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 Child and the Emperor.
I. "It came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." In the original meaning of these words, they express the fact that it is by the vast network, so to speak, of the Imperial Government at Rome, reaching to every corner of the Empire, that the humble family at Nazareth were drawn from their home in the Galilean hills to the birthplace, or city, of David at Bethlehem. But there are a solemn march and swell in the words, that give them a fuller and ampler scope. It was not without reason, that in the earlier ages this portion of Scripture was read publicly in the churches on Christmas Day, by kings and emperors. It was felt truly that the words awakened the sense of the great historical personages and events in the midst of which Christianity was born. They gave us a thread, slight indeed in itself, but forming part of a vast tissue which bound the cradle of Bethlehem—the birth, the growth of Christianity, round the throne of the imperial Cæsar.
II. Born under the empire, there was in Jesus Christ nothing imperial, except the greatness of His birth. Born under the Roman sway, there was nothing in Him Roman, except the world-wide dominion of His Spirit. Born in the first century, He belongs more to the full development of the nineteenth century than He does to the imperfections of the first. This, then, is the double principle of which the event of Christmas Day is the most striking example; external circumstances are something, but they are not everything. The inward life is the essential thing; but for its successful growth it needs external circumstance. The main element in the foundation—the main pledge for the future progress of Christianity—was the character, the personal character, of its Founder. Had Christ been other than He was, had He been a mere spectre or phantasm, however Divine, such as He is represented in some well-known systems, without human affection, or persuasive words, or energetic actions, or constraining will, the course of the empire would have rolled on its way, and His place in history and in the hearts of men would have been unknown. But being what He was—the impersonation of goodness and truth, containing within Himself all those elements of character which win, convince, stimulate mankind—His religion, so far as it was derived from Himself, became all-pervading and all-embracing.
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 401.
References: Luke 2:1.—W. Leask, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 283. Luke 2:1-20.—W. Hanna, Our Lord's Life on Earth, p. 10. Luke 2:5-8.—A. Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, p. 55. Luke 2:6, Luke 2:7.—G. B. Ryley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 410.
Luke 2:7Christ waiting to find room.
In the birth and birthplace of Jesus there is something beautifully correspondent with His personal fortunes, afterwards also of the fortunes of His Gospel. Even down to our own age and times He comes into the world, as it were, to the taxing, and there is scant room for Him even at that.
I. The reason why Jesus cannot find room for His Gospel is closely analogous to that which He encountered in His birth—viz. that men's hearts are preoccupied. They do not care, in general, to put any indignity on Christ; they would prefer not to do it; but they are filled to the full with their own subjects already.
II. If we speak of what is called Christendom, comprising, as it does, all the most civilised and powerful nations of mankind, those most forward in learning, and science, and art, and commerce, it may well enough seem to us when they fix the name Christendom—Christ dominion—on these great powers of the earth, that Christ has certainly gotten room, so far, to enter and be glorified in human society. And it is a very great thing, doubtless, for Christ to be so far admitted to His kingly honours; more, however, as a token of what will sometime appear than as a measure of power already exerted. Still, what multitudes of outlying populations there are that have never heard of Him. And the states and populations that acknowledge Him, how little of Christ, take them all together, appears to be really in them. Now and then a saint appears, a real Christly man, but the general mass are sharp for money and dull to Christ.
III. Our Gospel fails hitherto of all its due honours, because we so poorly represent the worth and largeness of it. What multitudes are there under the name of disciples, who maintain a Christian figure securely up to the line of common respect—penurious, little, mean, sordid, foul in their imaginations, low-minded, coarse-minded every way! The work, however fitly ordered as respects the machinery, lingers till Christ gets room to be a more complete inspiration in His followers. They give Him the stable, when they ought to be giving Him the inn.
H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 1.
So, by the ordering of Providence, that fell out at Bethlehem which was to foreshadow all that has happened since. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not."
I. At Bethlehem it was but an ordinary accident. The very limited means of accommodation in a poor village had been extended as far as they would go. Those who came first would be first served, and those who could pay the best would be most carefully attended to. The travellers were not bidden to go elsewhere; they were not left in the street to seek lodging on a winter's night; what could not be found in the house might, since nothing better could be offered, be found in an outhouse. And so the Saviour of the world was born in a stable, and cradled in a manger.
II. What occurred then undesignedly has been repeated of deliberate intention ever since. That inn at Bethlehem was the type and similitude, to a greater or less degree, of every human heart that has ever beaten since. Who is there but must be constrained to own that while his heart has been swept and garnished for other guests, and all its chambers filled, the poorest, narrowest, least-honoured place about it has been allotted to Jesus? The lamentable but plain truth is this, that from first to last the world which He has made has found no room for God.
III. Let us try to realise who it is that knocks at our hearts, and for whom we are unwilling or careless to find room. It is the majesty and awfulness of the Guest that seeks admission—the awfulness of such an Indwelling Presence—the restraints which it involves and lays upon us—which cause us to shrink from the contemplation of it, and to share the feeling of the Apostle when he exclaimed, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" But is He to seek admission, and are we so say that we have "no room?" That be far from us! Let us welcome Him without reserve, and His love and grace will do the rest.
F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i., p. 30.
References: Luke 2:7.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 343; Church of England Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 13; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 520; vol. iii., p. 333; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 485; E. J. Hardy, Faint yet Pursuing, p. 151; J. Keble, Sermons from Christmas to Epiphany, p. 97; H. Wonnacott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 24.
Luke 2:8-9Whilst there is a striking contrast, between the Divine dignity of our Lord and the lowly earthly circumstances of His birth, there is at the same time a no less striking harmony between the events, and dispositions, and persons attending it. The time, the place, the tidings, the listeners, are all in unison. The shepherds were upon historic ground. On those same slopes, on those same hillsides, David of old had fed his father's flocks; and it was from those same fields that he went forth at God's command to change his shepherd's crook for the royal sceptre; and his lowly dress for the purple of a king. When the angels came to earth, they came to the peaceful hillsides, where the dew was upon the grass, and the flock was sleeping in the fold; and there to humble and prepared hearts they gave their message and revealed their glory.
I. And that humble shepherds were the first to receive the glad tidings is as instructive as it is strange. It shows us plainly that there is no respect of persons with God; that in His eye the loftiest and the lowliest are as one; that in the blessings of the everlasting Gospel there is no difference between the monarch on the throne, and the beggar on the dunghill.
II. Not only was the message of the angel given to shepherds, it was given to them whilst they were pursuing their work. Idle men do not receive visions. Industry rather than idleness qualifies for the blessing of God. These were not the kind of men to start at shadows. They were strong, sturdy men, holding a position of danger and difficulty, and yet their humble hearts were waiting upon the Lord.
III. The shepherds at first were "sore afraid." "Flesh and blood were not made to inherit the kingdom of heaven," and thus the "mercifulness of God is seen in the very commonplaces of life." The shaded light, the veiled heaven, the hidden glory, testify as much to His goodness as the open vision and the third-heaven revelation. But the fear of the shepherds soon gave place to action; they took the proper attitude to the Divine announcement, they instantly believed it. How different this journey of the shepherds to the manger, from the hasting of the disciples afterwards to the tomb! These men went "to see the thing which had come to pass," but when Peter and John ran to the sepulchre it was to see if it had come to pass; and the one journey was marked by confidence and truthfulness, while the other was all impatience and haste.
H. Wonnacott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 285.
Luke 2:8-11The Great Joy of Christmas.
When we hear an angel from heaven declaring good tidings of great joy, which should be to all people, the heart is straightway set on remembering how wondrous true this declaration of his has proved already; set on considering how infallibly true it will prove to the end. The fountain head of the river of our bliss is the manger at Bethlehem. Every separate stream of our rejoicing is to be traced back thither. The source and beginning of it all is in the Infant Saviour, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and why?
I. Because He is the pledge of God's forgiveness and of God's love towards man. We were before at emnity with God. We lay under a curse. The sentence of death had been passed on all our race. Behold the beginning of the undoing of the curse, the dawn of light and life to a dead and benighted world. All saving mysteries were contained in Christ's Incarnation—somewhat as a forest may be said to be contained in an acorn. And hence first it is that Christmas is the season of our greatest joy.
II. Immediately out of this flows our gratitude as a Church. For do let us consider what was the condition of the world till Christ was born. On one nation only, and that the smallest, had the dew of the Divine blessing as yet descended. What had we been in this far land, but for the substance of the angels' message to the shepherds?
III. As individuals, we find here our personal grounds of gratitude and rejoicing: for Christ's coming into the world it was which hallowed every relationship, and blessed every age and estate. By His precepts, His example, His grace, He has guided us through life's mazy path; planted in us high principles of action and the very divinest motives; sanctified affliction, and sweetened sorrow, and beatified poverty, and made infancy most precious, and old age most honourable.
IV. Then, lastly, consider how entirely from the coming of Christ in the flesh it comes to pass that the mourner learns to dry his tears. This privilege of Christian faith and hope was unknown to the heathen. But now the daystar arises in the darkest season of bereavement, and (as on summer nights) there is a token of the morning almost before the hour of sunset has quite passed away. And if the progress of decay in ourselves, and the prospect of death is not very terrible—whence is it, but because as on this day was born to us a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord? In Him we know that we are more than conquerors. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me."
J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 11.
Reference: Luke 2:8-14.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 439.
Luke 2:10The days of life are not lived on one level range. There are days that are lifted, and days that are depressed; days which stand out radiant with opportunity, as summits of mountains stand forth to the eye when the sun shines upon them. When Christianity was born a sun rose into the darkness of the world. Men saw what they had felt must be, but what they had never before seen.
I. Chiefest among all sights revealed stood God. The heaven was no longer a vacuum; the spaces beyond the sight of the eye, were no longer a mockery. Within the heavens and filling them there was Deity, and through the farther spaces they were told that that Deity at death would receive them, as children are received to a home. As the stars move round the sun, so do the souls of men revolve round their Deity. We are tied to our spiritual orbits by our knowledge of God; we should become vagrant with the intellectual and spiritual vagrancy of the old-time heathenism if the impelling, guiding, controlling influence which God, through our knowledge of Him, puts ceaselessly upon us, were intermitted.
II. The first reason, then, why Christianity is glad news is, because it revealed God to man; and the second and emphatic reason is, as it seems to me, because it revealed man to himself. Never till Jesus was born, and never till He had lived and passed away, did man know the nobility of his species. Never until God dwelt in the flesh could any man know what flesh might become. Never until the fulness of God was in man bodily, might the race get even a hint of that Divine receptiveness that above all else, perhaps, most nobly characterises human nature. Man had been one sort of a being before Christ came; after that, he was another sort of a being. The birth at Bethlehem gave a new significance to birth, made motherhood a new thing, and gave fatherhood a larger sanctity; Christ showed what man might be, and thereby fixed his value.
III. The third great reason why Christianity is glad news, is found in the fact that it reveals God in man, The proclamation of the angels is confirmed in our experience, and corroborated by our knowledge, that the birth of Christianity was indeed glad news unto men, because it brought God out of distance and darkness into light, and made Him nigh, as He is nigh who shares our burdens, consoles our sorrows, and in every pinch and stress of disastrous fortune, rescues us from peril and saves us from loss.
W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 201.
Luke 2:10-11When Jesus was born, the possibilities of human nature began to be realised. Humanity took a new start. The highest hope of all time was realised, and the possibilities of human nature had expression. Christianity comes to every one of us as an inspiration. It hangs, a star in the darkened sky of our lives. Jesus had faith in Himself, and therefore He had faith in the race to which He belonged. He knew that His own capacities typed the capacities of mankind. And on this He built His hope when He said, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me."
I. Observe the universality of the good tidings. The angel said, "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Jesus, in birth, became an organic member of the race. His connection was race-wide: He was brother to humanity everywhere. Within the circle of His sublime brotherhood stand peasant and king, serf and czar. The relationship which every person sustains to the Saviour overwhelms all earthly distinctions.
II. Christianity relates not only to the future of mankind, but to the present. It is not an arrangement of forces which shall begin to operate upon man when he has passed out of the body, but an arrangement to operate upon him while in the body. It teaches us earthly duties. It controls the daily adjustments of our lives. It is a thing of today, rather than of tomorrow.
III. When we consider what the birth of Jesus meant, in its application to human progress, we can well understand why the angels should call it tidings of great joy. For the birth of such a Being should mean nothing less than joy to man. A clear, hopeful, joyful spirit animates all Gospel history. It sounds out through the promises of Jesus; it speaks in His invitations; it rises like a strain of sweetest music in the Beatitudes; it can be distinguished even in His warnings. And the strong clear notes of hope and gladness, sounded first in Him at His departure into heaven, His disciples took up and prolonged. The fact that music has always been the handmaid of our religion is in itself sufficient to characterise that religion as impulsively happy and emotionally jubilant. Music cannot survive on grief. The fact that the Bible is a book of music is enough to characterise the religion that it teaches us. The fact that heaven would be imperfect without its harp reveals to us that religion is not only happy in its origin and progress, but happier still in its culmination.
W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 485.
Consider why the proclamation of Christ's birth should be an occasion of joy.
I. Because Christ came to make atonement for the world's guilt and sin. The greatest plague a man can have is the plague of a guilty conscience. Most other miseries may, by skill and time, be removed, and all come to an end in the grave. But a guilty conscience is something no one can remove, either from himself or from others. This forms its peculiar sting—that after death it pursues to the judgment-seat, and will torment us in the abodes of despair. And so the fact, that, in Jesus Christ, His incarnation and death, we have an antidote for the uneasiness of a guilty conscience, ought to lessen, yea to allay altogether, the disquiet of the guilty soul that has received the good tidings of great joy.
II. Christ's birth is good tidings of great joy, because it is the coming to us of a loving and joy-giving Friend. The joy of deliverance, to be complete, must be associated with the love of a personal friend. And in the goodness and wisdom of God in saving us from our wretchedness He has given us the love and joy of a heavenly Friend. It is quite possible for one to be a real friend, and yet the announcement of His coming to be other than good tidings of great joy; although friendly, He may be stern and morose. But Christ is a Friend in whose presence is fulness of joy, although our Lord was a Man of Sorrows.
III. Christ's birth should be to us "good tidings of great joy," because He has come to secure us a home above. He abides with us always; His presence and joy remain with us to the end of life. And even then He does not leave us, for His guiding, supporting, and joy-giving presence accompanies us when we enter upon that dark valley which separates the tabernacle on earth from that everlasting home in heaven.
Pulpit Analyst, vol. iv., p. 678.
Christmas Day Lessons.
I. Christmas Day brings before us the relation of Christianity to the religion which went before; for the birth at Bethlehem was itself a link with the past. The coming of Jesus Christ was not unheralded or unforeseen; other nations had prided themselves on their illustrious origin in times long past, delighted to think that their first fathers had sprung from a god, a demigod, or a hero; the Jewish nation alone had hardly anything of this feeling. Its best and wisest spirits turn steadily towards the future—the King, the Deliverer, the Glory of the golden times of their people was far in advance; and as years rolled on this belief grew deeper and stronger. It was the hope of the whole nation, it became like a natural instinct within them; like an instinct of duty, of immortality of self-preservation. Jesus of Nazareth, the Child born this day in the city of David, was at once the satisfaction and realisation of these ancient forebodings.
II. The recollections of this day also combine it with the future. If so much of what went before led up to it, so all that is most important in what followed leads us back to it. If we trace the laws, the morals, the literature, the art, of the modern world back to their source, we shall find that for the largest part of their peculiarities there is no event adequate to produce the immense transformation until we reach the same point as that in which the ancient prophecies ended.
III. This decisive world-historical birthday took place in a small inn of a small village of a small province of a small nation. It was the greatest of events on the smallest of scales. There are some who think that all events and characters are to be measured by the magnitude of the stage on which they appear; there are some who are perplexed by the thought that this globe, on which the history of man is enacted, is now known to be a mere speck in the universe. But the moment we go below the surface we find that the truth conveyed to us by the birth of the world's Redeemer in the little village of Bethlehem is the likeness of a principle which ramifies far and wide. The great nations of the world have almost always been amongst the smallest in size. "Many are called, but few are chosen."
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 417.
Luke 2:10, Luke 2:14We have on the Feast of the Nativity these two lessons: instead of anxiety within, and despondence without—instead of a weary search after great things—to be cheerful and joyful; and again, to be so in the midst of those obscure and ordinary circumstances of life which the world passes over and thinks scorn of.
I. Why should the heavenly hosts appear to the shepherds? What was in them which attracted the attention of the angels, and the Lord of angels? Were these shepherds learned, distinguished, or powerful? Were they especially known for piety and gifts? Nothing is said to make us think so. Why then were they chosen?—for their poverty's sake and obscurity. Almighty God looks with a sort of especial love upon the lowly. Perhaps it is that man—a fallen, dependent, and destitute creature—is more in his proper place when he is in lowly circumstances; and that power and riches, though unavoidable in the case of some, are unnatural appendages to man as such. The angel appeared to the shepherds as if to show that God had chosen the poor in this world to be the heirs of His kingdom, and so to do honour to their lot.
II. The angel honoured a humble lot by his very appearing to the shepherds; next he taught it to be joyful by his message. He disclosed good tidings so much above this world as to equalise high and low, rich and poor, one with another. Surely the lesson of joy which the Incarnation gives us is as impressive as the lesson of humility. Let us seek the grace of a cheerful heart, an even temper, sweetness, gentleness, and brightness of mind, as walking in His light, and by His grace. Let us pray Him to give us the spirit of ever-abundant, ever-springing love which overpowers and sweeps away the vexations of life by its own richness and strength, and which above all things unites us to Him who is the Fountain and Centre of all mercy, lovingkindness, and joy.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. vi., p. 244.
We learn from the text—
I. That the Gospel is not originated by man, but is brought to him.
II. That in revealing the Gospel the ministry of angels is only temporary.
III. That the Gospel is inseparably identified with the highest joy.
Parker, City Temple, vol. i., p. 307.
We have on the Feast of the Nativity these two lessons: instead of anxiety within and despondence without—instead of a weary search after great things, to be cheerful and joyful; and again, to be so in the midst of those obscure and ordinary circumstances of life which this world passes over and thinks scorn of.
I. First, what do we read just before the text?—that there were certain shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, and angels appeared to them. Why should the heavenly hosts appear to these shepherds? Were they learned, distinguished, or powerful? Nothing is said to make us think so. They were chosen for their poverty's sake, and obscurity. Almighty God looks with a sort of especial love upon the lowly.
II. The angel honoured a humble lot by his very appearing to the shepherds; next he taught it to be joyful by his message.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. v., p. 326.
I. There is no news equal to the news of Christmas. To those who receive it, who feed on it in their hearts, it is like news of a great victory. It tells of an enemy defeated—and a cruel, malicious enemy, an enemy who is alike the foe of God and man, and that is the devil. Satan's power was shaken to its centre on the day that the angels sang their hymn of joy in the fields about Bethlehem. Today, instead of the "gods many and lords many," we are presented with a truer and nobler Object of our homage. We have shown to us One who is the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His Person.
II. What is it that distinguishes the glad tidings of Christmas from the tidings of Easter, or of Ascension, or of Whit-Sunday? It is this, that the Son of God has come into the world, and come as a Son of Man, and come not for a day, or for a year, but to be ever with us unto the end of time: Emmanuel, God with us. Christmas speaks to us of One who is Partner with us in all our sorrows, all our joy, all the changes and chances of our mortal life. Are there any here who mourn? Christ mourns with them. Is anyone here perplexed and troubled, from whatever cause? There is One come who is able to unravel for us our difficulties, and to make our way plain before our face. Let us seek the Lord, and pray Him to come into our hearts, and fill us with peace and joy, and gentleness, and goodness, and to make our hearts a copy of His own.
R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 4th series, p. 98.
References: Luke 2:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1330; vol. xii., No. 727; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 435; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. vi., p. 49. Luke 2:10, Luke 2:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 1026; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 104. Luke 2:10-14.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 321. Luke 2:11.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 556; vol. vii., p. 341.
Luke 2:12The Sign of the Babe reveals Four Things.
I. That our Saviour was a real man. "Ye shall find the Babe." In the flesh—our flesh—Christ came; as truly man as He was truly God; and infinite though the mystery may be, that is the truth gathering about the Babe wrapt in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger.
II. That our Saviour was simply a man. "Ye shall find the Babe "just a babe—no more. He was almost an outcast babe—no interest evidently gathered about Him when He came. We can say very little more about Him than this: He was a babe. We cannot put any of the ordinary adjectives and say He was a royal babe, or a wealthy babe, or a promising babe, or a learned man's babe: He was just a babe.
III. The sign shows us our Saviour as a loving man. Christ came to begin the reign of love; to make love for ever the one force that should rule man's spirit, man's intercourse, man's relationship. Therefore, He came as a babe to win first a mother's heart, and through that mother's heart to win his way into the very heart of mankind.
IV. The sign shows us our Saviour, for the most part, a rejected man—"wrapt in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." It was the custom in the East to dress very young children merely in folds of linen and woollen. But the giving of this description by the angel, "swaddling clothes," seems to intimate some peculiar unreadiness for Christ. He came unexpectedly, and the best that could be done had to be arranged for Him in the circumstances. The world was not even ready for Him as a babe.
R. TUCK, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 404.
I. The text teaches us how everywhere and in all things the Divine veils and even hides Itself in the outward. This shall be your sign—not the march of a conqueror, not the splendour of a king, but the babe wrapt in its swaddling bands; and the babe lying in a manger. Wherever God is the presence is secret. What, for example, is the Book of God—the Bible—but an example of this sanctity in commonness; a heap of leaves, marked with ink and hand, stamped with signs for sounds, multiplied by printing-press and steam engine, conveyed hither and thither by railways, bought and sold in shops; tossed from hand to hand in schools and homes, lost and dissipated by vulgar wear and tear. Yet in this Book of books—thus material, thus earthly, thus human in its circumstances—there lie concealed the very breath and spirit of God Himself mighty to stir hearts, and mighty to regenerate souls. The swathing bands of sense and time enclose the living and moving power which is of eternity, which is Divine—nay, the sign of the true Deity is the fact that the form is human.
II. The same thing which is true of the Bible is true also of the Church and of the Christian. Where is it, we ask, that God in Christ dwells most certainly, most personally, on this earth? It is no word of man's invention which answers to the Church: "Ye collectively are the temple of God;" and to the Christian: "Your body is the shrine of the Holy Ghost which is in you." The treasure of Divine light is always held in earthen vessels: not until the pitcher is broken at the fountain shall the full radiance shine out so as to be read of all men. Meanwhile, the sign of God is the commonness. Christ came not to take men out of the world, but to consecrate and keep them in it.
III. And was it not exactly thus with our Lord Jesus Christ Himself—not only in the circumstances of His birth, but throughout His human life and His earthly ministry? Even when the preparation was ended, and the life beyond all other lives was begun, still was it not true that the Godhead veiled itself in the humanity? The sign of the birth was the sign also of the life. Christ the Lord is here, and therefore the human—the very human—is the token.
C.J. Vaughan, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 999.
This verse presents to us, in the most striking manner, that our Lord, however mysteriously His human nature was pervaded and exalted by a Divine nature, was, notwithstanding such ineffable and inexplicable complication, one of ourselves: that He passed through the ordinary gradations of humanity, increasing in wisdom, increasing in stature, keeping pace with both these developments by a corresponding progress in the love and admiration of those about Him, and in the favour and approval of His Heavenly Father.
I. In the grief of Mary for the temporary loss of her Child we may trace a suggestion for those who find themselves to be undergoing in their own inward experience a similar separation. Would it not be well that those who experience this loss—this privation of the Divine Comforter—should go straight back, like Mary, from the point at which they are to the point where they last enjoyed it, and retrace the steps that led them away from it, and return to the house of God, the presence of God, the ordinances of God, if haply they may recover what they have lost? And let them be encouraged to do this by the fact that the parents not only sought but found Christ at Jerusalem.
II. There were, in connection with the Temple, apartments where the Jewish rabbis were accustomed to give lectures on the Mosaic law, to which the Jewish youths who contemplated devoting themselves to the office of teacher were permitted to resort, and to elicit the information they required by putting questions, which were answered by the rabbis. In one of these halls or porches dedicated to religious learning He was discovered by His parents. He was engaged in asking questions, and in listening to the answers. If there should seem to be something almost like peremptoriness, abruptness, independence, in the Divine Child's reply to His mother, that incongruous and jarring sort of feeling will be dissipated by adverting to the perfectly filial submission to parental authority recorded in Luke 2:51 : "And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." Christ came to brighten the homes of poverty, and to make nobility consist in something else than birth—to set up a new patent of nobility. Let the humble craftsman look at Him as a holy Brother.
W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 227.
Luke 2:13-14The Angels' Hymn.
I. "Glory to God in the highest." This is the first jubilant adoring exclamation of the angels, as they beheld the fulfilment of that eternal counsel of God, which, partially known no doubt long since and foreseen in heaven, was now at length actually accomplished upon earth; as they beheld the Lord of glory, Him whom they had worshipped in heaven, become an infant of days, and as such laid in that rugged cradle at Bethlehem. But what is the exact force of these words? Can God receive increase of glory, more than He has already? Is it not the very idea of God that He is infinitely glorious, and that this He always has been, and ever will be? Assuredly so; in Himself He is as incapable of increase as of diminution of glory. But we may ascribe more glory to Him; more, that is, of the honour due unto His Name; as we know Him more, as the infinite perfection of His being, His power, His wisdom, His love, are gradually revealed to us. So, too, may angels, and the heavenly host declare in this voice of theirs that the Incarnation of the Son of God was a new revelation, a new outcoming to them of the unsearchable riches of the wisdom, the power, the love, that are in God.
II. "On earth peace, good will toward men." That same wondrous act which brought such glory to God, namely, the taking of our flesh by the Son of God, brought also peace on earth, and declared God's good will towards men. (1) Christ made peace for man with his God. Man was alienated and estranged from God by wicked works; he knew that he hated God, and he feared that God hated him. But now the child was born who should kill the enmity in the heart of man, who should make a propitiation to enable the love of God to flow freely forth on the sinner as it could not flow before. (2) In setting men at peace with God, Christ sets them at peace with themselves. (3) But man, at enmity with God and with himself, is also at enmity with his brother; selfishness is the root of all the divisions upon earth, from the trivial brawl that disturbs the peace of a village to the mighty war which makes a desolation over half the world. But He who was as upon this day born came to uproot this selfishness in the heart of man, to plant love there in its room: and distant as that day may be, it will yet arrive, when the nations shall not learn war any more. It was, then, with threefold right that the angels hailed His advent as the advent of "peace on earth, good will toward men."
R. C. Trench, Sermons in Westminster Abbey, p. 68.
References: Luke 2:13, Luke 2:14.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 44; J. Natt, Posthumous Sermons, p. 12; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 50.
Luke 2:14The Angels' Christmas Hymn.
I. "Glory," so the angels began, "to God in the highest!" Why was the birth of Christ glory to God in the highest? Besides other deep mysteries, which there may be in that saying, God did thus begin to make known to the holy angels, to those who serve Him in the highest, His manifold wisdom in respect of the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is evermore His special glory among them, as any condescending act of a great and beloved king is his glory among his subjects: namely, that He is now Man as well as God; He hath lowered, abased, emptied Himself, so unspeakably as to have taken our nature into His own, and in it to have suffered for us the worst of pain and shame—love taking on itself what sin deserved.
II. The birth of Christ is also peace on earth, peace between God and man, the blessed way to His favour which is better than life. Many of us may know something of the heartfelt, extreme, unutterable delight, when parents or brethren, or dear friends whom we depend upon, are reconciled to us after any kind of falling out; how the whole soul, before unquiet and restless, is restored to sweet assurance of safety and repose! Now people say to themselves over and over, "Come what will, now we have that which we most craved for; we have the heart which we thought we had lost; we know now that we are still dear to him whom we feared we had affronted for ever." Like to this, only unspeakably more than this, is the sense of being reconciled to God, the knowledge of how grievously soever we have fallen from Him, He still cares for us as our Father; and this blessing is solemnly renewed to us as often as Christmas comes round, in the very words of the angel: "On earth peace."
III. And it is, also, good will towards men; not peace only, but grace; not forgiveness only, but every blessing flows from it. There is nothing too good or too great to be expected, hoped, and prayed for, by those whom the Eternal Son owns for brethren and the Eternal Father for children, and into whom the Eternal Spirit has entered, to join them as true members to the Son.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. viii., p. 278.
The tidings of the coming of Christ, which were communicated to the shepherds by the angel appointed of God, are no longer confined to the spot and to the period which were rendered memorable by their disclosure. They have ceased to be tidings. They are no longer new. Now they have a history. Time itself has been God's commentator. The ages have rolled away, nations and kingdoms have changed, but this truth of the coming of Christ has not been rolled away, and it has changed only to grow.
I. If theology could exclude the truth that Christ is God, it would remain as poetry. The world would not let it fall. Humanity would enshrine it; we would dream it; we would wake to believe; we would follow it wherever it should lead us.
II. The true work of Christ was to reveal to men their sins, to humble them, to empty them before God, to bring them under the complete control of the Divine will; and this became a sieve, as it were, which separated men one from another. It was the spiritual power of Christ's purity that arrayed the Scribes and Pharisees against Him, and led to His arrest and crucifixion. It was the contrast between His life and theirs, the influence of His doctrines upon their self-conceit, and the power of His soul upon their nature and conduct, that aroused their opposition to Him.
III. For eighteen hundred years Christ has been ostensibly received and rejoiced in as a spiritual power; and yet during this whole period, those who have really received Him according to His errand of the soul, in a way that humbled them, cast them down into condemnation, judged them and raised them up into life, have been relatively the few, the despised and the outcast. Christ has been accepted almost universally throughout the world as an external power; but Christ as a purifier, Christ as a Saviour from sin, taking sides with the weak, the oppressed, the wronged, has been almost universally rejected throughout the world. How many myriads of men are there, who on Christmas Day, wear flowers in memory of Christ, chant hymns in honour of Christ, and present gifts in celebration of the birth of Christ, who will not let the Master enter one step unto their hearts to purify them! Let us beware lest we fall into this error, which so widely prevails in these latter days, of receiving Christ outwardly and rejecting Him inwardly.
H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 45.
References: Luke 2:14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 168; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 343; A. W. Hare, The Alton Sermons, p. 80; W. Dorling, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 27; Ibid., vol. iv., p. 401; E. J. Willis, Ibid., vol. x., p. 120; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xix., p. 91; New Manual of Sunday School Addresses, p. 234; H. Wace, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 195. Luke 2:15.—J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 108; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 45; Ibid., vol. x., p. 337; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 72; J. M. Neale, Sermons for Children, p. 45; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., pp. 557, 558; vol. xv., p. 360; Expository Sermons on the New Testament, 65; H. G. Robinson, Man in the Image of God, p. 155. Luke 2:15-21.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 10.
Luke 2:16The Hidden God.
I. It is said in the Bible that God is a God that hideth Himself; and yet there is nothing of which we are more sure than this—that if any man will heartily, and by all appointed means, seek and feel after the Lord, he will not fail to find Him; for not only doth He promise that he that seeks shall find Him, but He even saith, "I am found of them that sought Me not:"—whence we may learn, that God hides Himself from some, and makes himself known to others, as in His unsearchable wisdom and justice He thinks good. And this appears plainly in the history of our Lord and Saviour, God manifest in the flesh. God's own Son, being the true and Eternal God, had taken upon Him our flesh, and had been born into the world. This most wondrous fact had actually taken place. And yet of the many thousands, and hundreds of thousands, of the men that He had made, who were then dwelling on the face of His earth, who knew it? Were they among the great or learned among the scribes or chief priests, or interpreters of the Law? No; it pleased God to pass by these, and to make known His blessed Son to poor, unlettered shepherds. And herein our tender and merciful Father is giving great comfort for poor people who are obliged to work hard for their bread, late at night and early in the morning. Let them only do their duty as in His sight, and strive, amid their earthly employments, to raise their thoughts to their Maker, and He will be mindful of them, and visit them, and make known unto them, in the depths of their hearts, the secrets of His love.
II. The first step towards heavenly wisdom in all men, learned or unlearned, is a deep and true lowliness of heart. They that have this are always willing to receive instruction, especially from those who are duly appointed to instruct them. And it is to such simple souls that God has always been pleased to make known Himself and His holy will. The shepherds, doubtless, like the other Jews, expected that the Christ, or anointed Saviour, whom their prophets foretold, would come as a great King and Conqueror. It must have been, therefore, a trial to their faith, to find Him in the lowest poverty, laid in the manger in the inn stable. But yet, like St. Paul, they were not disobedient to the heavenly vision, and they found Him, whom truly to know is eternal life.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vii. p. 302.
The Holy Family.
I. This was the first Christmas family that was ever gathered together in this world—the first, the most notable, and the holiest. The exceeding beauty of the group, its surpassing interest and attractiveness, its close affinity with our innermost instincts and profoundest sympathies,—have been attested by the multiplied forms into which the hand of art has shaped it, under the familiar title of the Holy Family—than which, perhaps, no subject in the world has been more frequently depicted.
II. It is not too much to apply the term "domestic religion" to the sentiments which periodically crave the blameless indulgence of Christmas gatherings, and to the affections which are stimulated, sustained, and kept in exercise by these annual observances. Are not those feelings and affections a part of religion. Have not Christ's Apostles classed domestic virtues and affections among the graces and fruits springing out of inward and spiritual life? Even in the old and more austere Testament we find "Brethren," i.e. members of one family, "dwelling together in unity," compared with the genial exhalation of the dews of Hermon to refresh and fertilise the sister slopes of Zion.
III. There is such a thing not only as innocent enjoyment, but innocent mirth too; and though actual religious exercise or contemplation be suspended, the spirit of Christ's characteristically humane social teaching may be present. The blazing Christmas log shedding its happy gleam on happy faces gathered round will serve to kindle or rekindle warm affections which may, if it please God, retain their warmth all the more genially in consequence through the coming year.
W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 130.
References: Luke 2:17.—J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 87. Luke 2:17-20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 660. Luke 2:18.—Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 26. Luke 2:18, Luke 2:19.—J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 258. Luke 2:19.—Ibid., p. 118; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 27; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 369.
Luke 2:20Think what a changed world it has become because Jesus was born at Bethlehem.
I. Remember that the Christian change of the world's history is a fact. The influx through Christ of a new power into the life of humanity is a known fact of experience, as certain as the battle of Gettysburg, or the dawn of day.
II. In Christianity we breathe a different air. Humanity has crossed a boundary line. Up to Bethlehem, bleak and cold—down from Bethlehem, another and a happier time.
III. Jesus has been to the world (1) a new revelation of God, (2) a new revelation of man.
N. Smyth, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 362.
References: Luke 2:21.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 24; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 12; vol. iv., p. 88; J. M. Neale, Sermons for Children, p. 48. Luke 2:21-35.—W. Hanna, Our Lord's Life on Earth, p. 10.
Luke 2:22I. The entrance of our Lord into His Temple had been foretold by Malachi four hundred years before (Malachi 3:1). But the Lord did not now come in His glory, like as before when that bright cloud, the sign of His presence, filled the new-built Temple in the time of King Solomon: He came now in our flesh, in the form of a helpless babe. For though it was still in deed and in truth the Lord of Hosts coming into His Temple, yet now to the fleshly eyes what was to be seen? No visible glory, but two persons in mean condition and of poor estate, bringing what was supposed to be their first-born infant to present Him according to the law.
II. Christ was presented as One willing to offer Himself up for us; He came even as it had been foretold of Him, saying, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." He was come into the world to do away with the sacrifices of the law, by offering up Himself as the true and perfect sacrifice once for all on the Cross. And His presentation in the Temple was (as it were) a foreshowing, or rather a beginning, of that sacrifice which He accomplished on the Cross as on an altar where He presented Himself before His Father as bearing our sins and making a full satisfaction for them.
III. We were presented to God once, and that pure and clean, after our baptism. And now when we have sinned, as we all see, we are permitted to present ourselves with confession and prayers, either at home or here in His own sacred house; like the holy Simeon and Anna we come here to present ourselves before the Lord with confession, prayers, and praise; thus, if we persevere in constant devout waiting upon God, we may trust we shall, like them, find Christ here and obtain of Him the gifts of holiness, and in union with Him be presented acceptable and pure before God. For when we come hither to pray for the pardon of our sins, and the cleansing of our whole man from our wretched defilements, we do in a manner, by our very appearance, if we bring our hearts with us, present and plead before the Father the merits of Christ's sacrifice. Let it therefore be our endeavour to present ourselves at His Holy Table each time more and more, as we would present ourselves before His presence on His throne of judgment at the last day.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vii., p. 21; see also J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 146.
References: Luke 2:22.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 57. Luke 2:22-40.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 26; J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, vol. i., p. 264.
Luke 2:25Some Aspects of the Presentation in the Temple.
I. Two points strike us in Simeon pre-eminently, whether they are marks of a school of Jewish interpretation, or rather traits of a single soul, simpler and more receptive than most. One is—that starting merely with prophecy, and not concerned to image to himself the details of its fulfilment, he hears in it a note which hardly sounded as clearly even to Apostles: "A light for the revelation of the Gentiles." The other is—that the sadder and more mysterious tones of prophecy come back to him as well as the more triumphant ones—the stone of stumbling—the gainsaying people—the sword that is to awake against the Shepherd. There is set in the forefront of the new revelation, side by side with triumphant hopes and promises, the record of a prevision of limitation, drawbacks, it would seem, even of partial failure. These are accepted from the first as necessary conditions; accepted and proclaimed by the same prophetic voice, which speaks most strongly of its satisfying, universal, eternal blessedness.
II. The words of Simeon touch three points, which correspond roughly with the three mysteries of human life. (1) He sees that the Gospel is to bring pain as well as happiness: "A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also." The nearer to Christ the surer and deeper the pain. He sees that it is to be the occasion of evil as well as of good—to lower as well as to lift—to be the stone of stumbling as well as a ladder on which men may rise to heavenly places. He sees that though it brings light, it is light which cannot be visible to all eyes. (2) The second note is one still harsher to our ears. Pain is a condition of which, if we cannot see the full explanation of its necessity, we can see a certain purpose—we understand its disciplinary power, and we see its limit. But evil touches the soul; reaches into the infinite world to where the sense of limit is lost. What a strange forecast to the everlasting Gospel, that it should be for the fall, the moral fall, as well as the rising of men! And so it has been in the chequered after-history. If goodness has taken subtler and deeper forms, so has badness. Men's hearts have been widened to embrace all humankind, and they have been narrowed and hardened into persecutors. (3) In the sphere of reason there is also a note of incompleteness: "A sign spoken against." These words may stand as a figure of the clamour of voices outside the Church, questioning and denying; and of the whispers of timorous and distracted souls within, misdoubting their own hopes. It is no answer to say that they are due to the perversity and weakness of men. We do not even mean by that that they are unforeseen accidents which have befallen the revelation. They were made account for in its ordering. These limitations, whatever they are, were foreseen; they are a part of the Divine plan—foreseen before the angels sang "Peace on earth," or prophets' voices welcomed the coming light and glory.
E. C. Wickham, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, Feb. 7th, 1884.
What is it that is here described by the words, "the consolation of Israel?".
I. Israel was God's own people, constituted in their first father Abraham, blessed with various renewals of the promise, and the covenant. From that time onwards, they had long formed the one bright spot in the midst of the darkness of the nations. God was with them. He was their God, so that, as compared with the nations round, Israel's consolation was already abundant. Still, Israel had, and looked for, a consolation to come. God's people differed in this also from every people on earth. The brightness and the glory of every Gentile race was past; but Israel's glory was ever in the future. They looked for a deliverer; for one of whom their first covenant promises spoke; of whom their psalms and prophets were full, to whom every sacrifice and ordinance pointed. When, then, we use the words, "the consolation of Israel," we mean Christ, in the fulness of His constituted Person and Office as the Comforter of His people. And when we say "waiting for the consolation of Israel," we imply that aptitude of expectation, anxious looking for, hearty desire of, this consolation, which comes from, and is in fact, Christ Himself.
II. Christ is the consolation of His people (1) inasmuch as He delivers them from the bondage of sin. In the history of that nation which was a parable for the Church of God, this mighty deliverance was prefigured by their bringing up out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. And correspondent, but far more glorious, is the deliverance which Christ accomplishes for those who wait for and receive His consolation, even till we depart in peace, having seen His salvation, and the consolation which we have waited for is poured in all its fulness around us. (2) Christ consoles His people not only from guilt but in sorrow. It is His especial office to bind up the broken heart, to give the oil of joy for sorrow, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. This He does directly and indirectly. Directly, inasmuch as His Spirit is ever testifying within the sorrowing soul of the believer in Him,—cheering him with better hopes and more enduring joys. Indirectly, inasmuch as His holy example is ever before us; His compassionate tone; His promises of help and comfort; His invitations to all that are weary and heavy-laden.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vi., p. 271.
References: Luke 2:25.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 659; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 127; Homilist, vol. ii., p. 572. Luke 2:25-35.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 77.
Luke 2:26I. This revelation was made to an old man who had waited on God continually in the Temple service, cherishing in his secret heart the promise given to the first fathers of his race, renewed from time to time by the mouth of God's holy prophets, and at length by one of them defined as to the time of its fulfilment, and brought within the limits of a certain expectation and hope. Simeon's prayers and meditations, his converse with men like-minded, his observations of passing events, possibly his knowledge of the words of certain wise men who had lately arrived at Jerusalem enquiring for a King that was to be born, had at length convinced him that the time was at hand; and it pleased God to confirm his hope by an inward revelation of the Spirit. "It was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, till he had seen the Lord's Christ.
II. Who ever saw a Christian man or woman die in faith, but heard them almost say old Simeon's words, "Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation?" And whence comes this strength of salvation to the eyes of dying men? Whence comes it but through that Child whom Simeon held in his arms as he prophesied the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and the piercing of the soul of the Virgin Mother with the sword of grief. No life but that which Jesus Christ endured on earth, no death but that which He died on Mount Calvary, could ever establish the truth of the Gospel to the poor. All the wisdom and learning that could have been brought to bear, all the worldly power, even power to command stones to become bread—all this would have been in vain. No sign could have convinced a poor man so effectually of God's sympathy with him in his low estate as the birth of his Saviour of a poor Jewish maiden, and the manifestation of the Gospel in a person so humble. And to those who view human life in all its bearings it is obvious at once that no system of religion could be true which does not imply this at its basis, that the poor, the vast multitude of men, are the chief consideration. Educate as you will; legislate as you will; double by chemical science and skilfulness of labour the productiveness of the earth; bind yourself together in associations to provide against all contingencies of evil; there will still be the poor. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only Gospel that reaches the needs of the poor. When Jesus Christ humbled Himself, and took on Him the form of a servant, when He dwelt at Nazareth with His parents, and was subject unto them in a low estate, He ennobled the state of poverty for ever.
Bishop Claughton, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 620.
References: Luke 2:26.—Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 43. Luke 2:28-30.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., No. 1417.
Luke 2:29Old Age.
The examples of Simeon and Anna combine to set before us a picture of that old age which we must allow to be the most befitting, which we must wish to see realised in our own case—an old age free from wordly harass and desires—with leisure for higher things; occupied with the care of the soul; calmly waiting for the great change; employed much in religious meditation and prayer; anxious for nothing which the world can give; anxious only to be found of the Lord; ready and prepared when He arrives; walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
I. Such an old age is not, we fear, very commonly seen. For the most part, as men grow in years, they grow more worldly; and instead of putting off the cares, and pleasures, and occupations of youth and middle life, they cleave to these with an unwise tenacity. We seldom see any who, like Barzillai, or Simeon, or Anna, have detached themselves from all unnecessary business, in order to walk the closer with God; who have set their affections not upon things on the earth, but upon things above.
II. St. Paul tells us, in a few words, the qualities which ought to adorn old age—sobriety, gravity, temperance, wisdom. The old should be known among us for these things. They should be examples and guides to youth in the ways and works of godliness. To them we should look for counsel, for advice, for help, in the practice of a Christian life. Above all, they should be examples of piety, of reverent respect for all God's holy ordinances. It is recorded of Simeon and of Anna, that in their old age they were diligent in their attendance upon God's worship. The place where they were to be found was the Temple. The service which most occupied them was the service of God. And so, surely, ought it to be with the old amongst ourselves. No place so well befits them as the sanctuary. If any, they most of all should be able to say, "Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth."
R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 4th series, p. 107.
Luke 2:29-30The Glory and Work of Old Age.
What were the gains which blessed this old man's age?
I. The first was prophetic power; not so much the power of foretelling, as the power of insight into God's doings. He saw the Child, and he knew that It was the Saviour of the world: "Mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation." And in a moment, before his inward eye, he beheld the Sun of Redemption rising in glory, not only over his own people, but in a light which should lighten the Gentiles also. This is the glory of a Christian's old age—vividness of spiritual vision. The spirit does its own peculiar work better than in youth and manhood. It sees more clearly into the life and realities of things. It has gained security of faith and hope for itself, and in all matters pertaining to the spiritual progress of mankind it sees into God's plans, and rejoices in them.
II. Another remarkable gain blessed the old age of Simeon, the possession of a liberal religious view. We find the old man set free from the exclusiveness and bigotry of his time and of his youth. Those were strange words upon the lips of a Jew, "A light to lighten the Gentiles." Those who heard Simeon would be likely to call him a dangerous Liberal. The true liberality of old age is not indifference. It is gained by the entrance of the soul into the large region of the love of God, by deeper communion with the infinite variety of the character of Christ.
III. The crowning blessing of old age is deep peace. "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word." We can contend no more; we have scarcely anything left to contend against; we have slain all our foes in the power of Christ; we have exhausted all our doubts; and as the clouds disperse, the star of hope rises soft and clear in the pale pure light of the heavenly dawn. We look on it, and are at rest; we lay down our armour; we lie back contented in the arms of God.
IV. The special work of age is partly outward, partly inward. Its outward work is the spreading of charity. Its inward work consists (1) in the edifying of the heart in noble religion in consideration of the past; (2) in rounding the soul into as great perfection as possible.
S. A. Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, p. 393.
Christ and Old Age.
Scripture tells us of a "good old age," and we would ask today what that is. For assuredly all old age is not good. If there is an old age which makes, there is an old age that mars reputations. There are those who, for their fame, have lived too long: have survived their usefulness and their honour, and whose obituary, when at length we read it, awakens little interest and no sorrow.
I. Few men, in the abstract, desire old age; few men, in their own experience, find it desirable. Like all things of importance—like success, like honour, like love, like sorrow, pain, and death itself—it needs practising for. A good old age comes to no man by accident. A well-principled and self-controlled patience, under its special trials and disabilities, is one condition of a good old age.
II. There is another of a less negative kind and of equal importance. There is a natural tendency as life advances to an impatience of the new. One of the foremost conditions of a good old age is the preservation, the perpetual renewing, of a thorough harmony and unity with the young. An old man may be young in feeling, and, when he is so, there is no attraction like his for the young. Secure of his sympathy, they can use his experience; there is a repose which even the young can delight in, in that mellowness of character which is at once love and wisdom.
III. Nor can we forget this one further characteristic of the good old age. If there are trials which must be borne with patience—if there are special risks which must be jealously counteracted—in the circumstances of an old man, there are also incomparable privileges which must be treasured up and occupied. A long life, lived with eye and ear and heart open, lays up a store of memories which no chronicles can rival, and no libraries supersede. The influences of old age are incalculable. Let a man give himself to the work, and he may mould the young almost to his will. Such a work requires, for its accomplishment, an Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ to the old.
C. J. Vaughan, Words of Hope, p. 88.
References: Luke 2:29, Luke 2:30.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 1014; Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 39. Luke 2:29-32.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 272; B. Warfield, Expositor, 3rd series; vol. ii., pp. 301, 321.
Luke 2:32The song of Simeon was very beautiful in its arrangement. First the believer's personal appropriation of a promise, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation;" next the expansion of a Christian's Catholic spirit, "A Light to lighten the Gentiles," and then the holy patriotism of a Jewish heart, "and the glory of Thy people Israel."
I. The question will naturally arise, What is the distinction, if any, between Christ as the "Light of the Gentiles" and Christ as the "Glory of Israel?" Is it only a difference of degree? Sight, growing into deeper intensity and glow, becomes glory. So Christ illuminates, indeed, all people, but not with that lustre with which He will one day encircle Jerusalem. And it is therefore "a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel."
II. Or, once more—the actual presence of the Lord, in beauty and power, is glory. Where shall that Presence be at the last? At Jerusalem. Very great will be the irradiation of the whole earth. But still it will be only the distant beam of a full meridian sun, which is blazing in Palestine "A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel."
III. As Gentiles then, we ask, What is our proper privilege and portion? And we have the answer—Light. Christ a light; of these simple words no one will know the power who has never felt the narrowing in of a moral darkness on his mind. But ask the man who has ever known a season of deep sorrow which shrouded all his earthly prospects, and left nothing before him but a thick night over the future and one rayless expanse. Or, still more, hear the soul, which, under the conscious hiding of God's countenance, has felt the shadows of conscience deepen over his spirit into the blackness of despair. And those are the men who will understand the words, "Christ a Light."
IV. Turn next to Israel's glory. When Abraham's outcasts and Judah's dispersed ones shall all come back—come back first in their unconverted state, by a political restoration, to their own country; then to trials and afflictions commensurate with the deed which their fathers perpetrated; then to majesty unprecedented upon this earth—when, the subjects of the visible King of kings and Lord of lords, they shall hold high court and be supreme among the nations of the world, that Infant Jesus, in Simeon's arms, shall be "the glory of His people Israel," when He "reigns in Mount Zion, and before His ancients gloriously."
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1871, p. 217.
References: Luke 2:32.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 826. Luke 2:33.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 341.
Luke 2:34The Dual Aspect of Christ's Advent.
The words of Simeon in the text seem to be intended to check natural but undue expectations about the effect of the first coming of Christ. The Child of Mary, the everlasting Son of the Father, is set by the counsels of God, set in Jewish history, in human history, for the fall and rising again of many a human soul.
I. Let us here remark, that Christ's coming into the world was not to have a uniform effect upon human souls. It would act on one soul in one way, and on another in another, it would act differently on the same soul at different periods of its history. God's good will is limited by the free action of men. Men can, if they like, reject Him, and in fact they do. He is the glory of His people at large, but of the individuals who compose it many will lose, as many will gain, by His coming among them. That is the sense of Simeon's words, "Behold this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel."
II. Of the two effects of Christ's Advent Simeon mentions, as first in order, the fall of many in Israel. It must strike us as bold to the very verge of paradox thus to associate His blessed Name, who came to be the health and Saviour of men, with spiritual failure. And yet this language was in keeping with what the prophecy must have led men to expect. Isaiah had said that the Lord Himself would be a "stumbling-stone and a rock of offence" to both the houses of Israel; and this was shown to be the case again and again through the centuries of Israel's history. The worst faults of this people were occasioned by the misuse of privileges and opportunities designed to lead up to God.
III. Christ is also set for the rising of many in Israel. This was His original purpose in coming among us; a purpose which was only limited in its operation by the free but perverted will of man. When our Lord had His own way with souls, it was to raise them to newness of life. He did not simply promote this resurrection in men. He was Himself, so He said, the "Resurrection." To come into contact with Him was to touch a life so intrinsically buoyant and vigorous that it transfused itself forthwith into the attracted soul, and bore it onwards and upwards.
H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 401.
Luke 2:34-35I. That is the claim which Christ has upon us; that He knows us. As it is said, "He knew what was in man," and He does not merely know our faces, our forms, but our true selves. You know nothing of any science or thing until you know its hidden inner secret. Man has a great hidden nature, waiting for revealment and development. Christ is the true Revealer of the hidden nature of man. He walked amidst the mysteries of man's spirit, as one there perfectly at home.
II. Knowledge of human nature is essential to all teaching. Have you not noticed that scarcely any mind can cross the broad disc of our Lord's even temporary association, without revealing, as it passes, its state. It seems as if any mind coming into the neighbourhood of His Divine character is compelled to yield itself up. Not only to His perfect knowledge, in the memorable events of His life, is illustrated how that which is done in secret is proclaimed on the housetops. The teaching of our Lord had the same influence as His personal character; it revealed the thoughts of the heart. (1) His knowledge was and is absolute. (2) Hence His authority over man. Whenever a man makes you feel his power it is because he knows you, because he reads you. (3) He revealed our thoughts in His sympathy.
III. Christ not only revealed the thoughts of many hearts by eliciting their peculiar moral character; but He spoke to the universal heart of men in all ages, both by His deeds and by His words. He transformed the great instincts of men in all ages into absolute revelations.
IV. You will see how eminently our Saviour knew us, if you think of the four things which it was necessary should be done for us, and which He, as our Saviour, wrought out, to make His righteousness ours. (1) He saw that human nature was dark, He came to enlighten it. (2) He saw the hardness as well as the darkness of man. He came to soften the world's heart. (3) He consecrated humanity. He revealed the holy destiny of man, for He knew what was in man. He knew that darkness and hardness were the indissoluble associates of impurity, therefore He came to consecrate human nature. (4) He came to sublime and to crown human nature, to reveal to man His brightest, boldest thought—eternal life—immortality.
E. Paxton Hood, Sermons, p. 116.
References: Luke 2:34.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 907; J. C. Hare, Sermons in Herstmonceux Church, p. 129; Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 44; Good Words, vol. vi., p. 242. Luke 2:34, Luke 2:35.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 365; Homilist, vol. ii., p. 523. Luke 2:35.—J. Keble, Sermons from Lent to Passiontide, p. 397. Luke 2:36-38.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 6. Luke 2:37.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 55. Luke 2:39-52.—E. Johnson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 148.
Luke 2:40I. "The Child grew." He grew in stature, and He grew in character and goodness. He did not stand still. Although it was God Himself who was revealed to us in the life of Jesus Christ, yet this did not prevent us from being made like unto Him in all things, sin only excepted. Each one of us, whether old or young, must remember that progress, improvement, going on, advance, is the only condition, the only way of our becoming like Christ, and therefore like God. The world moves, and we must all move with it.
II. And then come three things which the text puts before us as those in which our Lord's earthly education, in which the advance and improvement of His earthly character, added to His youthful and childlike powers. (1) It speaks of His strength and character. It says "He waxed strong in spirit." What strength is to the body, that strength of character is to the mind. (2) And the next thing which the text speaks of is wisdom. It says the Child was "filled with wisdom." Wisdom, as it were, was poured into Him, and His mind opened wider and wider to take it in. He drank in whatever wisdom there was in the knowledge of those about Him; He drank in the heavenly wisdom also which comes down from the Fountain of all wisdom. You, too, have this to gain day by day. (3) And the next thing is the grace or favour of God—or, as it says at the end of the chapter, the grace, or favour, of God and man;—the grace, the goodness, the graciousness of God, which calls forth grace and goodness and graciousness in man. Our blessed Lord had this always, but even in Him it increased more and more. So may it be with you.
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 136.
Holiness in Childhood.
In the history of the saints there are two things chiefly remarkable. One is the depth of personal religion which they have displayed at an age when, in these days, we are wont to look upon the children as little more than sentient and irresponsible beings. The other remarkable feature is their precocity of general character and powers. I speak of the precocity of moral and spiritual life; the integrity and strength of character which youths have shown. They have begun to live and act as men among men, while as yet they were hardly in the dawn of manhood. These later ages have lost faith in the miraculous conception and holy Childhood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the type and pledge of our regeneration in holy baptism, and of the development of our regenerate life.
I. Note what is the effect of sin after Baptism upon the regenerate nature. Its effect is to hinder the advance of our sanctification; and if so, it is no less than a direct antagonist of our regeneration, and a defeat of the purpose of God in our new birth of the Spirit; it is a resistance to the preventing grace of God, a refusal to be led by Him, and to follow His guidance and illumination. How little parents seem to know what they are doing when they make light of their children's early sins. They are doing nothing less than their best to undo God's grace in their regeneration, to make their salvation doubtful, and their future sorrows and losses many and inevitable.
II. We may learn what is the true relation of repentance to regeneration. The necessity for repentance arises out of the disobedience of the regenerate, and from the falls of those that sin grievously after baptism. The repentance of baptized men is as the difficult and precarious recovery of those who, after the partial cure of a death-sickness, fall into relapse. The powers of nature are wasted, the virtues of medicine baffled, and the disease grows doubly strong—a sad exchange for them who once walked in white raiment and were numbered among the children of God.
III. Note in what it is that they who have been kept and sanctified from their regeneration exceed the blessedness of penitents. They have never fallen away from their first estate. Let us then, by prayers and labours, by word and by example, strive to rear up the elect of God, from their childhood, in the sanctity of Jesus Christ.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 17.
Luke 2:40, Luke 2:49, Luke 2:52(with Mark 6:3; John 4:34, John 10:18, John 10:30)
The Germ of Christian Manhood.
Man and God are in eternal relation. As you cannot have an upper without an under; a brother without sister or brother; a son without a father or mother, so you cannot have a true conception of man without God. It lies in the very nature of the Father that He will not leave us men, and it is in our structure that we cannot rest without our Father. Man had lost God. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God's mighty and age-filling effort to put Himself within the throbbing heart of humanity.
I. This perfect correspondence between Jesus the Son and God the Father is the source of all true and enduring growth. Man getting into his true relationship to the Father gets to the source of all life and progress. Apart from God true manhood is an impossibility. We must come into fellowship with Him, be partakers of His nature. That is the one and only garden in which the plants of righteousness can be grown.
II. Such trust in a communion with the Father is the source of cheerful patience and serene self-control. It is hurry that enfeebles us and takes the beauty out of our work. We will not mature. Our "hour" is always come, and we are restless for the tented field. We do not compel leisure, or seek the strength that is born in solitude, and so we are poor weaklings, beaten by the first foe we meet and able to offer nothing to God that will stand the test of His consuming fires.
III. The spontaneity of self-sacrifice, one of the surest marks of a perfecting manhood, is due to this trust in the Father, and consequent acceptance of His will and work, as the absolute rule and business of life. Nothing reveals the prodigious interval between us and Christ like the difficulty we find in sacrificing ourselves for the welfare of His Church and of the world.
IV. This, too, is the secret of the plenary power of men. If there is one thing science has fixed beyond all question, it is this, that you cannot get the living from the dead; that a man must be in order to do. Jesus Himself partakes of the fulness of the Father, and so becomes the fulness of the Godhead, and out of His fulness we receive—grace for grace. Partaking of God's nature, by being possessed of the mind of Christ, we live His victorious life, and get His full use of nature, His fine self-control, and His ever-fruitful service.
J. Clifford, The Dawn of Manhood, p. 34.
References: Luke 2:40.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 72; Church of England Pulpit, vol. v., p. 34; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 89; B. F. Westcott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 17. Luke 2:40-52.—R. Lorimer, Bible Studies in Life and Truth, p. 119; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 127; W. Hanna, Our Lord's Life on Earth, p. 31.
Luke 2:41-42It was at twelve years old that Jewish boys came personally under the obligations of the law of Moses. Up to that age they had been treated as children, taught by their parents at home, but not yet expected to obey the harder precepts, such as fasting, or attending at Jerusalem at the three great feasts of the year. But at twelve years old they were called "Sons of the Law" or "Sons of the Precept;" and this signified that they now entered upon the second stage of life, and were no longer mere children. Henceforth they were old enough to have knowledge of their own, and to obey for themselves. When, therefore, our Lord was come to this age, Joseph and Mary, who had gone regularly up to Jerusalem in the former years by themselves, took, for the first time, their wonderful Child with them, not doubting that in this as in everything else, it was their duty to fulfil all righteousness—that is, to obey the rules and orders of the law of God under which they lived.
I. Observe, first, that when the Lord is old enough, there is no question at all on the part of Mary and Joseph as to whether He shall be brought to Jerusalem for Jewish Confirmation. They did not doubt at all about it, they simply came at the due time to Jerusalem.
II. Still less did the heavenly Child Himself object. He was altogether obedient and dutiful to His mother, and to him who was called His father. No shadow of that wilfulness and uncorrected disobedience which we see so often in families, when boys and girls are allowed to do very much as they will, and judge for themselves whether they will do this thing or that, or whether they will refrain from it.
III. Observe how instantly our Lord feels that He is engaged in something higher now even than obedience to His earthly mother. It is His Father's business! Obedience to His mother has brought Him there, and fitted Him to come there. But now He is old enough to feel that he is engaged in God's business; in His heavenly Father's business. His brow is loftier. His look is changed. The sweet and dutiful Child has become, visibly, the Servant and Son of God. So I understand the words of the text, which says that they understood not the words which He spake unto them. They found Him altered; not less dutiful nor less sweet and obedient than before; but there was a loftier tone in His duty, and a deeper cause for His obedience, for He had begun to be, in His own Person, a Son of the Lord, and the obligation of His heavenly Father's business at once weighed upon His spirit and lifted it up.
G. Moberly, Plain Sermons at Brighstone, p. 12.
Luke 2:41-52This passage is one of peculiar interest, as this account which it gives is the only circumstance mentioned of our blessed Lord from His childhood till He was thirty years of age. And while it contains much matter for deeper reflection, it bears at once on the surface this information—that He was living in strict obedience to the law of Moses, and in wonderful lowliness and meekness, was being brought up as any child of human parents might be.
I. Our Lord does not appear before us in His childhood like the child Samuel, dwelling always in the Temple, removed from the ways of common men; but He is disclosed to us in very great humility in the ways of common life, as ordinary children are brought up in subjection and retirement, differing only in that quick understanding in things divine which arises from the love and fear of God. Of this, perhaps, one reason was that our Lord has called upon us to imitate Him more especially in meekness and lowliness; and humility is best secured and guarded in the most ordinary stations of life, and in the most common circumstances of obscurity and poverty. Another reason for our blessed Saviour's thus taking upon Himself this ordinary condition as a child may be this: in order that all men in their station in life may be able to imitate and follow Him, which they could not do so well if He had appeared as one set apart from other men, as some of His own prophets and servants had been. A third reason may be that our Lord thus learned, as man, to sympathise and have a fellow-feeling with the lot of mankind; in all their infirmities, in all their trials; to be a Child among children, in a condition not differing from theirs,—this was the choice of His love for them.
II. We hear nothing more of our Lord's childhood, but it is quite enough if we know and receive this. It at once raises the common life of us all, especially of all children, up to heaven. If God, then, was so wonderfully present and hiding Himself in that lowly condition, in things that appeared outwardly like those of other children, and the usual ways of life, He may be now also spiritually present in the hearts and lives of children who are born again in Baptism as the sons of God, although the world knows nothing of it.
I. Williams, Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. i., p. 119.
We have here—
I. A glimpse of our Lord's outward life in childhood. The evangelists tell us almost nothing of the events of our Lord's outward life during His first thirty years. There was perhaps little to tell. One day would pass much like another, and the words of St. Luke with reference to the childhood of John the Baptist were probably true also of the childhood and youth of our Lord: "He was in the desert, till the time of His showing to Israel." Our Lord passed through a truly human development, and was thus in all things like unto His brethren. The outward scene of this development was the quiet household circle of Joseph and Mary. Of their life St. Luke has only one thing of importance to tell us: "And His parents went every year to Jerusalem to the Feast of the Passover." Yet this simple fact is sufficient; it gives us a concise summary of the calm piety which ruled the spirit of the family life in Joseph and Mary's home. In those few words the evangelist paints for us, in this picture of the life in which our Lord grew up, the three noblest things which, since the Fall, our earthly life has had to show: piety, household virtue and happiness, patriotism.
II. On one of these yearly journeys an event happened which gives us a glimpse of the inward life of our Lord during His childhood. In the Temple, whither He went with His parents, He felt Himself at home, far more than in Nazareth. Here He felt as if in His Father's house; here were the scenes of dear memories and work. "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" How is it that ye sought Me? Since I was not with you, where could I be but in the Temple? Ah, yes, if we rightly understood the heart of Christ, we would never be in perplexity, never in error, where we have to seek Him, when He is lost to us. Wist ye not—have ye not heard it from the mouth of angels, shepherds, magi, Simeon and Anna and above all from the words of prophecy—that I must be about My Father's business? Another Father than Joseph seeks Me; I am not alone your son, O Mother! but the Son of the Highest. My true element is the life of direct communion and nearness to Him, about His most direct charge and business; yes, even in His house. "I have meat to eat that ye know not of. My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work."
R. Rothe, Nachgelassene Predigten, vol. i., p. 239.
References: Luke 2:41, Luke 2:42.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 45. Luke 2:41-52.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 16; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 56. Luke 2:41-52.—Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 159.
Luke 2:42Society in Religion.
I. Companionship in religion is evidently the will of God, and is expressly commanded us by Him. Thus, in the Old Testament, we find the appointment of certain solemn feasts, at which the Israelites were to meet and rejoice before God in Jerusalem—at the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. That rejoicing was to be universal, was to be shared by all. Every class, every age, father and child, master and servant, stranger and homeborn, were to join in celebrating the Lord's goodness, and take part together in setting forth His praise. Nor was it only on occasions of gladness that there was to be this combining of all classes of the people together; but on other occasions as well. In mourning, as in rejoicing, they were to unite. The Jewish religion was eminently a social religion. It had a place for all classes and all ages of the people; and all, of every age, sex, and rank were expected to fill that place.
II. Nor is it otherwise when we pass to the New Dispensation. There, too, as of old, religion takes a social shape. There, too, men are seen uniting in worship. Such was our religion at its first beginning. The multitude were together; they worshipped together; they were much in one another's company, and because they were together they were strong. The weak brother was kept from falling, the waverer was made firm by the countenance and encouragement of companions more established in the faith. And so it is still. To be united in religion; to walk to the House of God as friends; to have one another's aid and countenance in resisting temptation, and in striving after good; to feel that other hearts besides our own love the Lord Jesus Christ—this is at once our truest happiness and best comfort. They who are so bonded together will ever experience the greatest blessing, and they will at the same time be conferring a blessing on their fellows. They will be like lights in the world. All who see them, who come within reach of their influence, will be obliged to confess that God is in them of a truth. And from confessing this they will often be led to imitate them, and so the little leaven of godliness will spread as was promised; and Christ will come to be honoured, more and more, in the hearts and lives of His people.
R. D. B. Rawnsley, Sermons preached in Country Churches, p. 33.
References: Luke 2:42.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 31. Luke 2:42-45.—B. Warfield, Expositor, 3rd series, vol. ii., pp. 301, 321. Luke 2:42-51.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 406. Luke 2:43.—J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, vol. ii., p. 523. Luke 2:44.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1724.
Luke 2:46I. Christ has a house here below as well as in heaven above. Here is the light of His Word imparted to us; here is His dwelling and here are His provisions; the table which He furnishes for us. We must not surely think to find our Saviour in the highways of ambition and pride, in the pleasures of wealth or luxury, or in the eager pursuit of anything belonging to this world. These things are not to be found in the house of His Father, neither may they come nigh His dwelling. But if we seek for Christ we shall find Him in the methods of virtue and the paths of God's commandments; in the persons of the poor, and in the blessed privilege of waiting upon the distressed; in the hours of our own most serious retirements. We shall find Him in holy readings and pious meditations, in the offices of religion and in the house of prayer.
II. Sure enough Christ is here; here most especially does He show and manifest Himself to the humble, devout, and faithful soul. For although He is here, and here He manifests Himself, yet all do not see Him here, but only the pure in heart; even as He Himself afterwards taught in the Sermon on the Mount, saying, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." So it was indeed when at the first He came to His Temple veiled in our flesh, forty days only after His birth; for the holy Simeon, the devout Anna, the blessed Virgin, the righteous Joseph saw the Lord; but from other eyes He was hidden: to the thoughtless and the worldly, to the self-willed, and to the proud, the Child that day presented in the Temple seemed merely the ordinary offspring of mean parents, only those faithful servants of God saw Him that should redeem Israel, and be a Light to lighten the Gentiles. An habitual delight in God's House; an habitual reverence and awe here; and a continual remembrance, when we return to the world, of the things we have heard and seen and professed, and of which we have been partakers here—these are the only sure signs that we do not come here in vain—that we here learn of Christ, and have a real communion with Him.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vii., p. 7.
Luke 2:46-47The story of our Lord's listening to the doctors in the Temple and questioning them shows how He compelled a set of men, who were the slaves of words or rather of letters, who believed that all power lay in them, to confess a mightier power in Him.
I. This is the subject which is especially forced upon us by the text. There were met in the Temple a number of grave men, full of all the learning which could be got from the traditions of the past; full, as they thought, of all the learning which could be got from the words and lives of patriarchs, lawgivers, holy men. Age and the knowledge of what former times had bequeathed were theirs. They were the shepherds of the people. Whether the sheep went right or wrong depended mainly on their submission to this guidance or their neglect of it. Into this grave and venerable consistory there enters a Boy just twelve years of age. He stands among the Rabbis, not affrighted certainly by their dignity, with no sign of bashfulness, but also with none of forwardness. He is not eager to speak. He wishes to listen. He pronounces on nothing. He is not above the scribes, but is sitting at their feet. He desires to know what they think about this commandment in the law, about this sentence of David or Isaiah: "All who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers."
II. The subject is for us no less than for the Rabbis. Consider some of the lessons which lie in it. (1) There is in many divines, and in many Christians who are not divines, a great fear of questions. "Certain things," they say, "have been settled long ago. To disturb the settlement is perilous. If we are humble and modest we shall be content without knowledge of Divine things. Probabilities, distant approximation to knowledge, are all to which creatures such as we are can aspire." But we find Christ beginning His pilgrimage as a questioner. I believe that Christ has been asking questions from that day to this; that He is asking questions of us all, divines and laymen, now; that the questions come to us in multitudes of shapes, through a multitude of lips. I am greatly afraid that when we try to silence any of these questions we are trying to silence the voice of Christ, in others and in ourselves. (2) Statements like these are liable to be misunderstood, as if one wished to discourage reverence for the past, as if one thought there were no oracles of God which were stronger and deeper than all the reasonings and speculations of men. Just because I would uphold reverence for the past, I dare not stifle one anxious question of men respecting the faith of other days, respecting the oracles of God. The Rabbis did not reverence the past. They accepted its decrees. They had no fellowship with the life and sufferings of its men. No men needed so much to become little children to recover the wisdom of children. That they might attain that wisdom the Child came amongst them, listened to them, asked them questions, answered their questions. That same Child, who has the government on His shoulders, hears us, questions us, answers us for the same end.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v., p. 91.
Reference: Luke 2:47.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 88.
Luke 2:48-49The Finding of Christ in the Temple.
I. One of the things which it would have been absolutely impossible for the intellect of a human infant to grasp would be the idea of Divine Sonship, the idea of that relation in which the Son of God stands to the Eternal Father. There must have been a period, then, in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, in which He awoke, as it were, to spiritual consciousness, and came to know who and what He really was. The light of this knowledge may have broken in upon Him by degrees. It probably did so. There were probably voices that came and went, voices that whispered into the ear of that wondrous Child mysterious hints of the unseen world and of the abandoned glory, long before they spoke out with distinct and unmistakable utterance: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
II. "He went down with them." He, knowing now who He was, and for what He was intended, He, consciously now the incarnate Son of God, "went down with them and was subject unto them; but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart." We gather one or two concluding lessons from this verse. (1) A lesson of the importance of patient waiting and preparation and biding of God's time, for all true workers for God. None ever longed as Jesus longed to be about His Father's business, and to exalt His Father's glory, and yet, at the Father's bidding, He went quietly away to spend eighteen years of preparation and discipline, until the time came for His manifesting unto Israel. (2) A lesson as to the perfect understanding and sympathy which the life of Jesus establishes between Him and His people. Jesus did not anticipate the various stages of life; He did not crowd the duties of one period in amongst the duties of another; His human existence was one of gradual, regular, perfect development. (3) A lesson as to the dignity of human life. It has been a pleasure to some persons to cast contempt on the nature they wear and on the race to which they belong. Writers of note have done this. But surely such persons must forget or disbelieve that the eternal Son of God condescended to wear the nature they vilify, and to engage in the occupations and pursuits on which they pour out the malignity of their scorn. One glance at that humble home of Nazareth dispels such thoughts and throws a halo of dignity and honour round our common humanity.
G. Calthrop, Words Spoken to My Friends, p. 90.
References: Luke 2:48.—Phillips Brooks, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 353. Luke 2:48, Luke 2:49.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 122.
Luke 2:49These are brave, heroic words. They breathe a spirit of ardour and devotion to duty. They are not the language of one who is to make pleasure his grand aim in life, and is minded to give himself to indolence and ease. They betoken a high and manly principle, a noble self-respect, a strong decision of character.
I. Each of us is to make the Lord Jesus Christ our one supreme model. From the earliest stages of His life, He stands before us as our faultless pattern. In His childhood, in His young manhood, He claims our closest imitation. Just as He entered upon life, so should you. Though the story of His life be short, it is wonderfully comprehensive. It seems as though He touched humanity at every point. Hardly an aspect of our earthly life in which He may not be seen. Whatever noble ideals of life you have do not forget to set Jesus Christ above them all.
II. The character of one's career in life may generally be augured from its outset. These first recorded words of Jesus struck the keynote of His whole after-life. Now, it is safe to say, that the ten years that intervene between the ages of twelve and twenty-two are almost decisive of a man's subsequent course. This is the formative period; and in so far the most important part of life. It is then that the character is formed. It is then that the moral nature is taking shape. If habits of indolence are formed; if languor and irregularity are indulged; if selfishness and conceit are encouraged; almost in all certainty your life will be a failure. The man who carries the day is he whose strong sense of personal duty and responsibility replies to all who would tempt him to idleness and self-indulgence, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?"
III. Learn from the text that the present life is intended for work, labour, and business. "I must be about—business," said the Divine Youth, who is our only perfect model. We are not sent into this world for play, nor for self-indulgent ease; Jesus was not. We are not sent here to enjoy the maximum of pleasure with the minimum of toil; that is a wrong conception of life altogether; work is not a mere means to an end, a hardship to be submitted to, as an avenue to enjoyment; nay, the world is intended to be a great workshop, and each of us is to take his own share, and find his own fitting department.
IV. If we are Christians, our daily work, whatever it be, is to be viewed as our Father's business. The most effective of all ways in which God is served, is by living to Him in everything, consecrating to His glory all the details of our ordinary prosaic life.
J. Thain Davidson, Sure to Succeed, p. 251.
The Child Jesus a Pattern for Children.
I. The Child Jesus was a diligent Scholar. He did not neglect His tasks, or slur them over anyhow, or think, as perhaps some of you think, that getting out of school was the best part of the whole business. We might be quite sure that He diligently attended to the wise Rabbis who asked and answered questions, who uttered so many wise and witty proverbs, and told so many pretty stories, if only because He Himself was, in after years, so wise in asking and answering questions, and spoke so many proverbs and parables which the world will never let die. When Joseph and Mary brought Him up all the way from Nazareth to Jerusalem, He was so charmed to listen to what the wise men of Jerusalem had to say, that He stayed on in the Temple three days after his parents had left the city. And it was not to see the beautiful courts and colonnades that He stayed; nor to listen to the exquisite singing of the choirs; nor to see the priests offering sacrifices on the altars; much less was it to gaze on the wonders of the streets, the markets, the bazaars,—He stayed simply that He might sit at the feet, i.e. attend the classes, of the learned and venerable doctors of the Jerusalem schools, both asking them questions and answering the questions they asked of Him.
II. Mark again that this good Scholar was also a good Son. The Hebrew boys of our Lord's time were taught good manners, as well as good morals. They were enjoined by their parents and their masters, to salute everyone they met in the streets, to say to him, "Peace be with thee." And the Boy Jesus was well brought up, and was full of courtesy and kindness and good will; for not only did He grow in favour with men in general, but He had a large circle of kinsfolk and friends who loved Him and were glad to have Him with them. We know, too, that He had never grieved His parents before; in His eagerness to learn He let them go on their way home without Him. For when they had found Him in the Temple they were so astonished that He should have given them the pain of seeking Him sorrowfully that they cannot blame Him as for a fault, but can only ask Him why He has treated them thus. He must indeed have been a good son to whom His mother could speak as Mary spoke to Jesus.
III. This good Scholar and good Son was also a good Child of God. He was always about His Father's business. He felt that He must be about it, wherever He went, whatever He did. The one great thing He had to do, the one thing which above all others He tried to do, was to serve God His Father, not simply to become wise, and still less to please Himself, but to please God by growing wise in the knowledge and obedience of His commandments.
S. Cox, The Bird's Nest, p. 16.
Luke 2:49-50The Epiphany of Work.
This Gospel may be called the Epiphany of Christ to the world of youth—to that large portion of the great human family which has life before it, with its boundless capacities of use and abuse, of happiness and misery, of good and evil. How and in what sense is it an Epiphany to the world of youth? To answer this question intelligently, and at the same time to give breadth to the subject, is by no means limited to one age or one circumstance of human life; we combine the two in the words of the text—"Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" and "He went down with His parents and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them."
I. The Epiphany before us, is, in the first place, that of the two lives, the seen and the unseen, the relative and the personal; in other words the human relationship to the Divine. For a considerable portion of the life of all men the two relationships are at one. The parent represents God to the child, and the child sees God through the parent. It is a sweet and lovely time for the mother, which Nature perhaps would bid her protract. She feels that only good can come of it; so pure and so heavenward are her own aspirations for her child. Cannot her son continue to seek heaven except through her? Is there any moral blank, is there any spiritual necessity to forbid her saying, as a thing for all time and for all life, "So be it, it is good for us to be thus"? Yes; she must learn the great lesson, "All souls are Mine!" The child has a Father in heaven, and at the first dawn of reason he must be about his Father's business.
II. "He went down with them and was subject unto them." And this is all that is told us of the boyhood of the Saviour. The one feature of His thirty years' education upon which the Word of God dwells, is subjection; all else is taken for granted; the industry and the piety and the beautiful example, and this only is dwelt upon. "He was subject" because, being interpreted, He was courteous, He was reverent, He was generous, He was courageous, He loved Himself last, He thought Himself least; He practised in youth the graces of charity; He trod from His boyhood the way to the Cross. His Father's kingdom was the interest of His boyhood, and submission was its work; from this beginning it was but a natural progress to the long self-repression of the village home and the drudging workshop, thence to the Baptism in Jordan, and the temptation in the desert, thence into the homeless unrest of the ministry, the scorn and rejection of men, the dulness and coldness even of His own, and at last the agony of Calvary and the shameful death of the Cross.
C. J. Vaughan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 49.
References: Luke 2:49.—A. Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 421; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. i., p. 59; A. C. Price, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 273; vol. iii., p. 292; B. S. Bird, Ibid., vol. x., p. 126; H. R. Reynolds, Notes of the Christian Life, p. 185; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons and Addresses in Marlborough College, p. 1; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 228.
Luke 2:51The Christian Family.
I. The household is the parents' kingdom. Only here can each one find food for every faculty. The family gives a practical solution to the great problems of moral truth. It is the typical form of the vast organisations that belong to human life. It teaches subordination in love, and subordination is only another word for fitting together. In a society like this, though subordination inside of the family is natural and easy, outside of the family it is reluctant and mechanical, and is very often unjust. Weak men are perpetually governing strong men. Ignorance is in ascendency over knowledge. In a democratic community subordination is founded on the actual conditions which subsist between man and man; but in the family mutual subjection is taught, and the man who is thoroughly radicated in the intelligence and love of mutual subjection in the household is essentially fitted to become a peaceable and good citizen.
II. Order and government are likewise taught in the family, and it is the government or order which springs from parental love that carries with it a sense of its fitness and necessity. Love is the supreme necessity. Love is not a thing that is for ever submitting, as many suppose it to be. It is regent, it is imperial in its very nature. It tends to command, and in the family fitly. There we have the roots of order of government, and nowhere else in anything like so perfect a state.
III. The family also teaches, as we can scarcely find it taught otherwise, the true doctrine of sin and penalty. There is but one place where penalty can be justified; namely, where it is a remedy for the sufferer or a safeguard for those who are round about him; and where it is administered in the physician's spirit. The administration of pain and penalty in governments and courts is exceedingly rude and imperfect; but the administration of pain and penalty in the family is beautiful from the beginning to the end.
IV. We learn in the family, likewise, the doctrine of the liberty of law. There is no law in the household that overruns sickness or weakness, or change of mind. Law, if rightly employed, is helpful, is strengthening, is nursing; and in the household you see how expansible and adaptable it is.
H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 372.
References: Luke 2:51.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 74; S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 125; Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 372. Luke 2:51, Luke 2:52.—G. Huntington, Sermons for Holy Seasons, 2nd series, p. 85.
Luke 2:52The text naturally divides itself into four heads. There is a twofold development spoken of, and a twofold result or concomitant. We are called upon to observe the growth of Jesus: (1) in bodily stature; (2) in wisdom, and as a concomitant of these, to behold Him increasing; (3) in favour with men, and (4) in favour with God.
I. We know that among the Jews no one was qualified to be a priest who had any bodily defect or blemish. It behoved the sacred historian therefore to show that our great High Priest had no bodily disqualification for His office. He was destined, after thirty years' spiritual obscurity, to lead a life of energetic labour and endurance of hardship for the space of three years. In this a frame capable of ordinary fatigue was surely necessary. Even for the toil of this daily employment, Jesus needed those bodily powers of which St. Luke briefly describes the increase.
II. We may assume that, whatever the age of our Lord was, His wisdom corresponded to His age. There is a prescient wisdom, sometimes found in early years, which gives way to and is succeeded by the maturer wisdom of the man, just as that in its turn passes on to the grave and retrospective wisdom of the elder. Jesus increased in growth and in that wisdom which suited His years. He is represented to us, in the sacred narrative, not only as receiving wisdom from above, but as acquiring wisdom by communication with others. In the development of Jesus there was nothing like forcing, no hurry or impatience, no attempt either to produce a sensation, or to impress His brethren and neighbours with an idea of His extraordinary powers.
III. We see the Child Jesus increasing in favour with men—all, that is, who came into communication with Him. The favour of men is a test of certain qualities, without which no Christian character can lay claim to even relative perfection. No selfish, or ill-tempered, or peevish, or morose, or arrogant, or deceitful person can ever secure the favour even of relatives, much less that of any mixed society. The Child Jesus commended Himself to all who knew Him by every amiable and lovely quality, and grew up like some tender plant in the quiet vale of existence.
IV. And we are called upon to regard Him as increasing in favour with His heavenly Father. This is a sure concomitant of spiritual growth. We have to contemplate the Child Jesus, not as possessing at once the full favour of God, but as increasing in favour with Him. This shows the Saviour to be one of us. This marks His life on earth as progressive, passing through successive stages—each perfect of its kind, but one kind of perfection being higher than another.
G. Butler, Sermons in Cheltenham College, p. 27.
I. Times come to all when the great realities of life and death stand out clear, if it is but for a moment, and the heart sees and feels what is of value and lasting and true. We want such times: the beginners want them to teach them how to begin; the older want them to encourage them to go on. But yet these critical times are as nothing compared to the daily, hourly, momentary appeal that is being made to everyone. Whether we know it or not, not a moment passes which does not add or take away something of our power of judging and seeing the things of God. This power of judging and seeing the things of God is a power of the Spirit, and is given by the Holy Spirit of God to those who open their hearts to God's truth, and live by it. This power of seeing, of putting the feeling in accord with higher feeling, of the getting the heart to thrill with the thrilling of Divine truth, and the mind to think out God's thoughts, is wisdom. It is the harvest gathered from life. God's world is all about us—God's world of created nature, fields and trees, rivers and sky; God's world of men and women, with all their hopes and fears; God's world of right and wrong, with all the strange permitted evil, and all the wonderful bringing out of good. To read God's thought in God's world is wisdom. "And Jesus increased in wisdom." The little valley and the country town, the lonely life, the quiet village amongst the hills, the grass beneath, the stars above, the life within the narrowing heights, the life views that streamed over them from outside,— gave all the material wanted for wisdom. To Christ the sower that went forth to sow was a presence touching the heart, the mustard-seed cast into the ground a message of heavenly power. Not a sparrow, but His eye knew it as a part of God's alphabet. The women grinding corn, the very leaven in the daily bread, all were to Him thoughts thought out and passed on to us, lighted up with the light of the everlasting.
II. What a lesson of patient waiting this gives! The mind feels a sort of breathless awe when it tries to call up the idea of the Lord of lords, sitting a poor Man on the hillside, and day by day, for thirty years, holding within His heart the wondrous knowledge of a Divine mission, and all the time treated by the villagers as one of themselves. All the sense of inward power, the thoughts that pierced the secrets of the world, the reformer's eye that saw through the tangle of human life, of its sorrows and its sins, conscious of the Redeemer's power to heal; the gathering greatness, the danger and the sacrifice grew more and more distant day by day to the solitary unacknowledged King on the hillside; and yet He waited and waited, and gathered in new thoughts daily where others saw nothing, and grew in wisdom and was strong in spirit; and being strong in spirit did not move before His time.
E. Thring, Uppingham Sermons, vol. i., p. 213.
References: Luke 2:52.—S. James, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 76; R. Heber, Parish Sermons, vol. i., p. 112; H. G. Robinson, Man in the Image of God, p. 167. Luke 3:1-23.—F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, p. 37.
(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.