, our souls and bodies, a sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. Many people's Christianity is merely a masquerade, because they are unwilling to give up anything for Christ's sake, to crucify the flesh with its sinful lusts and affections.
—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Notes of Sermons for the Year, p. 51.
References.—II. 21.—H. R. Gamble, The Ten Virgins, p. 36. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 8. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 240. II. 22.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Notes of Sermons for the Year, p. 107. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. i. p. 76. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 146. W. M. Sinclair, Christ and our Times, p. 219. J. Ewan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 92. II. 25.—A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii, p. 40. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 669. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 426. II. 27.—S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 69. II. 28.—W. P. Balfern, Glimpses of Jesus, p. 16. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 20. II. 28-30.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-tide Teaching, p. 63. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1417.
In Mr. Carus' account of the death of Charles Simeon, which J. M. Neale quotes in one of his letters, the following passage occurs: 'He employed himself in giving away sundry little presents, such as his gold-headed cane, and so forth; and then he said, "There's one bottle of wine, a very precious wine, the Lachryma Christi, in my bin; bring that to me and raise me up. Now may God's mercy continue to me the same firm trust as I now have in the tears Christ shed for me (referring to the Lachryma Christi), I want nothing more I can only use the language of my namesake, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart according to Thy Word."'
In one of his letters F. W. Robertson of Brighton observes that 'it would shed a kind of setting light and glory, upon the death-beds of those whose aspirations have been high, and whose work is done in this world, if, as they go out of it, they could see some such hope for the race coming in—as at the dawn of a former salvation, hearts old and worn with hopeless expectation cried, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace".'
What limits to the glory and happiness of our native land, if the Creator should in His mercy have placed in the heart of this royal woman the rudiments of wisdom and mercy; and if, giving them time to expand, and to bless our children's children with her goodness, He should grant to her a long sojourning upon earth, and leave her to reign over us till she is well stricken in years? What glory! what happiness! what joy! what bounty of God! I of course can only expect to see the beginning of such a splendid period; but when I do see it, I shall exclaim with the pious Simeon, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.
—Sydney Smith's Sermon at St Paul's on the accession of Queen Victoria.
Describing their last talk at Ostia, Augustine relates how 'on that day, as we spoke of such matters, in converse which made the world with all its joys grow cheap to us, my mother said, "My son, I have no further joy in life. What I do here, and why I remain here, I know not, now that the hope of this world has gone. One thing alone made me long to abide here for a little while, the desire to see thee a Catholic Christian ere I died. God hath granted me this more abundantly, in that I now see thee a servant of His, despising earthly bliss. What do I here?"'
References.—II. 29.—P. M'Adam Muir, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 92. II. 29, 30.—R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 26. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 1014, and vol. xxxix. No. 2293. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 66. II. 29-32.—J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 16. II. 32.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 113. E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 65. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 826. II. 33.—A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 40.
The Destiny of the Holy Child
Simeon's words were not suggested by anything in the Child. The old man's eyes were dim with age, but God gave him to see what the keenest human scrutiny could not have discovered—the destiny of the Child. We look upon the Child lying in His mother's arms, presented before God in the Temple, and we ask, What shall be His work, His place amongst men? And we get for answer, He shall rule the destinies of men, prosperously or adversely, according as they act towards Himself; he shall stir to the fiercest the passions of men against Himself; He shall test and declare the real characters of men. I. To Rule the Destinies of Men.—'The Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.'
The expression is somewhat figurative. It suggests to our minds a stone or step in a man's pathway, which becomes to him, according as he treats it, either a stumbling-block over which he falls, or a means of elevation by which he rises to a higher plane; and so placed before him that the man cannot avoid it. We see this destiny fulfilled—
1. During our Lord's earthly lifetime.
2. In the history of nations.
3. In the souls and lives of men today. We cannot separate ourselves from Christ.
II. To Stir the Passions of Men against Himself.—'A sign that shall be spoken against.' Given the fact beforehand that the Son of God was to appear in the world, and under the conditions of human nature and human life manifest Divine truth, and purity, and love, and our conclusion would be that He would speedily win for Himself the affection and service of all. Instead of this He excited the utmost malice and fury.
1. He exposed the moral hideousness of human nature.
2. He demolished the false hopes and deceptions in which men were living.
3. He offered Himself as a Saviour under an aspect incredible and offensive.—He demanded an utter renunciation of human righteousness; He asked them to give their whole confidence to One who should die in weakness and agony upon the shameful tree.
III. To Test and Declare the True Characters of Men.—'That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'
1. It is His destiny often to force into activity the evil that is in men's hearts.—His influence is like that of the sun's rays upon the soul, by which the seeds ripen and reveal themselves according to their own nature. We should never have known that the Pharisees and Scribes were so bad had not Christ appeared to them.
2. He supplies the only sure and sufficient test of human character.—'Faith in Christ is a test of the moral drift of our whole being.' To know what is in a man, put Christ before him. We know ourselves by ascertaining our real disposition towards Christ.
References.—II. 34.—A. Connell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 5. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 16. G. W. Kitchin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 102. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 907.
What Is Christ to Us?
Luke 2:34-35I. Christ compels men to a decision.
II. Christ discovers men. Men may be in ignorance of themselves until He comes to them.
III. Christ is the occasion of a fall. Christ must be one of two things. Neutrality is impossible. He is something to us all.
IV. Christ raises men. He raises by faith. He raises to heaven.
References.—II. 35.—A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 40. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passion-tide, p. 397. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 41. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 393. II. 39, 40.—R. Harris Lloyd, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 127. II. 40.—A. P. Stanley, Sermons for Children, p. 1. R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 96. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 234. F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life, p. 60. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 191. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 377. II. 40-52.—Ibid. vol. iv. p. 392. II. 41.—R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 37. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 29. II. 41-43.—H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 49.
In his Life of Henri Perreyve, Gratry remarks: 'If these pages concerning Henri's mental history come into the hands of a child of twelve years old, that child, I say, may understand them. He can understand that the first of all teachers is God, that God who dwells in the depth of each heart.... He can understand that all sin estranges us from God, from real work, from all beauty.... Of a truth, it is at twelve—the age when the child Jesus was found among the doctors, hearing them and astounding them with His questions—that these things are comprehensible; at forty they often cease to be so. Henri Perreyve did understand them at twelve.' Gratry then quotes from Perreyve's will the words: 'God, to whom I had the blessing of dedicating myself at the age of twelve'; and the following passage from his Discours sur l'Histoire de France: 'Do you remember the time when you were twelve? To many that is the most important moment of life; a time of angelic purity. The mind is no longer dormant; it is able to see and understand; it sees that God is good, and that to serve Him is to reign with Him. Yes, at that age, men believe in heaven; they are alive to the beauty of heavenly things; they still know how to kneel down.'
References.—II. 43.—J. Eames, Sermons to Boys and Girls, p. 47. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 523. II. 44.—C. H. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1724. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 215. II. 44-46.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2611.
It is observed—so far as inquiry is able to look back at this distance of time—that at his being a schoolboy he was an early questionist, quietly inquisitive 'why this was, and that was not, to be remembered? Why this was granted, and that denied?' This being mixed with a remarkable modesty, and a sweet serene quietness of nature, and with them a quick apprehension of many perplexed parts of learning, imposed then on him as a scholar, made his master and others to believe him to have an inward, blessed, divine light, and therefore to consider him to be a little wonder. For in that, children were less pregnant, less confident and more malleable, than in this wiser but not better age.
—Izaak Walton, The Life of Mr. Richard Hooker.
References.—IJ. 46.—W. P. Balfern, Glimpses of Jesus, p. 39. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 49. II. 46, 47.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v. p. 91. II. 47.—H. H. Almond, Sermons by a Lay Head Master, p. 113. II. 48.—H. S. Holland, Old and New, p. 43. II. 48, 49.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1666.
The Father's Business
These are the first recorded words of the Saviour, and they are His own explanation of the surprise and pain which He had caused where we should have least expected it—to His parents. 'Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing, and He said unto them, How is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?'
I. As they are His first recorded words, so we might expect that they would have a reference to the beginnings of all lives. Humanity is progressive under the perfecting hand of the Creator; there is growth and progress, but progress implies movement, and for the finite implies separation, leaving, parting—we go forward and we leave what is behind. This is a condition of the progress of society. Every new invention is a surprise and a disappointment—a surprise and joy to the inventor, and a disappointment and loss to those whose previous discoveries have been eclipsed. When we push the limit line of science forward, we enable others to go further than we have gone. It is the fate of successful statesmen to see their own most cherished measures, towards which they have striven as to a place of rest, regarded by their younger companions in the State as but halting-places for a new departure. In all these natural spheres of life a certain degree of surprise and disappointment is implied, and so the text finds a constant application: 'Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?'
II. And if we bring these words into the higher sphere of morals and religion, then they come home to us with a sharper meaning. They apply to almost every family just when it seems to have regained the happiness which, after the Fall in Paradise, was lost. Just when the family circle seems compete, and parents begin to enjoy the presence of their children, then the voice of duty calls first one and then another, and, in spite of all the natural ties of filial and brotherly love, the family circle must be broken and the home left, and the words of the text are heard even in the Christian family, not without some sense of pain and disappointment. 'Wist ye not that I, too, must be about My Father's business?'
III. But the words have yet a sharper meaning when we consider them in relation to religion. In the present confusion of Christianity, in different ways and degrees, children often find themselves unable to continue satisfied with the teaching of their parents. For a time, no doubt, obedience is the best rule for the young, but, as years increase, and the moral and intellectual faculties increase, and the gift of faith increases too, the child, though baptized, and thus incorporated into the Body of Christ's Church, sees with increasing clearness the risk of living on outside the fullest sphere of God's covenanted grace.
'He must be about His Father's business,' and His Father's Will is that all men should be saved. He came to offer Himself a ransom for all, and He has given to us the ministry of Reconciliation. The Cross was the instrument of union. We, too, must learn something of the power of suffering, and learn in suffering not to fear but to hope. The lesson is no new one—men and women with broken hearts have lived on and worked wonders with Christ.
—Bishop Edward King, The Love and Wisdom of God, p. 266.
The Father's Business
At this season of the Christian year, when we are thinking of the great mystery of the Incarnation and all that comes from it, we may consider how our Lord's trust in the Father in His work was manifested. We remember the dependence of the Son upon the Father throughout the whole of His visible incarnate life here on earth; and perhaps in no way is this dependence manifested better, or is it more apparent, than in the work that He came to do. It was the Father's work and not His own work that He was clearly engaged in. Passage after passage of Scripture can be cited to show our Blessed Lord's unfailing trust in the Father in work. He knew He was engaged in God's work, and He desired nothing but that it should be done in God's way, at God's time, and to God's glory.
I. Work a Condition of Life.—The lessons to be drawn from this are sufficiently obvious. Work is a condition of life. It is in itself one of its most ennobling conditions, raising us as it does into closest union with God, Who is ever still and yet ever active. To each comes the Lord's command, 'Go, work today in My vineyard,' however varied the work may be.
II. The Work that God has given us.—The first thing we must be absolutely sure about is that our work is the work God has sent us into the world to do. There are occupations which clearly are the Father's work, because those engaged in them are producing in some form or other that which is necessary for His children's happiness and His children's upkeep.
III. To be Done in the Father's Way.—Then, not only must we be sure that the work we are doing is the Father's work, but we must be trying to do it in the Father's way, as did our Lord in obedience to His will, with diligence and sustained effort.
IV. Work with Disinterestedness.—If only on each morning as we go to our various works we would realize that we are bent upon the Father's work, that we have to do it in His way and for His glory, how much will the example of even one among us be able to do towards the purifying of what, I fear, is a very trough of iniquity.
V. Work for Eternity.—And, finally, our work must be done at God's own time. We need far more patience, even the patience which our Blessed Lord possessed. 'Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,' and so all undeserved,—ay, maybe, almost unexpectedly, for Scripture tells us the Great Day will be full of surprises—the joyful welcome shall hereafter fall upon our ears, 'Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord'.
The First Words of the Childhood
What a perfume these words exhale! They are a perfect motto for the most devoted, self-denying, active, trusting, childlike life which the world has ever seen. And what a motto they provide for our own lives!
I. Notice, in the first place, His keen perception of His relationship to God. Mary had spoken of 'thy father and I,' but He looked past Joseph to His Father in heaven. No doubt He meant to draw her attention to the relation of His humanity to God Himself. No doubt He could use the words My Father in a sense very different to that in which we can use them. But still Jesus Christ has taught us when we pray to say Father. And have we perceived that God is our Father? This is the first thing which we want to perceive, which the Child Jesus perceived, and which we must perceive. What a peace this would give to you! It would make work so different to you! And then prayer would be so different.!
II. He perceived not only the fact of sonship, but He saw also that sonship implied service. 'Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?' I must, because it is My Father's business. The busy Father cannot have an idle child. 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.'
III. He saw that service needed preparation. He was only twelve years of age, but He was now preparing Himself for His life's work. Sometimes I hear parents say—nay, sometimes one is inclined to say it oneself—'I wish the children would always remain young'. Ah, but they do not always remain young. They grow, and as they grow they must be trained, for they must take their place in the great Father's world, and do the great Father's work. It is a solemn trust committed to us parents that our children must be about the Father's work, and we must prepare them while they are young.
IV. He saw that the right kind of training that a child needed was a deeper knowledge of God and of His ways.
V. And then there was one thing else that Christ saw. According to our Revised Version His words are translated thus: 'How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be in My Father's house?' He saw that sonship implies society. Now, Christian, if the world seeks for you, where does it find you?
VI. I think there is, perhaps, one other thing which the words show us upon the heart of Christ. It is curious that the Greek has no noun. It is simply this: 'Wist ye not that I must be in My Father's?' and several commentators have suggested that perhaps what was in the mind of Christ was this: 'How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be in My Father's hands, in My Father's keeping? No harm will come to Me. How is it then that ye sought Me so sorrowfully? Surely ye can trust Me with My Father!' He saw that sonship guaranteed safety.
—E. A. Stuart, The Divine Presence and Other Sermons, vol. vi p. 177.
My Father's Business
These are the first recorded words of the Redeemer on earth, and He was twelve years old when He uttered them. In these words we have the keynote to the whole future life of our Lord both on earth and in heaven. The entire purpose of our Lord's Incarnation is summed up in the three words—'My Father's business'.
I. In His first words Jesus claims Divine Paternity and for Himself Divine Sonship. Christ's first saying was not a moral precept, but a solemn declaration concerning His relation to God. He breaks forth on the world at the age of twelve and claims to be the Son of the Eternal Father. Was it now that the consciousness of this great fact dawned upon Him, or was it present with Him during the whole of His early childhood in Nazareth? The confident calmness with which He utters it suggests that He was previously conscious of the relationship.
II. His Divine Mission. 'My Father's business.' What is this business? In one word it is Redemption, to bring lost humanity into a salvable condition: to provide for the restoration of purity, blessedness, and immortality to men who have forfeited all by transgression; to save from sin, its power, pollution, and penalties all who apply to God for mercy.
III. Christ's complete self-surrender. His absolute devotion to this great business of redeeming the lost race is expressed and emphasised in this word—'Must'. But why 'must'? (1) Because of the covenant He made of old with the Father. (2) He must because no other being in earth or heaven could do the business. (3) 'I must' or men must perish under the curse of sin.
—Richard Roberts, My Jewels, p. 126.
There is a period when earnest spirits become disposed to contrast the grandeur of their new ideal with the littleness of all that is actual; and to look with a sublimated feeling, which in harsher natures passes into contempt, on pursuits and relations once sufficient for the heart's reverence. At such a crisis it was that Jesus gave the answer to His parents; when His piety first broke into original and self-luminous power, and not only took the centre of His system, but threatened to put out those minor and dependent lights which, when their place is truly understood, appears no less heavenly. He spake in the entranced and exclusive spirit of young devotion.
The mother's love is at first an absorbing delight, blunting all other sensibilities; it is an expansion of the animal existence; it enlarges the imagined range for self to move in: but in after years it can only continue to be joy on the same terms as other long-lived love—that is, by much suppression of self, and power of living in the experience of another.
—Geoege Eliot, Felix Holt, i.
References.—II. 49.—J. A. Best, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 147. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 64. C. S. Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 292. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 22. R. J. Wardell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 418. C. H. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 122. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 193. C. J. Ridgeway, The King and His Kingdom, p. 60. T. Mardy Rees, The British Congregationalist, 3rd Sept. 1908, p. 208. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 390. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 124; vol. vii. p. 113; vol. viii. p. 123. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 62.
Neglect of Parents' Responsibilities
I. It is distinctly one of the complaints of the present day that a very large number of parents, both in the upper and the lower classes, do not attend to the moral training of their families. In fashionable life it is quite common for children to be handed over to nurses and governesses, and to see little of their fathers and mothers. The old custom of reading the Bible every morning with the souls whom God has given them is in such circles, of course, extinct; the very idea would be received with derision. Nor are characters watched, faults checked, ideas trained.
II. And this neglect is helped by certain necessary steps which the law has taken in modern times for the protection of children in so vast and complicated a social system as ours. Our lawgivers in insisting that children shall be well brought up and have a fair start in life, have rather led to the impression that the duties of the father have been undertaken by the State. 'What will parents be able to say. to God at the Day of Judgment for their neglect of their children in the matter of instruction and example, or restraint from evil?' wrote the great Archbishop Tillotson in the seventeenth century, and we cannot help feeling that such a question brings with it in these days even an increased sense of shame and regret The mother holds the key of the soul, and she it is who stamps the coin of character, and makes the being who would be a savage but for her gentle care a Christian man. There is no limit to what a mother can do for her children. But the father's influence comes only next to the mother's. There should be a mutual understanding between father and son from the very first, never to be broken. Let a parent make a companion of his child, talk with him familiarly, put to him questions, answer his inquiries, communicate facts, the result of his own reading, observation, or experience, awaken his wholesome curiosity—and all this in an easy playful way, without seeming to be doing a task, and he himself will be astonished at the progress made.
III. But again, the neglectful parents cannot have the slightest idea of what an incalculable pleasure they are depriving themselves by taking no interest in the development of the minds of their children. As soon as the intelligence begins to dawn, the act of impressing it becomes most fascinating, a delight.
—W. M. Sinclair, Difficulties of Our Day, p. 73.
The early years in the life of a man whose name becomes famous after he has passed middle age are difficult fields of search for those who would like to trace their hero through every scene of his journey from the cradle to the grave, and who believe that the head and the heart will always be found to show through childhood, boyhood, and youth, the ever-deepening lines of character which in the end have made him celebrated.... It is the mother who watches and notes the dawn and growth of the child's ideas, and preserves the memory of traits that to others are unnoticed, but when the half-hundredth year of man's life is past, she who 'kept all these things in her heart' has in most cases long gone to her rest'.
—Sir William Butler, Life of Gordon.
References.—II. 51.—J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 71. M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 40. W. R. Inge, All Saints' Sermons, 1905-7, p. 172. II. 51, 52.—H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi p. 233. J. Ossian Davies, The Dayspring from on High, p. 93.
The Education of the Child Jesus
I. Christ's Mother and Home.—First and foremost let us place the mother and the home. These are the paramount forces in the training of a child. The mother, and not the schoolmistress, is by nature itself made the teacher of the human race. From our mothers—or from those who act a mother's part—we learn, each of us, to speak, and to walk, and to love By her the first and lasting lessons are taught of obedience, of punctuality, of patience, and of trust. And, therefore, when God sent forth His Son into the world, to be born of woman, one woman was predestined for that unique honour who was pre-eminent in every feature of the saintly character. So much at least we may say, after reading what Scripture tells us of the sayings and doings of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of the foster-father, Joseph, Scripture tells us less; we are left to infer that he was early removed by death. But in one emphatic word we are plainly told that Joseph, the husband, was a righteous man. The home, therefore, where our Saviour was born and nurtured was a home of simple piety toward God and man, a household where pure and gentle thoughts, honest words and deeds, generous and holy feelings lent their natural fragrance to the daily life Such was the home selected by Divine wisdom for the Child Jesus. And, similarly, we want the best and purest homes for all our children.
II. And next we recall that the first book lessons our Saviour received were, without doubt, given by His mother. At her knee He would spell out certain Psalms and learn them by heart, and certain chapters of Deuteronomy, especially chapter vi., committing them all to memory. By degrees He would be able to read any part of the Old Testament, receiving help as to the meaning of difficult passages either from the lips of St. Mary and St. Joseph, or from the local Rabbis, for every Sabbath the Holy Family would be gathered within the Nazarene Synagogue. At home he would learn such elementary lessons of reckoning and of writing as would suffice for practical life. It was a limited education, if you will, but it rested upon a solid basis. Whatever after education our children may enjoy in school or college, happy are those who have first learnt to love and remember from the teaching of their parents the choicest lines of the great poets, the finest passages of our great writers, and, not least, of the Bible, whose intelligence has been awakened and has drawn forth strength and joy from the springs of veneration and love. It may be said that our Lord was a Man of the Book. But that one Book was a library and literature in itself—full of poetry and adventure and patriotic story, a literature which reflected, as in a mirror, the thoughts of the noblest spirits of a race endowed with a genius for religion. And our children have indeed the grounding of a liberal education, if they have learnt to love their country from Shakespeare, to love their God from their Bible or from Wordsworth, and the beauties of Nature from Shelley or Keats.
III. Observe next the place of the Saviour's education. Nazareth was a quiet place perched among the Galilean hills. Its interests were rural and spiritual, the childish eyes of Christ opened upon all the scenes and labours of village life, upon all the movement and colour and fragrance of Nature. We know how all these reappear in His parables and give life and beauty to His teachings. And yet Nazareth, though so quiet and retired, could be reached by the throb of the great world's movements. Galilee itself was seething with the hope and fears of Jewish patriotism; the fire which burst out a few years later in the Jewish War and ended in the destruction of Jerusalem was already kindling. And all this lent its influence to the education of the Child Jesus.
But He retained throughout a love of the country, of the fresh air, of the sunshine. He taught, as a rule, out of doors. His chosen friends were, most of them, out-of-door workers. His favourite place of prayer was the hill-side or hill-top, with its clear air, its silence, its aloofness from human turmoil; or if not the hill-top, then in Gethsemane Happily, even in our precarious climate, we are training our children more and more to delight in the fresh air of heaven.
IV. I note, further, that in the education of Christ one element was not wanting which has been, until lately, much neglected by ourselves. He was reared in the household of a village carpenter, whose daily business lay in making and mending the homely implements of the husbandman, in building and repairing the houses of the peasants. So soon as the Child Jesus was able to learn He would be frequenting the carpenter's shop and learning to use the tools. He was early taught a manual craft At last we have permitted ourselves to see that in keeping children in school only to book-work, we have deprived them of one of the most important elements in education. Manual teaching has been often recommended as a preparation for manual work in after years. But quite apart from such industrial advantage, the learning of manual crafts is wholesome in every way. It trains the eye and the hand; it develops the powers of observation; it leads to wholesome activity; it inculcates patience and sympathy; and it confers upon the worker a joy that nothing else can give—the joy of making something which is at once both useful and beautiful. These wholesome influences, these pure and innocent joys were not denied to the Holy Child. They must not be denied to our little children if we wish them to live by His rule and follow His blessed example.
—Bishop Hicks, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxviii. p. 273.
The Quiet Life (First Sunday after Epiphany)
Subject: The Quiet Life of Preparation. All great work is done slowly and after careful preparation. Small matters grow to maturity quickly, like mushrooms, and as quickly perish. The giant oak takes centuries to mature, and its roots are buried deep in the very heart of the soil. Some gaudy flowers last only for a day, others, less showy, are perennial.
I. One of the great artists used to mix his colours with his own blood. Part of our preparation consists in suffering; the noblest life pictures which we produce are painted with our own heart's blood. The greatest preachers, teachers, reformers, passed through a time of quiet, obscure preparation.
Our Lord said once to His disciples, 'Come apart into a desert place, and rest awhile'. It is absolutely necessary for our soul's health and growth that we should come apart at times, and have a little time alone with God, when we may think, and pray, and grow. Our souls need a quiet time to grow, that they might bring forth the flowers of holiness, just as the flowers in our garden need the quiet time when they are unseen under the earth that they may mature. The tendency of the present busy, bustling, hurrying age is all for doing, and not for learning and praying, and growing in grace. Therefore the lesson of the great unseen life at Nazareth is specially needed.
II. The Lessons of Epiphany-tide.—The whole season of Epiphany not only shows us a series of pictures, manifestations, of our Lord Jesus Christ, but also a series of examples for our own lives. Humility. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, yet He was always humble. He hath done all things well, He went about doing good, performing marvellous acts of power and mercy, yet He always worked quietly. 'See thou tell no man 'was His command to those who were healed by His power. There was no seeking for notoriety. He perfectly fulfilled the words of the prophet, 'He shall not strive nor cry aloud; neither shall anyone hear His voice in the streets'. The best Christians are the quietest, the best people are those who 'Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame'.
—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Notes of Sermons for the Year, p. 62.
The Steps of His Most Blessed Life
Too often we unconsciously sever the life of Christ before His baptism from His life after, as if in some way the two were utterly different. But surely the life of Jesus after His baptism grew naturally out of His life before; and we may imagine something of what passed in His soul during the thirty years of preparation by what we know passed from it during the three years of His ministry. If we desire to know how the Lord spent those thirty years, we must study how He spent the three. We are told that our Lord has left us an example that we should follow His steps; let us study His steps in Nazareth, and ask for grace to follow.
I. He wrought with His hands. 'Is not this the carpenter?' The hands that made the heavens made ploughs and household furniture. There is no discipline that ennobles a man so much as honest work. The way you do your daily toil reacts upon your character, and either makes you noble, or leaves you dumb, driven cattle. God cursed the ground for man's sake. It is work that makes men. Do not perform work merely for pay. Nothing is so ignoble—nothing so despicable, as to serve only for money.
II. Our Lord was a student. From three books He must have studied. (1) The Bible. (2) Nature. (3) Man. Let us, too, read these three books. It is not so necessary to know the literature of your time as to be acquainted with them. Our motto should be: 'Not many things but much'.
III. Our Lord learned the secret of being a servant. 'He was subject'. The devil came to Him after His baptism, but you may rely upon it he came before. Looking at the matter from the human aspect, did not our Lord find it difficult to wait? But Christ waited—for thirty years He waited.
IV. Our Lord had a purpose. To do His Father's business. What is the Father's business? (1) To be His child, worthy of Him. (2) And then to love—to redeem men, though it cost a cross. But if we would follow the steps of the Son of Man, in these early years, let us never forget how incessantly He sought fellowship with His Father.
—F. B. Meyer, In the Beginning God, p. 91.
References.—II. 52.—Homes Dudden, Christ and Christ's Religion, pp. 62 f. II. 52.—J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 93. R. Brewin, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 321. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 216. T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 10. R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 96. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 181. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 89. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 95. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 227. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 1; (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 69; vol. v. p. 305; vol. vii. p. 28. III. 1.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. pp. 51, 143, 231; (5th Series), vol. iv. pp. 199, 294. III. 1, 2.—H. S. Holland, Church Times, vol. lxi. p. 51. III 1-14.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 69.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
(As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)
And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;
And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.
And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?
And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.
And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.