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Augustus thought only of his own glory; yet he was the means of fulfilling the predictions of the Old Testament, and of enstamping upon Jesus marks essential to the Messiah. Ah! how often have the sovereigns of the world, whilst animated by the most unworthy motives, unintentionally accomplished the designs of God, the decrees of his providence! Let this thought compose our hearts amidst the agitation of the nations. The Lord reigneth ; He can bring good to his Church even from the crimes and follies
“ The wrath of man shall praise him; the remainder of wrath he will restrain."
We have seen Mary conducted by Providence to Bethlehem. In what manner was she there receiv
. ed? Was she not welcomed with that affection and regard due to the pious and worthy descendant of a king whose memory was deservedly honoured in Judah, whose name was dear to every true Israelite? Did not the people crowd to meet her, and cry out with Elizabeth, - Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb?” Was not every delicate attention paid to her which her sex, her situation, and the honour conferred upon her by God, required ? Ah no! the royal family of David had
? been reduced by time and revolutions. Mary, though adorned by virtue and religion, was poor: need I add, that she was therefore neglected. No door opened to receive her; no countenance was lighted up with pleasure at her approach; no kind kinsman expressed his affection for her; no benevolent stranger exercised towards her the offices of hospitality. Even in the inn* she could find no shelter, but was
* Not a western inn, but an eastern caravansera. See Salomonis Van Til Homilia Prima in Natatem Christi, pp. 8, 9.
obliged, friendless and neglected, to retire to the stable. There the hour arrived when Jesus was born. With her own hands she wrapt him in swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a manger. He "whose is the earth and the fulness thereof," was thus born poor, despised, and destitute. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." God and his holy angels were present when he made his entrance upon the earth; but no affectionate and grateful mortals!
*My brethren, you reprobate the inhumanity of the inhabitants of Bethlehem. In reprobating them, do you not condemn yourselves? They knew not what a guest they refused; they were ignorant that they shut their doors against that Messiah whom their nation had so long and so ardently expected. But can this plea be presented for your neglect of Jesus? He has long been crying to you, "Behold, I stand at the door" of your hearts, "and knock: hear my voice, and open the door, and I will come in and sup with you, and you with me." He has done this, not whilst he was the infant of Bethlehem, but since he has been manifested to be the Son of God; since
all power has been committed to him in heaven and on earth;" since he has been seated on the throne of the universe. Ah! then, instead of blushing for the inhabitants of Bethlehem, blush for your
Do you ask, why the Saviour, in entering upon the world, appeared in a situation so humble; why he did not come surrounded by greater worldly dignity and glory? I might content myself by replying, that men, illustrious by their virtues and their great actions, do not derive their glory from the external splendour which surrounds them, but from those
qualities which the world can neither confer on them nor ravish from them: that therefore, in whatever condition the Son of God may appear, he bears with him that essential glory which merits the homage and veneration of heaven and earth, which renders illustrious the places where he is, and the condition which he embraces.
But you need not stop at this general consideration. Particular reasons can easily be given, to show that this deep humiliation of your Saviour, instead of exciting those carnal prejudices which led the Jews to reject him, should only augment your love, your reverence, your admiration for him.
1. This humiliation of the Lord, as well as his incarnation, is voluntary, and results only from his overflowing compassion. No being was able to despoil him of his glory and his power. It is a sacrifice which his charity makes for the salvation of man. As he was “ able to lay down his life, and to take it up again,” he was also able to take it or lay it down in what circumstances he pleased. If he then was born in a stable, and laid in a manger, it was not through any necessity imposed upon him, but because he willed it. But a voluntary humiliation, instead of diminishing true greatness, always elevates it still higher.
2. The nature of his ministry and the intent of his incarnation, show the propriety of his humble and lowly birth. He did not come into the world to dazzle men with the brightness of his glory, or to affright them by the terror of his power; much less to display to them the dignities and splendours of the world. He came to tear from our hearts that inordinate attachment to earth and its enjoyments, which has caused the eternal perdition of so many souls,
He came to preach to us painful and mortifying duties, self-denial, a superiority to the world, a holy elevation above the joys and sorrows of this transient state. But would not these instructions have lost much of their efficacy if he had not confirmed them by his example ? If he had been surrounded by all the dignities and pleasures of the world; if he had not marched before us through all the miseries of life, and conquered all the obstacles that could be opposed to the performance of our duties; would not men, always ingenious to deceive themselves, have declared that his precepts, though apparently proper, were impossible to be practised? But now he illustrates all that he commands. He declares, “ Blessed are the poor,” and he “has not where to lay his head.” He preaches humility of heart ; that humility so difficult to be acquired by man, that neither the infirmities and mortality of our bodies, nor the sins and weaknesses of our soul, nor the strokes inflicted upon us by the rod of the Almighty, can form without difficulty in man. He preaches this humility; but bids us learn it of him, who is the only one who has ever existed on the earth that might reasonably be exempt from this disposition of soul. “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.” He preaches to us outward humility, voluntary self-abasement. In the manger, as in a thousand other instances, he has practised it himself. He forbids us to fix our hearts on honours, pleasures, riches; he first renounced them himself. He has crucified the world, when in his holy instructions he has displayed its vanity, and shown that the love of it was incompatible with the love of God: he has crucified it more effectually, by his actions and example, from his birth in the sordid manger, to his
death upon the ignominious cross. He commands us to forgive injuries, to love our enemies, to "overcome evil with good." That he might afford us a model, he suffered the injustice, the persecutions, and the contempt of men. Did not, then, the deep humiliation of Jesus correspond with the intent of his incarnation, and manifest at once his mercy and his wisdom?
Another remark on this part of your Saviour's history. Learn from Jesus in the manger, the difference between true and false greatness. To the eye of flesh, how superior was Augustus, seated on the imperial throne, surrounded by the splendour of royalty and the pomp of power, causing, by his edict, all Judea to come and declare their subjection to him; to the son of Mary, who, in consequence of this edict, is born in a stable at Bethlehem! Whilst the world resounded with the name of Augustus, whilst poets and orators celebrated his praises, and kings and people trembled at his power, the infant Jesus was viewed with indifference or contempt. Yet this despised infant is "he in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blest;" he who brings to light life and immortality;" gives happiness to his children on earth, and enables them to triumph over the tomb. He is born to rule; he will subdue the kings in his anger, and "of his dominion there shall be no end.” Before his sovereign glory and authority, all earthly pomp and power shall vanish as a shadow and a dream. Ah! what has now become of the dignity of Augustus? His throne has long since crumbled to ruins, his sceptre has been broken, his crown has lost its lustre. On his mouldering body corruption has long since preyed. His soul has stood at that tribunal where princes and slaves are equal, and has seen