And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
1. That God chooses for his instruments the humble rather than the high. Our human notions would have pointed to the most illustrious in the ]and for such a communication as this. But God chose the lowly shepherd, the man of no account in the estimate of the world. So did he act in the beginning of the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-29). And so has he acted ever since, choosing often for the agents of his power and grace those whom man would have passed by as unworthy of his choice.
2. That God grants his Divine favor to those who are conscientiously serving him in their own proper sphere. Not to the idle dreamer, not to the man who will do nothing because he cannot do everything of which he thinks himself capable, but to him who does his best in the position in which God's providence has placed him, will God come in gracious manifestation; and it is he whom he will select to render important service in his cause. But the main thoughts of this passage are these -
I. WELCOME TIDINGS FROM THE SPIRITUAL WORLD. "They were sore afraid." "Fear not... I bring you good tidings." Why have men always been so sore afraid in the presence of the supernatural? Why have they feared to receive communications from heaven? Something much more than a popular belief (see Judges 13:22)is required to account for so universal a sentiment. It is surely that sinful men are profoundly conscious of ill desert, and fear that any message that comes from God, the Holy One, will be a message of condemnation and punishment. What would be the expectation with which a camp of rebellious subjects, who had taken up arms against their sovereign, would receive a messenger from the court of the king? Had that guilty age known that God was about to announce "a new departure" in his government of the world, what ample, what overwhelming reason would it have had to apprehend a message of Divine wrath and retribution! How welcome, then, the words, "Fear not... I bring you good tidings"! Of what depth of Divine patience, of what boundless breadths of Divine compassion, do these simple words assure us!
II. TIDINGS OF SURPASSING VALUE. Tidings "of great joy." The birth of the Babe in Bethlehem "that day" - what did it mean? It meant:
1. Deliverance from a deadly evil. To these shepherds, if they were patriotic children of Abraham, the promise of a Savior would mean deliverance from the national degradation into which Israel had sunk - a spiritual as well as a political demoralization. To them, if they were earnest religious inquirers, it meant deliverance from the bondage and penalty of sin. This is the significance which the word has to us: in that day was born into the world a Savior, a Divine Redeemer, One who should save the souls of men from that which is the one curse of our humanity - sin.
2. The fulfillment of a great hope. To those who then learnt that "the Christ" was born, it meant that the long-cherished hope of their nation was fulfilled, and that whatever the Messiah was to bring about was at length to be accomplished. A great national expectation has passed, with us, into a glorious hope for the human race - the hope that under Christ this poor sin-stricken world will rise from its ignorance, its superstition, its godlessness, its vice, and its crime, and walk in newness of life, in the love and the likeness of its heavenly Father.
3. Restoration to our true position. That Savior is "Christ the Lord." We who have sought to rule ourselves and to be the masters of our own lives, and who have suffered so much in so many ways by this guilty dethronement and usurpation, are now to find our true rest and joy by submitting ourselves to him who is "the Lord" of all hearts and lives; in his service is abiding peace and "great joy."
III. TIDINGS OF GENERAL AND OF PARTICULAR APPLICATION. These glad tidings are for "all the people," and they were for those startled and wondering shepherds. "To you is born." As we hear the angel's words, we know that they are for all the wide world, and, whoever we may be, for us. - C.
And this shall be a sign unto you.
I. The sign of humility by which the entrance of Jesus into the world was announced, is found throughout the whole course of His history.
II. The same contrast is found in the institutions which Jesus has left to preserve in His Church the remembrance of His benefits.
III. There is, again, this same contrast of grandeur and humility to mark, with a Divine seal, the Church of Jesus Christ.
1. In its origin, composed of obscure persons from lowest ranks of a small unknown people.
2. As it exists to-day wherever the true Church is to be found.
IV. The same sign of humility will enable us to recognize the worship with which God is pleased.
V. The sign of humility which is constantly found in Christ, and in all that springs from Christ, must be found also among His disciples.
I. LOOK THEN AT THE CREED OF THE CHURCH. It has two sides, two aspects. It is one thing to sight, another to faith. To sight, it is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. To faith, it is revealed from heaven as supernatural and Divine.
II. Consider THE MORAL IMPORT OF THE MANGER-BED OF THE INFANT JESUS. The world-wide principle of spiritual death needed to be expelled by a stronger and not less universal principle. It demanded a regenerating force, resting not on theory but on fact, a principle human in its form and action, but Divine in its strength and origin. Such a privilege we find in the Babe, wrapped, &c. This was indeed the Divine Word, engrafted on human nature, and able to save the souls of men. The Incarnation was the source of a moral revolution. By saving man it was destined to save human society. It confronted sensuality by endurance and mortification. It confronted covetousness by putting honour upon poverty. It taught men that a man's highest life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth. But its great lesson was a lesson of humility. In the humiliation of the Highest, the nations read the truth which the incarnate Lord taught in words: — "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." For us men humility is the law of progress, because it is the admission of truth. At Christ's manger may we learn the blessed temper which makes faith, repentance, perseverance, easy, and to which are promised the crowns of glory, worn by the blessed around His throne.
I. OUR SAVIOUR WAS A REAL MAN. All are alike at birth — babes. Christ came as we came. He passed through the entire experience of human life, starting from the cradle, right up to and beyond the tomb.
II. OUR SAVIOUR WAS SIMPLY A MAN. "Ye shall find the babe": just a babe, no more. No accident of birth limited Jesus to any part of the community; there were none of those things about Him on which men pride themselves. He belongs to all, however humble, obscure, poor, simple, needy.
III. HE WAS A LOVING MAN. A babe is the emblem of the mightiest thing on earth — love — the sunshine of the Divine radience.
IV. He was, for the most part, A REJECTED MAN. There never seemed to be any room for Him, from His birth onwards.
V. HE IS ALL IN ALL TO THOSE WHO RECEIVE HIM.
1. To find this Babe will be the beginning of truest peace to our own hearts.
2. To find this Babe will be the beginning for us of a better, nobler life.
3. To find this Babe will give to us the true spirit of brotherhood and charity.
(R. Tuck, B. A.)
(Dean Vaughan.)Wickelkinder, strapped down on its back to a pillow by spiral after spiral of convoluted bandages, without longing to apply the scissors and let the little prisoner go free. And yet it is only a few generations since this way of treating new-born children prevailed, with variations and aggravations, in all nations, even the most civilized. We owe our own emancipation, in this land and century, from this and other artificial traditions, to no other single influence so much as to a remarkable book published in the middle of the last century by a citizen of Geneva — the "Emile" of Jean Jacques Rousseau. It speaks thus of the universally prevalent treatment of an infant child as it had continued to his day: "Scarcely does the child begin to enjoy the liberty of moving and stretching its limbs, when it is placed anew in confinement. It is wound in swaddling clothes, and laid down with its head fixed, its legs extended, its arms at its sides. It is surrounded with clothes and bandages of all sorts that prevent it from changing its position. It is a good thing if they do not even draw the bands so tight as to hinder respiration, and if they have the foresight to lay it on its side to avoid the danger of strangulation ... The inaction and constraint in which the child's limbs are confined must necessarily disturb the circulation, hinder the child from gaining strength, and affect its constitution... Is it possible that such cruel constraint can fail to affect the character of the child, as well as its physical temperament? Its first conscious feeling is a feeling of pain and suffering. It finds nothing but hindrances to the motions which it craves. More wretched than a criminal in irons, it frets and cries. The first gifts it receives are fetters; the first treatment it experiences is torture." Such was the practice of a hundred years ago in the highest families of the most civilized country in the world. In many lands, partly owing to this very protest, the practice is better now. But in the slow-going East the common practice of the nursery is no better, and it is probably no worse than it was nineteen hundred years ago. But it is worse than anything we ever see or hear of ill this part of the world. In fact, it comes nearer to the binding of an Indian papoose to a board, than to anything that we are accustomed to see in the families of Christendom. Once wound around with these swathing-bands, sometimes with an addition of fresh earth against the skin, and packed in their cradles like a little mummy in its coffin, the poor little babies are expected to stay there, all cries and complaints notwithstanding; they are not removed by their mothers even for such necessary occasions as to be fed. I have heard pitiful stories told by missionaries' wives, and by missionary physicians, in the East, of the sufferings of little infants in consequence of the obstinate persistence of parents in a usage which we clearly see to be so unreasonable and unnatural.
(Leonard W. Bacon.)
(Leonard W. Bacon.)attache of a South American Embassy standing apart in a halo of dignity and a light blaze of gold lace. This "wrapped in swaddling-clothes and lying in a manger" was just the sign the shepherds needed. And we do well if, looking for the Christ, we take heed to it ourselves. We are not yet safe from the error of them of old time, who thought to find the Lord clothed in soft raiment and dwelling in king's palaces.
(Leonard W. Bacon.)Mark 1:13), Christ was among beasts. Believers, ambitious of high place, forget their Master's cradle. A manger is here honoured above a thousand glittering thrones. It is an ornament of His royalty, a throne of His glory. He comes in humility; He reigns in humility; He leads by humility. The manger and the cross are stumbling-blocks to many. His infancy and death are still rocks, wrecking human pride.
I. It reminds us, by way of analogy, of a fact which constitutes the most trying element in the mystery of the Incarnation, namely, that GOD THEREBY CAME WITHIN CERTAIN LIMITATIONS. HOW an uncreated and omnipresent, that is, a boundless, Infinite Being could be contracted within the circumference of a human life is the most puzzling problem of revelation. The impossibility of our understanding this is a temptation, not perhaps to deny, but to forget the deeper meaning of the Christmas feast. Remember, then, that within these swathing bands which encircled the infant form of Jesus there was bound the nature of a Being more than human, even God Himself. Men may call this an unreasonable tax upon our faith. It is rather a sign of God's condescension to human weakness. The whole secret of the history of idolatry among the Jews and the Gentiles was a longing for some visible manifestation of Him whom they felt they must worship. Man instinctively longs for some incarnate form, some Word of his Maker manifest in the flesh, some finite manifestation of the Infinite Father. And the birth of Jesus, the enshrining of God within a human form, the swathing of that power, which otherwise knows no bounds, was but an answer to man's desire.
II. The sign holds good, not only of the nature of Christ, but likewise of THE LIFE WHICH, FROM FIRST TO LAST, HE LIVED. That also was like every purely human life, hemmed in. It unfolded according to the ordinary laws of growth. His babyhood was as real as His manhood. He increased in wisdom as well as stature. He learned gradually the wisdom which all the world now confesses. The common idea which people have of Jesus is that, being Divine, He was exempt from the ordinary conditions of common men; that He never knew constraint; that there were no barriers opposing Him, no bands fettering the free exercise of that Divine power which lay hidden within Him. Yet duty was sometimes hard for Him. He longed to do things which He might not attempt, because the higher and more spiritual dictates of His conscience forbade it. The kingdoms of this world and their glory looked as fair and tempting to His soul as they do to ours. But the law of righteousness, the swathing-bands of duty, the rules of obedience which God throws around us, likewise constrained Him.
III. The manner of the Incarnation shows GOD'S ESTIMATE OF HUMAN NATURE. If you are ever tempted to despise human nature because you see it now and then wearing disagreeable phases, or to think ill of, nay, to slight, your friends, remember God's estimate of them. He does not thus stoop and toil to save the worthless. From being a King He descended to the lowest form of human life, entered the world in utter helplessness, was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and during all His development here on earth never rose above that form of a servant which He had taken. And He did all this, because even fallen man was dearer to His heart than the world of lost angels.
(E. E. Johnson, M. A.)1 Corinthians 1:27-29). It may be the shepherd boy with his sling who gains victory over the mailed giant in whose presence the whole army of Israel stands trembling; it may be the tinker in Bedford Jail who writes a masterpiece in religious literature, to be honoured for centuries for its work and its worth; it may be the unschooled clerk from a Boston shoe-store who proclaims the gospel with a fervency and power which the best-cultured divines of all Christendom have not attained to; or it may be in the most unprepossessing child of your school or class that the grandest possibilities for the kingdom of Christ to-day lie hid.
(H. C. Trumbull.)distingue tempera; as the time is the angel is right, and a fitter sign could not be assigned. Would we have had Him come in power and great glory? and so He will come, but not now. He that cometh here in clouts will one day come in the clouds. But now His coming was for another end, and so to be in another manner. His coming now was "to visit us in great humility," and so His sign to be according. Nay, then, I say, first go to the nature of a sign; if Christ had come in His excellency, that had been no sign, no more than the sun in the firmament shining in his full strength. Contrary to the course of nature it must be, else it is no sign. The sun eclipsed, the sun in sackcloth; that is signum in sole, "the sign indeed" (Luke 21:25). And that is the sign here: the Sun of Righteousness entering into His eclipse begins to be darkened in His first point, the point of His nativity. This is the sign, say I, and that had been none.
(Bishop Lancelot Andrewes.)signature, and worth the finding, what matter how mean the sign be? We are sent to a crib, not to an empty crib; Christ is in it. Be the sign never so simple, the signature it carries us to makes amends. Any sign with such a signatnm. And I know not the man so squeamish, but if, in his stable and under his manger, there were a treasure hid, and he were sure of it, but thither he would, and pluck up the planks, and dig and rake for it, and be never a whir offended with the homeliness of the place. If, then, Christ be a treasure, as in Him are "all the treasures of the wisdom and bounty of God," what skills it what be His sign. With this, with any other, Christ is worth the finding. He is not worthy of Christ who will not go anywhither to find Christ.
(Bishop Lancelot Andrewes.)
I. THAT NIGHT IN THE BETHLEHEM MANGER WAS BORN ENCOURAGEMENT FOR ALL THE POORLY STARTED. He had only two friends — they His parents. No satin-lined cradle, no delicate attentions, but straw and the cattle, and the coarse joke and banter of the camel drivers. From the depths of that poverty He rose, until to-day He is honoured in all Christendom, and sits on the imperial throne in heaven. Do you know that the vast majority of the world's deliverers had barnlike birthplaces? Luther, the emancipator of religion, born among the mines. Shakespeare, the emancipator of literature, born in a humble home at Stratford-on-Avon. Columbus, the discoverer of a world, born in poverty at Genoa. Hogarth, the discoverer of how to make art accumulative and administrative of virtue, born in a humble home at Westminster. Kitto and Prideaux, whose keys unlocked new apartments in the Holy Scriptures which had never been entered, born in want. Yea, I have to tell you that nine out of ten of the world's deliverers were born in want. I stir your holy ambitions to-day, and I want to tell you, although the whole world may be opposed to you, and inside and outside of your occupations or professions there may be those who would hinder your ascent, on your side and enlisted in your behalf are the sympathetic heart and the almighty arm of One who, one Christmas night about eighteen hundred and eighty years ago, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Oh, what magnificent encouragement for the poorly started!
II. Again, I have to tell you that IS THAT VILLAGE BARN THAT NIGHT WAS BORN GOODWILL TO MEN, whether you call it kindness, or forbearance, or forgiveness, or geniality, or affection, or love. It says, "Sheathe your swords, dismount your guns, dismantle your batteries, turn the warship Constellation, that carried shot and shell, into a grain ship to take food to famishing Ireland, hook your cavalry horses to the plough, use your deadly gunpowder in blasting rocks and in patriotic celebration, stop your lawsuits, quit writing anonymous letters, extract the sting from your sarcasm, let your wit coruscate but never burn, drop all the harsh words out of your vocabulary — Goodwill to men."
III. Again, I remark that BORN THAT CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN THE VILLAGE BARN WAS SYMPATHETIC UNION WITH OTHER WORLDS. Move that supernatural grouping of the cloud banks over Bethlehem, and from the special trains that ran down to the scene I find that our world is beautifully and gloriously and magnificently surrounded. The meteors are with us, for one of them ran to point down to the birthplace. The heavens are with us, because at the thought of our redemption they roll hosannas out of the midnight sky.
IV. Again, I remark that THAT NIGHT BORN IN THAT VILLAGE BARN WAS THE OFFENDER'S HOPE. Some sermonizers may say I ought to have projected this thought at the beginning of the sermon. Oh, no! I wanted you to rise toward it. I wanted you to examine the cornelians and the jaspers and the emeralds and the sardonyx before I showed you the Kohinoor — the crown jewel of the ages. Oh, that jewel had a very poor setting! The cub of the bear is born amid the grand old pillars of the forest, the whelp of a lion takes its first step from the jungle of luxuriant leaf and wild flower, the kid of the goat is born in cavern chandeliered with stalactite and pillared with stalagmite. Christ was born in a bare barn. Yet that nativity was the offender's hope. Over the door of heaven are written these words, "None but the sinless may enter here." "Oh, horror," you say, "that shuts us out!" No. Christ came to the world in one door, and He departed through another door. He came through the door of the manger, and He departed through the door of the sepulchre; and His one business was so to wash away our sin that after we are dead there will be no more sin about us than about the eternal God. I know that is putting it strongly, but that is what I understand by full remission. All erased, all washed away, all scoured out, all gone. Oh! now I see what the manger was. Not so high the gilded and jewelled and embroidered cradle of the Henrys of England, or the Louis of France, or the Fredericks of Prussia. Now I find out that that Bethlehem crib fed not so much the oxen of the stall as the white horses of Apocalyptic vision. Now I find the swaddling clothes enlarging and emblazing into an imperial robe for a conqueror.
(Dr. Talmage.)I. Learn from this story of the birth of Jesus, in the first place, that INDIGENCE IS NOT ALWAYS SIGNIFICANT OF DEGRADATION. When princes are born, heralds pro. claim it, and flags wave it, and cannon thunder it, and illuminations set cities on fire with the tidings; but when Christ was born there was no demonstration of earthly honour or homage. Poor, and, if possible, getting poorer, and yet the recognition of the angel host proves the truth of the proposition that indigence is no sign of degradation. In all ages of the world there have been great hearts throbbing under rags, gentle spirits under rough exterior, gold in the quartz, Parian marble in the quarry, and in the very stables of poverty wonders of excellence that have been the joy of the heavenly host. Poetry, and science, and law, and constitutions, and commerce, like Christ, were born in a manger. Great thoughts that seem to have been the axle-tree on which the centuries turned, started in some obscure corner, and had Herods who tried to slay them, and Iscariots who betrayed them, and Pilates who unjustly condemned them, and rabbles who crucified them, and sepulchres which confined them until they broke forth again in glorious resurrection. Men are, like wheat, worth all the more for being flailed. Strong character, like the rhododendron, is an alpine plant which grows best in the tempest. There arc a great many men who are now standing in the front rank of the Church of God who would have been utterly useless had they not been ground and hammered in the foundries of disaster.
II. Again, I learn from the text that IT IS WHEN WE ARE ENGAGED IN OUR LAWFUL OCCUPATIONS THAT WE HAVE DIVINE MANIFESTATIONS MADE TO US. If these shepherds had gone that night into the village, and risked their flocks among the wolves, they would not have heard the song of the angels. In other words, he sees most of God and heaven who minds his own business! We are all shepherds, and we have large flocks of cares, and we must tend them. I know there are a great many busy men who say, "Oh, if I had only time, I would be good. If I had the days and the months and the years to devote to the subject of religion, I should be one of the best of Christians." A great mistake are you making. The busiest men are generally the best men. There is no point from which you can get clearer views of duty than at the merchant's counter, or the accountant's table, or on the mason's wall.
III. Again, the story of the text STRIKES AT THE POPULAR FALLACY THAT THE RELIGION OF CHRIST IS DOLOROUS AND GRIEF-INFUSING. The music that broke through that famous birth-night was not a dirge, but an anthem. It shook joy over the midnight hills. It not only dropped among the shepherds, but it sprang upward among the thrones. The robe of righteousness is not black. The religious life is not all weeping and sighing, and cross-bearing and warfare. Christianity does not frown on amusements and recreations. It quenches no light. It defaces no heart. Among the happy it is the happiest. Heaven itself is only a warmer love and a brighter joy.
IV. Again, I learn from this subject, WHAT GLORIOUS ENDINGS COME FROM SMALL AND INSIGNIFICANT BEGINNINGS. The New Testament Church was on a small scale. The fishermen watched it. Small beginnings, but glorious endings. A throne linked to a manger. Mansions of light at God's right hand associated with stables of poverty.
V. I learn, finally, from this story of the birth of Christ, THE GLORIOUS RESULT OF A SAVIOUR'S MISSION. Have you ever thought how strangely this song of peace must have sounded to the Roman Empire? Why, that Roman Empire gloried in its arms, and boasted of the number of men it had slain, and with triumph looked at conquered provinces. Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Macedonia, Egypt, had bowed to her sword, and crouched at the cry of her war eagles. Their highest honours had been bestowed upon Fabius and Scipio and Caesar. It was men of blood and carnage that they honoured. With what contempt they must have looked upon a kingdom the chief principle of which was to be goodwill to men, and upon the unarmed, penniless Christ, who, in Nazarene garb, was about to start out for the conquest of the nations. If all the blood which has been shed in battle were gathered together in one great lake, it would bear up a navy. The blow that struck Abel into the dust has had its echo in the carnage of all the centuries. If we could take our stand on some high mountain of earth, and have all the armies of other ages pass along, what a spectacle! There go the hosts of the Israelites through scores of Red Seas, one of them of water, the rest of blood. There go the armies of Cyrus, lifting their infuriate yell over prostrate Babylon. There goes Alexander, with his innumerable host, conquering all but himself, and making the earth to reel under the battle gash of Persepolis and Chaeronia. There goes the great Frenchman, down through Egypt like one of its own plagues, and up through Russia like one of its own ice-blasts. Host after host. Tramp. tramp, tramp. Coming down to our day, I appeal to the grave-trench under the shadow of Sebastopol, and turning to India I show you fallen Delhi, and Allahabad, and the inhuman Sepoys, and the regiments of Havelock avenging the insulted flag of Great Britain. On this, the day before Christmas, I bring you good tidings of great joy. A Saviour for the lost. Medicine for the sick. Light for the blind. Harbour for the bestormed. Eternal life for the dead.
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