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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.-Luke ii. 4-20.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews ? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.—Matt. ii. 1, 2. 11.
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE SACRED NARRATIVE. O Marvellous mystery! O inexplicable conjunction ! O mercy most adorable ; ever to be admired; ever to be loved! We were not worthy to be called thy servants; and thou hast made us sons—sons of God! not only sons, but heirs too,-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Rom. viii. 17. Whence is that mighty favour ? Send down thy grace and Spirit, and let this qualify us to receive the fulness of thy mercy. Help us to understand, and to consider with reverence, to contemplate, and with all diligence to walk worthy of this mystery of godliness, - this Son of God manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. -1 Tim. iii. 16.
The birth of the Lord was attended with circumstances of external indigence and meanness : but it was also marked with a dignity and majesty, far surpassing all the pomp of kings, and the splendour of palaces and retinues ; and suited to pour contempt on all human grandeur. It was proper that so important an event should be announced with peculiar solemnity, and angels were the heralds of the new-born Saviour : but they were not sent to the rulers of the nation, or to the Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees : on the contrary, some poor, humble, industrious shepherds were favoured with the first tidings of Emmanuel's birth. These were spending the night, or part of it, in the field, keeping watch over their flocks, to defend them from robbers and beasts of prey ; and probably there was a number of them who watched by turns. While they were thus employed, a holy angel suddenly appeared, and the “ glory of the Lord,” even of his manifested presence, surrounded them. This threw them into great consternation ; but the angel encouraged them not to fear, for he was come to bring them good tidings, which should be the source of great and lasting joy to them and “ to all people;" For to them, as men, as sinners, and as believers, was born on that day, at Bethlehem, a Saviour from wrath, Satan, sin, and death, who was indeed the promised and expected Messiah, Israel's anointed Prophet, Priest, and King ; nay, “ the Lord of glory,” the Lord of all,” “ the Lord from Heaven,” God manifest in the flesh.” This great and invaluable blessing to mankind, this glorious new-born Prince and Saviour, they might find “ wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger :” and they might surely know him by this sign; for probably no other babe could be found at Bethlehem in so mean a situation. No sooner had the angel finished this address to the poor shepherds, than he was visibly joined by “ a multitude of the heavenly host," or of the angelic armies; who, being filled with inexpressible admiration of the love of God, and the display of all his glorious perfections, in this surprising transaction, audibly celebrated his praises with triumphant acclamations, saying “Glory to God in the highest,” &c. implying that this was the grand display of the Divine Glory.
When the angels had rendered their joyful adoration of God, and benevolent congratulations to men, on this most happy occasion, the vision disappeared : and the shepherds, conferring together on the wonders which they had witnessed, determined to go immediately to Bethlehem ; where they were soon enabled to find Mary, Joseph, and the new-born Saviour, exactly in the situation which had been described. Having witnessed this instructive scene, they publicly reported the whole transaction, and the assurance given them that this child was “ the Saviour,” even “ Christ the Lord.” This excited the astonishment of all who heard it ; but most of them seem to have speedily forgotten it. Mary, however, carefully observed, and meditated on all these wonderful incidents, which were so suited to enlarge her expectations, and enliven her holy affections : and the shepherds returned to their humble employment, with joyful, thankful hearts, glorifying God.
Rev. T. Scott.
That the visitation might be answerable to the homeliness of the place, attendants, provision, who shall come to congratulate his birth, but poor shepherds. The kings of the earth rest at home, and have no summons to attend him by whom they reign. God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. In an obscure time (the night), unto obscure men (shepherds), doth God manifest the light of his Son by glorious angels.
If these shepherds had been snoring in their beds, they had no more seen angels, nor heard news of their Saviour, than their neighbours : their vigilancy is honoured with this heavenly vision. Those, which are industrious in any calling, are capable of further blessings ; whereas the idle are fit for nothing but temptation.
No less than a whole choir of angels are worthy to sing the hymn of glory to God, for the Incarnation of his Son : what joy is enough for us, whose nature he took, and whom he came to restore by his Incarnation ? If we had the tongues of angels, we could not raise this note high enough, to the praise of our glorious Redeemer.
No sooner do the shepherds hear the news of a Saviour, than they run to Bethlehem to seek him. Those, that left their beds to tend their flocks, leave their flocks to inquire after their Saviour. No earthly thing is too dear to be forsaken for Christ. If we suffer any worldly occasion to stay us from Bethlehem, we care more for our sheep than our souls. It is not possible that a faithful heart should hear where Christ is, and not labour to see the sight, to the fruition of him. Where art thou, O Saviour, but in thine own house, in the assembly of thy saints ? Bishop Hall.
Angels are all ministering spirits : and, if they attend the heirs of salvation, how much more the Author of it! If they wait on the servants, how much more on the Son, who is Lord of all! When he bringeth his first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. He was seen of angels.
We have much reason to conclude that these shepherds were among the number of those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem. While many of their countrymen, in ceiled houses, were seeking their consolation in the world, they, like Simeon, were waiting for the consolation of Israel. Perhaps at this very moment, they were silently musing, or perhaps conversing with each other, (for they were obviously together,) « when the kingdom of God should come ;” and sighing out the words of David, “ O that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be
glad.” When, “ Lo! the angel of the Lord came upon them! and the glory of the Lord shone round about them !”
And this angel, by his example, teaches us, however much we may be placed above them, not to overlook the poor, nor refuse to visit them, especially God's poor ; for they are rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to them that love him.
Instructed by the heavenly herald, the shepherds would have set off instantly in order to ascertain, and to report the fact announced by the angel of the Lord. But there suddenly descended a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, “ Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will toward men.”
The coming of the Messiah was called, “ The truth of God.” Many things evince the Divine veracity; but this was the main pledge. It was the chief promise ever given to man.
It was also the earliest assurance ; it was given as early as the Fall. And what a length of time the assurance to hang in suspense; a year,
-a hundred years, -a thousand years. other thousand and another, before the seed of the woman appeared ! Hath He forgotten to be gracious ? Doth his promise fail for evermore ? But at the end of four thousand years, it was proclaimed, “ His councils of old are faithfulness and truth.” How many, also, were what we may call the minute parts of the promise. It was foretold that he should descend from a particular nation — the nation of the Jews: a particular tribe — the tribe of Judah: a particular family—the family of David: a particular mother—a virgin. On how many things does the veracity of God now depend, the failure of any one of which would prove him a liar. The place of his residence was foretold; it was Bethlehem. The prophecy had been recorded for ages, and was acknowledged at the time of his birth. But how many things were necessary to this, and how accidental seemed the fulfilment! For Joseph and Mary were residing at Nazareth. And had not Judea been under the Roman dominion, and had not Cæsar Augustus proudly wished to know the number and wealth of his subjects, and had Mary been delivered a few days sooner or later, he would have been born elsewhere, and the word of God would have been of none effect. All these occurrences appear casual, and they were so to the parties themselves, but not to God; he knows all his works from the beginning.
We see in the thing which has come to pass a wonderful combination. A combination of natures — I admit his humanity ; and why should I question his Divinity ? I find many things ascribed to him, which cannot belong to him as God; and I find others ascribed to him, which cannot pertain to him as man: and here is the solution of the difficulty,“ God was manifest in the flesh.” A combination of grandeur and abasement !
Even at the very festival, which is the commemoration of it, men will be found any where rather than at Bethlehem. They will be attracted to every thing, rather than to that sight, which the Shepherds left their flocks, and made haste to see, which the Eastern sages came such a vast distance to behold, and which drew all heaven down to earth. Let us call off our
attention from the little, debasing, vexing, defiling things of the world, and repair to the Infant of Bethlehem, the desire of all nations. Let us give him the glory which is due unto his Holy Name; and
66 Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." Let us behold in him provision made for our recovery, the most suitable to our wants, and adequate to our relief, and placed entirely within our reach. Let us embrace him, and exclaim, “ Lo! this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us : this is the Lord ; we have waited for him ; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Rev. W. Jay.
There was a prophecy of Balaam famous in all the Eastern country, and recorded by Moses, “ There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall arise out of Israel: out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion.” Which although in its first sense it signified David, who was the conqueror of the Moabites; yet, in its more mysterious and chiefly intended sense, it related to the Son of David.
And in expectation of the event of this prophecy, the Arabians, the sons of Abraham by Keturah, whose portion, given by their patriarch, was gold, frankincense, and myrrh, who were great lovers of astronomy, did with diligence expect the revelation of a mighty prince in Judea, at such a time when a miraculous and extraordinary star should appear : and therefore, “ when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, there came wise men,” inspired by God, taught by art, and persuaded by prophecy, “ from the East to Jerusalem, saying, where is he that is born King of the Jews ? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him.”
God, who is the universal Father of all men, at the nativity of the Messiah, gave notice of it to all the world, as they were represented by the grand division of Jews and Gentiles : to the Jewish shepherds by an angel ; to the Eastern Magi by a star.
These Magi presented to the holy babe gold, frankincense, and myrrh, protesting their faith of three articles, by the symbolical oblation: by gold, that he was a King; by incense, that he was a God; by myrrh, that he was
And thus, in one view and two instances, God hath drawn all the world to himself by his son Jesus, in the instance of the shepherds and the Arabian Magi, Jews and Gentiles, learned and unlearned, rich and poor, noble and ignoble; that in him, all nations, and all conditions, and all families, and all persons, might be blessed; having called all by one star or other, by natural reason or by the secrets of philosophy, by the revelations of the Gospel or by the ministry of angels, by the illuminations of the Spirit, or by the sermons and dictates of spiritual fathers; and hath consigned this lesson to us, that we must never appear before the Lord empty,” but if we cannot bring gold with the rich Arabians, we may with the poor shepherds come and “ kiss the Son lest he be angry;" and in all cases come and “ serve him with fear and reverence," and spiritual rejoicings.
BISHOP JEREMY TAYLOR.