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For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared. — Titus 2 : ii.
HE seasons in their round have brought us once more to our annual Christmas celebration. It is a glad festival, welU comed by all. It comes in the darkest part of the year, when the days are shortest, nature deadest, and the season roughest; but it comes to create for us a garden of delight amid the drear and bleakness. It comes to cheer our homes, brighten friendships, transfigure childhood with angelic mirth, and make the old feel young again. It kindles new life and stir in the world, and fills our sanctuaries with grateful Halleluias.
What, then, is the real meaning of Christmas? On what is its gladness founded ? We read the answer in the text: " The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared.^''
We stand by a manger in Bethlehem. In that manger lies a newborn babe, helpless, wrapped
in swaddling clothes, and needing the service of friendly hands. But what is there remarkable or strange in that ? Let us see. From heaven
CHRISTMAS. 5 I
comes word that this is no ordinary child. Born in time, He is yet said to be from old, from everlasting. Sacred messengers proclaim Him "the Son of the Highest." And the Eternal Father, bringing His first-begotten into the world, saith, " Let all the angels of God worship Him."
We look, and listen, and hear, and wonder. Indeed, we are in the presence of the greatest miracle of time. Here is Deity in lowly infancy. Here is Divinity with our human nature taken into personal unity with himself. Here is one, "who, being in the form of God, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with God, laid aside the show of Deity, took the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. ' ' Here is divine
immensity in a little human body; omnipotence in infant weakness; the adored of angels in the condition of a weeping child; the Lord of glory born of a woman, and lodged in a cattle-cave! O the mystery, the impenetrable myster}' of the Incarnation! Verily "Great is the mystery of Godliness, God manifest in the flesh." Our eyes are dazzled and blinded as we attempt to look into it. But the wonderful fact is there, and nothing can overthrow it. All history attests it. Our glorious Christianity sinks into empty flatness without it. Unbelief may scoff, and seek to explain away the miracle; but, with all that has been said, or can be said, the only consistent solution is that which the orthodox Church holds and confesses. That Babe is very God incarnate.
What if it does transcend all scientific explana-
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tion ? What if the depths of it are too great for human intelligence to fathom ? It is the same in other things. What in all the universe do we
understand? And "a religion without its mysteries is like a temple without its God." We can know the fact, and that is enough to explain everything a hundredfold better than any skeptical theorizing man has ever broached.
And why doubt or reject it because we cannot explain it? If we are not to believe or act on anything until we perfectly understand it, we must unmake ourselves, and life becomes an impossibility. But, God be praised, it is not necessary for us to understand either the biology, the physiology, or the metaphysics of our Saviour's Incarnation. Joseph and Mary did not understand it. The shepherds who heard the angels sing over it did not understand it. The wise men who read the story of it in the stars did not understand it. But that did not hinder their believing and grateful joy in it. We believe a thousand other things that we cannot understand. Millions believe and know the worth and warmth of the sunlight, who are utterly at a loss to comprehend or explain it. The mystery of it is no barrier to their joy in it. And whether we understand or not hoiv the eternal Son of God could become one with humanity in the condition of a babe, the wonderful fact
stands revealed, and that is sufficient. Christian faith grasps it and rejoices in it; for therein it finds the grace of God that bringeth salvation.
This grace was once a mere promise, — only a
word, — which the ancient Church received, believed, and was jubilant in hope of Him who was to come. Christmas Day changed that grace of word and promise into the grace of living fulfilment, — and shows it outwardly embodied in human flesh and blood. The promise has culminated in a birth. Divine provision to save a fallen world hath '''' appear edy We see it in this manger at Bethlehem. We find it written, and we now behold it horn^ — born to grow, and mature, and act, till sin is cancelled, and the Kingdom of Heaven opened to all believers. Here is grace that has stirred the hearts and songs of angels, — even Divinity personally conjoined with humanity, and man's nature made one with the divine, to redeem us from the curse and con-
demnation of sin.
Is it asked whether this was necessary? Judging from what the Scriptures say and the nature of the case, the answer must be Yes; it was necessary. The Redeemer had to be a man to fulfill the law in the nature that sinned, and to be able to sympathize with those whom He came to redeem. But He had to be more than a man in order to satisfy the law and meet its penalty so as to avail for others. Nay, He had to be divine to have power to lay down His life, and then to take it again. And as God cannot suffer, nor man meet all the violated law's demands, so the divine had to take our nature, and through personal oneness with the human to bring redemption. Hence the Son of God, the very outbeaming of the
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Father's glory, to purge our sius, took not on Him the nature of angels, but took on Him the seed of Abraham, sharing with us our common humanity, sin only excepted. Yes, it behooved
Him in all things to be made like unto Kis brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, make reconciliation for the sins of the people, destroy him who had the power of death, and deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. And this wonderful, indispensable, and unsearchable union of Deity in humanity, inseparable for ever in the Person of our adorable Lord and Saviour, is what this day brings before us in that manger-cradled Child.
This, then, is what Christmas means. And now, how should we be influenced and affected by it? How keep and celebrate it? How mark the anniversary of the appearance of that astounding erace of God that bringeth salvation ?
Let us not heathenize it with the absurd fiction of "Santa Clans." That is a trick of Satan to betray Christians into idolatry. Children will soon find out the cheat, and so learn from parental example to lie and deceive. And why put the lono- dead St. Nicholas in the place of the everliving Christ-child — the Christ-kindlcin of our pious Saxon fathers, — the Christ-child, to whom
Christmas owes its existence, and from whom come all Christmas gifts and joys, as every other good that is in the world. Make the young ones happy with your joyous surprises; but let them
know it is all from the blessed Christ, and not from a mythic saint, or a fictitious and preposterous thing that does not, and never did, exist.
Christmas, as its name expresses, is a Christian festival, and should be pervaded with the Christian spirit. It calls for joy indeed, but not for heathenish fantastics and lies. Let homes and friends be merry. Let there be light and cheer for every one. Good-willing is the spirit of the occasion. Let gifts and blessings flow in streams to gladden life and refresh and lift the soul. Let music swell, at least the music of the heart. Let every dwelling put on a goodliness to image a new Eden. All this is due and fitting. But let it not be forgotten that it is the birthday of the Christ, who is the spring and reason of it all.
There is much merriment and rejoicing at Christmas time without thought or care for Him whose Nativity it commemorates. It is with many as with the crowd following a procession. They move with it; they are excited over it; they wildly cheer as it passes; but they are no part of it. The meaning of the thing they do not realize nor consider. In the true joy of it they have no share. They sing, and shout, and are boisterous and liberal enough in their rejoicing. They are even more gay, and loud in their merry-making than those who are deepest in it. Like Saul when he heard the singing of the prophets, they sing and dance most violently of all, but without the genuine inspiration. There is no rio-ht Christmas where there is no reference
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to the babe of Betlileheui, no appreciation of the grace of God in sending us so great and wonderful a Saviour, no heart-gratitude for the coming of the Christ.
There is in Bethlehem an old church edifice which roofs over the grotto in which it is believed Jesus was born. A large silver star lies on the spot, and over it hang golden lamps, kej^t always burning. These tell of The Bright and Morning Star and the never-dying golden light that issued from that dark place. Deeply impressive is the scene. I have seen even rough men drop upon their knees before it to give glory to God for what there came into the world. And to that spot our Christmas brings us to-day. Where the Shepherds knelt in lowly adoration around that babe, there in spirit we would kneel, and for like purpose. Cherishing in our hearts the sweet picture of that sweetest, purest, holiest, divinest Child that ever appeared on earth, we know what has come of Him; what grace of God came with Him; what a work He has done for perishing humanity; what a Kingdom of salvation He has set up; what glor}' and dominion He hath with the Father; what loving sympathy He feels for those who believe on Him; what a blessed heaven He is providing for us after we are done with this world ; how He condescends to hear our prayers, and feed and nourish us by His word and sacra-
ments; and we would forfeit all claims to reason and righteous sensibility, not to rejoice in reverent thankfulness for His Nativity.
A precious Sacrament He has also left us by which to remember Him. In this He proposes to have us commune with Him in His glory, and to seal unto us all the fruits of His merciful achievements. To this, then, let us come with glad and joyous attestation of our faith in Him, as the acme and crown of our Christmas Festival, and as our highest earthly converse with Him who was born at Bethlehem, crucified on Calvary, and is alive for ever to fill the world with His glory.
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