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NATIVITY OF CHRIST, OR CHRISTMAS.
"FOR the antiquity of this day, many testimonies might be brought out of the ancients; but, because I intend brevity, I shall be content with two beyond exception. St. Augustine Ep. 119. witnesses, that it was the custom of holy Church to keep this day; and upon the five and twentieth of December. In Psalm cxxxii. St. Chrysostome makes a sermon to prove, that the keeping of Christmas-day was ancient, even from the first times; and that the Church kept the true day. In the same sermon he says, It is a godly thing to keep this day. Nay, further, that the keeping of this day was one of the greatest signs of our love to Christ. Amongst other arguments which he uses there to persuade his hearers to keep this day, he brings this, that the custom of keeping this day was religious, and of God, or else it could never have been so easily spread over the whole world, in spite of so much opposition. Orat. in Natal. Dom. Tom. v. Edit. Savil1."
"The anniversary solemnity cannot be denied to be as old as up to Gregory Nazianzen's time. He,
' Bishop Sparrow's Rationale on the Common Prayer, p. 77.
and his great intimate, St. Basil, having each an excellent homily upon it. This celebrity is called God's appearance, says one; saith the other, we name this our festival, the Theophany. Nor is there in either homily, one syllable inferring the usage, or institution of that day, to have commenced then, wherefore we may presume it was existent long before 1."
I.-The Nativity of Christ.
"WHEN the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son"." We cannot have meditated truly on the preparation which was making for the greatest change which had ever taken place on the moral theatre of the world, if we perceive not the intrinsic value of the person to be introduced. Many great men have unexpectedly appeared at various periods, who, from unusual energy of mind or body, have occasioned great civil and political changes in their respective countries and stations. This age has not been without its instances. But, great as these changes may have been, they passed speedily away. Others may succeed; but none are permanent. New changes possibly form new habits: but do they form new men? We must look elsewhere for such a conformation. And such a change we have had, indeed such a change
1 L'Estrange's Alliance of Divine Offices, p. 135.
2 Gal. iv. 4.
we now have in the blessed object of adoration on this day of Christ's nativity.
A very partial and even prejudiced observer, is compelled to acknowledge that an important and visible change in the constitution of the world, took place as on this day of Christ's nativity; the consequences of which will remain to the end of the world. Even the
false apostles of later days, the instructers of new religions, wherever they may be found, are proofs of the existence of one pure fountain from whence their polluted streams have flowed; and when those streams shall be cleared from their defilements, which will be accomplished by an ethereal grace, all will flow together into the sanctuary of the Lord.
"When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son." A short selection of passages from the more remote and obscure prophecies to the recent and explicit, will at once illustrate the point of time alluded to by the apostle. "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head."-" In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed "."-" Of the fruit of thy body (David's) will I set upon thy throne." “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emanuel 4.”. "Behold! thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus 5." He shall be great,
1 Gen. iii. 15.
2 'Ibid. xii. 3.
3 Ps. cxxxii. 3.
5 Matt. i. 23.
4 Isaiah vii. 14.
and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of his father David'."-" From henceforth," said Mary the virgin, "shall all generations call me blessed "."
This day of our Lord's nativity presents to us a yearly representation of this fulness of time. It reminds us of another day distinguished in the annals of sacred history, when the children of Israel were delivered from the captivity of Egypt; and may also call attention to ourselves when delivered from the bondage of sin: "this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and you shall keep it a feast unto the Lord throughout your generations; you shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever 3." Previous to this day, the Messiah appeared only in figure, in shadow, and prophecy, but on this day of his revelation to Israel, and through Israel to the world at large, the shadow fled, and prophecy was accomplished. Then, indeed, time was at the full. God sent forth his Son: he went forth from himself, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. The passage illustrates the whole scheme of man's redemption through Christ, from the pressure of the law of Moses, from the pains and penalties of sin and death, from natural depravity, to an assumption, by the Saviour, into the inestimable
1 Luke i. 31, 32.
3 Exod. xii. 14.
2 Ibid. v. 48.
blessing of adoption: " and because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father!" The connexion now is as full as the time" Christ taking our flesh, we rejoicing in his Spirit-he, by us, partaking of our nature-we, by him, partaking of the divine nature, both sealing our duty to him 1!”
A contemplation of the sacred books, revealing and recording every circumstance relative to him who is the light of the world, is wonderful in every view. They are satisfactory evidences of what God has done for the soul of man; clear as a plan of salvation, consoling to penitent sinners, encouraging to those who are the happy recipients of so inestimable a blessing. When these consequences are fairly understood and appreciated, the prophetic notice of our Lord's coming, the supernatural circumstances of his birth, the vision of angels to the shepherds, the harmony of the celestial hymn, the painful journey of the wise men of Persia, the presentation of a valuable symbolic offering to an obscure infant in the manger of an obscure inn; and at a later period of the infant's life, the extraordinary appearance and preaching of his avowed forerunner, St. John; and more, the splendid and miraculous. revelation of the Holy Spirit at his baptism;-will be thought far from unseasonable preludes to our hymns of praise and thanksgivings to him, who thus
1 Bp. Andrews, Serm. IV.