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3. At the birth of which child, there was an universal peace through all the world. For then it was, that Augustus Cæsar', having composed all the wars of the world, did, the third time, cause the gates of Janus's temple to be shut; and this peace continued for twelve years, even till the extreme old age of the prince, until rust had sealed the temple doors, which opened not till the sedition of the Athenians, and the rebellion of the Dacians, caused Augustus to arm. For he that was born, was the Prince of Peace, and came to reconcile God with man, and man with his brother; and to make, by the sweetness of his example, and the influence of a holy doctrine, such happy atonements between disagreeing natures, such confederations and societies between enemies, that “the wolf and the lamb should lie down together, and a little child;” boldly, and without danger, “ put his finger in the nest and cavern of an aspe.” And it could be no less than miraculous, that so great a body as the Roman empire, consisting of so many parts, whose constitutions were differing, their humours contrary, their interests contradicting each other's greatness, and all these violently oppressed by an usurping power, should have no limb out of joint, not so much as an aching tooth, or a rebelling humour, in that huge collection of parts ; but so it seemed good in the eye of Heaven, by so great and good a symbol, to declare not only the greatness, but the goodness, of the Prince, that was then born in Judæa, the Lord of all the world.
4. But because the heavens, as well as the earth, are his creatures, and do serve him, at his birth he received a sign in heaven above, as well as in the earth beneath, as an homage paid to their common Lord. For as certain shepherds were “ keeping watch over their flocks by night,” near that part where Jacob did use to feed his cattle, when he was in the land of Canaan, “ the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” Needs must the shepherds be afraid, when an angel came arrayed in glory, and clothed their persons in a robe of light, great enough to confound their senses and scatter their understandings. But “ the angel said unto them, Fear not; for I bring unto you 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.” The shepherds needed not be invited to go see this glorious sight; but, lest their fancy should rise up to an expectation of a prince as externally glorious, as might be hoped for upon the consequence of so glorious an apparition, the angel, to prevent the mistake, told them of a sign, which, indeed, was no other than the thing signified ; but yet was therefore a sign, because it was so remote from the common probability and expectation of such a birth, that, by being a miracle, so great a prince should be born so poorly, it became an instrument to signify itself, and all the other parts of mysterious consequence. For the angel said, “ This shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapt in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.”
e Isa. xi. 6.
5. But as light, when it first begins to gild the east, scatters indeed, the darknesses from the earth, but ceases not to increase its flame, till it hath made perfect day; so it happened now, in this apparition of the angel of light : he appeared and told his message, and did shine, but the light arose higher and higher, till midnight was as bright as midday. For “ suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host;" and after the angel had told his message in plain song, the whole chorus joined in descant, and sang an hymn to the tune and sense of Heaven, where glory is paid to God in eternal and never-ceasing offices, and whence good will descends upon men in perpetual and neverstopping torrents. Their song was, “ Glory be to God on high, on earth peace, good will towards men :" by this song not only referring to the strange peacef, which at that time put all the world in ease; but to the great peace, which this new-born Prince should make between his Father and all mankind. 6. As soon as these blessed choristers had
their Christmas carol, and taught the church a hymn to put into her offices for ever in the anniversary of this festivity, “the angels returned into heaven,” and “the shepherds went to Bethlehem, to see this thing, which the Lord had made known unto them. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” Just as the angel had prepared their expectation, they found the narrative verified, and saw the glory and the mystery of it by that representment, which was made by the heavenly ministers, seeing God through the veil of a child's flesh, the heir of Heaven wrapt in swaddling-clothes, and a person, to whom the angels did minister, laid in a manger; and they beheld, and wondered, and worshipped.
Igitur eo tempore, i. e. eo anno, quo firmissimam verissimamque pacem ordinatione Dei Cæsar composuit, natus est Christus ; cujus adventui pax ista famulata est : iu cujus ortu audientibus homivibus exsultantes angeli cecinerunt, “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terrà pax," &c.-P. Orosius.
7. But as precious liquor, warmed and heightened by a flame, first crowns the vessel, and then dances over its brim into the fire, increasing the cause of its own motion and extravagancy; so it happened to the shepherds, whose hearts being filled with the oil of gladness up unto the brim, the joy ran over, as being too big to be confined in their own breasts, and did communicate itself, growing greater by such dissemination. For “when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying, which was told them concerning this child. And,” as well they might, “ all that heard it, wondered.” But Mary, having first changed her joy into wonder, turned her wonder into entertainments of the mystery, and the mystery into a fruition and cohabitation with it: For “ Mary kept all these sayings, and pondered them in her heart.” And the shepherds having seen what the angels did upon
the publication of the news, which less concerned them than us, had learnt their duty, to sing an honour to God for the nativity of Christ : for “ the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things, that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
8. But the angels had told the shepherds, that the nativity was “glad tidings of great joy unto all people ;” and, that “ the heavens might declare the glory of God, and the firmament show his handy work;" this also was told abroad, even to the Gentiles, by a sign from heaven, by the message of a star. For 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
& Num. xxiv, 17.
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 Judæa at such time, when a miraculous and extraordinary star should appear. And therefore, “ when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa, 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.” The Greeks suppose this, which was called a star, to have been indeed an angel in a pillar of fire, and the semblance of a star; and it is made the more likely, by coming and standing directly over the humble roof of his nativity, which is not discernible in the station of a star, though it be supposed to be lower than the orb of the moon. To which, if we add, that they only saw it, (so far as we know,) and that it appeared, as it were, by voluntary periods, it will not be very improbable, but that it might be like the angel, that went before the sons of Israel in a pillar of fire by night; or rather, like the little shining stars sitting upon the bodies of Probus, Tharacus, and Andronicus, martyrs, when their bodies were searched for, in the days of Dioclesian, and pointed at by those bright angels.
9. This star did not trouble Herod, till the Levantine princes expounded the mysteriousness of it, and said it declared a “ king to be born in Jewry,” and that the star was his, not applicable to any signification but of a king's birth. And therefore, although it was no prodigy nor comet', foretelling diseases, plagues, war, and death, but only the happy birth of a most excellent prince; yet it brought affrightment to Herod and all Jerusalem : for “ when Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” And thinking that the question of the kingdom was now in dispute, and an heir sent from heaven to lay challenge to it, who brought a star and the learning of the East with him, for evidence and probation of his title, Herod thought there was no security to his usurped possession, unless he could rescind the decrees of Heaven, and reverse the results and eternal counsels of predestination. And he was resolved to venture it, first by craft, and then by violence.
h Epiphan. in Expos. Fid. Cath. c. 8. i Et terris mutantem regua cometem.-Chalcidius in Timæum Platonis.
: 10. And first, “ he calls the chief priests and scribes of the people together, and demanded of them, where Christ should be born;" and found, by their joint determination, that Bethlehem of Judæa was the place, designed by ancient prophecy and God's decree. Next, he inquired of the wise men concerning the star, but privily, what time it appeared. For the star had not motion certain and regular", by the laws of nature ; but it so guided the wise men in their journey, that it stood when they stood, moved not when they rested, and went forward when they were able, making 110 more haste than they did, who carried' much of the business and employment of the star along with them. But when Herod was satisfied in his questions,
“ he sent them to Bethlehem," with instructions “ to search diligently for the young child, and to bring him word,” pretending that he would " come and worship him also."
11. The wise men prosecuted the business of their journey, and “ having heard the king, they departed ; and the star,” (which, as it seems, attended their motion,) " went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was;" where “ when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Such a joy as is usual to wearied travellers, when they are entering into their inn; such a joy as when our hopes and greatest longings are laying hold upon the proper objects of their desires, a joy of certainty immediately before the possession : for that is the greatest joy, which possesses before it is satisfied, and rejoices with a joy not abated by the surfeits of possession, but heightened with all the apprehensions and fancies of hope, and the neighbourhood of fruition; a joy of nature, of wonder, and of religion. And now their hearts laboured with a throng of spirits and passions, and ran into the house, to the
k Lco Serm. 4. de Epiplan.