"Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass." — Luke 2:15
This was the language of the shepherds. And it was not a vain curiosity that led them. While keeping their flocks by night, the angel of the Lord appeared to them, and said, "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." This they considered, as it really was, an order to repair thither, to ascertain and report the fact. And they would have set off instantly. 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. We know not how long this melody continued. Yet who can wonder at their staying till it was over? But no sooner were the angels gone away into heaven, than "the shepherds said one to another. Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass." Let us accompany them, and contemplate a scene which will induce us to exclaim, with Moses, on a very marvellous, but very inferior occasion, "Ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?"
In this thing which is come to pass, we behold a very striking display of divine truth. 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 seemed to hang in suspense! A year, a hundred years, a thousand years, another thousand, and another, and another rolled away 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 Caesar 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. All these events seemed loosely connected, but they were links making an adamantine chain. The truth of God was the pivot on which all turned, the centre in which all united, the end to which all referred. Let us see here, not only how willing, but how able he is to accomplish his word, and be strong in faith, giving glory to God. Let no apparent delay, no opposing difficulties, no interfering interests, affect our minds. His purpose is secretly, yet uncontrollably, moving on, and the most unlikely instruments are contributing to its execution. How much depends on our confidence in the truth of God.
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. Whose birth could have been more obscure and degrading? What welcome was given him? What preparation was made for him? "The world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not." A poor young female was his mother; a stable his chamber; a manger his cradle, because there was no room at the inn. But whose birth was ever so glorious? Ye gods of the earth, bring forth your first-born; but no new star sparkles over where the young child is. No wise men come miraculously from the East to worship him. No angel comes down. No heavenly choir sing his birth. No command is given. Let all the angels of God worship him. No spirit of prophecy breathes inspiration. No Simeon waits for him as the Consolation of Israel. No Anna speaks of him to all those who look for redemption.
We see also a prodigy of benevolence. Every thing says, Behold a love that passeth knowledge! His former condition — he was rich, and became poor. His independence and choice — he was not constrained to enter such a state. Lo, I come, says he; he gave his life a ransom for us. The principle that moved him — it was not our desert, but his own mercy. He came into the world to save sinners; he died for the ungodly; in his love and pity he redeemed us. His not waiting for our application, arising from a sense of our need of him; His engaging, in foresight of all the degree and extent of his sufferings; His going through the whole, without repenting of the expensive undertaking; His accomplishing it with delight.
Here, also, we see an example for our imitation. Did he thus despise worldly distinctions, and shall we admire them? Shall we seek great things for ourselves? place such a Christian by the side of the manger. Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. Shall we find it difficult to condescend to men of low estate, and to exercise self-denial in doing good? "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." Did he not only stoop so low, but suffer so much for us; and shall we not be willing to endure any privations, and incur any sacrifices, for our brethren? "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour."
Great as this thing is which has come to pass, there are many who will refuse to take a step to see it. Even at the very festival, which is the commemoration of it, they 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. Some, while they observe the day by a freedom from labour, not only neglect, but insult the subject of it; and, by intemperance and riot, revive the works of the Devil, which the Son of God was manifested to destroy.
But 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 say, "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 the most 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."
And let our zeal and gratitude be equal to our joy. And let us follow the shepherds not only in our going, but in our return. "And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning the child." "And they returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen."
Morning Exercises For Everyday In The Year
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