A CHRISTMAS SERMO O ST.

LUKE
BY REV. ADAM EMPIE, D.D.,
St. Luke ii,, 1 to 15.
We have assembled, my brethren, to commemorate the
anniversary of the most illustrious and most momentous day
that ever dawned upon the earth — the day of our Savior's
birth. The minister of the Gospel may well feel himself
wholly inadequate to the occasion. For his powers are not
commensurate with the subject which the Church this day
proposes for our special contemplation. His zeal cannot
kindle, in him, such a holy enthusiasm as the great event
we celebrate ought to inspire. Even the pen of inspiration
might tremble, for language cannot describe what imagina-
tion cannot conceive. ay, the hallelujah's of angels are
languid and inadequate. What, then, can I say ? Where,
or how shall I begin ? For we commemorate not the birth
of a nation, but of a world ; not preservation from temporal
slavery, but redemption from eternal death. We commemo-
rate not the birth of a mortal, but of the Son of God ; not
the transient victories of a blood-stained warrior, but the
immortal and matchless triumphs of the " Prince of Peace."
Who, then, is equal to these things ? Great God ! Ave look
to thee for the assistance of thy Holy Spirit. Kindle our
hearts, inspire our tongues, and direct our meditations.
There has just been read in your hearing, my brethren, a
portion of Scripture, which informs us of the birth of our
Savior, and of the extraordinary circumstances by which it
was accompanied. That portion of Scripture, we have
* Hempstead, Long Island, 1809.
A CHRISTMAS SERMO. 89
selected for our present consideration. It begins the second
chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, and ends with the fourteenth
verse. I will read it to you again, and accompany it with
such illustrations and reflections as are suitable to the sub-
ject and the occasion.
The first verse reads thus — " And it came to pass in those
days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus,
that all the world should be taxed." By looking back to
the preceding chapter, we find that by " those days," is
meant the time when Herod was king of Judea, and Augus-
tus Caesar, Emperor of the Romans. By the " whole world,"
is meant no more than the Roman Empire. It was the cus-
tom, both among Jews and heathens, to call great empires
the ¦' whole world." Thus Daniel and Isaiah speak of
the Babylonian, the Persian, the Gi'ecian, and the Roman
governments; and thus Cyrus and Augustus speak of their
own dominions. Besides, the Roman Empire did, at that
time, extend over most of the habitable world then known ;
for America was not discovered until many centuries after-
wards.
The decree of Augustus was then, that his whole empire
should be taxed, says our translation. Instead of taxed, it
ought to have been, registered or enrolled. For this was
not a money tax, as we would naturally suppose, but merely
an enrollment of the names, ages, possessions, and conditions
of every family, and is substantially the same as our census.
" This taxing, or census (says the Evangelist), was first made
when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be
taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went
up from Galilee, out of the city of azareth, to Judea, to
the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he
was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed, with
Mary his espoused wife. And so it was that while they
were there, the days were accomplished that she should be
delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and
wrapt him in swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a manger,
because " there was no room for them in the inn."
1. A number of circumstances are here to be noticed.
What is meant by every one's " going into his own city to
be taxed V We learn from Joshua, that the tribes of
90 A CHRISTMAS SERMO.
Israel were divided into families, and the families into house-
holds. And that in case of musterings and enroUings, every
individual was enrolled under the name of the family to
which he belonged, and all the families were arranged under
the name of the tribe to which they belonged. Joseph and
Mary, therefore, belonging to the house and family of David,
were obliged to go to Bethlehem, the city of David, where
that family dwelt. In all these things, the providence of
God was manifest. It had been prophesied by Micah, that
Christ should be born in Bethlehem. But how should this
come to pass, since Joseph and Maiy lived in azareth ?
This question has just been answered. God, in his provi-
dence, unexpectedly brought Mary to Bethlehem. But it is
worthy of observation, that Augustus Caesar had, ten years
before this time, ordered his subjects to be registered; and
that if this registration had not been suspended, or pro-
longed till this time, Jesus Christ would have been born in
azareth, instead of Bethlehem, and then the prophesy of
Micah would not have been fulfilled.
2. We may in the second place infer, that as the gene-
alogy of Joseph and Mary, and of their whole family, was
preserved in the public registers of the Jews, the genealogy
of Christ was open for public inspection, and his right to
the throne and sceptre of David, might be ascertained with
certainty, by every one who would take the trouble of look-
ing into the public tables.
3. " Joseph went with Mary, his espoused Avife." Espous-
ing or betrothing, among the Jews, was a solemn promise of
marriage, made by two persons, each to the other, at such
a distance of time as they agreed upon. After such espousal
was made, (which was generally when the parties were
young,) the woman continued witli her parents some months,
if not some years, before the nuptials — -before she Avas
brought home, and her marriage consummated. It was
during this period of engagement, between the espousing and
the marriage, that the angel hailed Mary, as " blessed among
women, and highly favored of the Lord." When Joseph
went with her to Bethlehem, they were probably married.
For though, at first, he had scruples about her innocency,
yet when God himself declared to him in a vision, her in-
A CHRISTMAS SERMO. 91
tegrity, lie could not help becoming reconciled to one whom
he loved, and he was naturally led to view her as the favo-
rite of Heaven,
4. During their stay in Bethlehem, they put up at an inn,
and there being no room for them in the house, they were
obliged to lodge in the stable ; and in this humble place, the
Savior of men was ushered into the world. At first view,
this may appear, to us, very strange ; but, my brethren,
there is nothing incredible or unreasonable in this account :
if you have candor enough to consider the time and the
place, and if you will only make allowance for the different
forms and practices of different ages and nations. Their
putting up at an inn, is very natural ; for though they were
descended from the ancient inhabitants of Bethlehem, it does
not follow "that they had either near relations, or even
acquaintances there.
But you ask, who ever heard of people's lodging in a stable f
Why, my hearers, eighteen hundred years ago, that was almost
as common, in tlae East, as it was to lodge in the house ;
and, indeed, it is common to this. day. Their inns, then,
were, and still are, wretched hovels — without any otliM*
accommodation than that of shelter — and they sheltered
man and beast under the same roof. Hence it was, and still
is, customary for travellers in those countries, to take along
with them their bedding, their cooking-uteusils, and their
provisions. But, repUes the objector, it seems natural for
them to have preferred the house to the stable. Certainly;
but what could their wishes avail them if the house was
already full and crowded ? Be pleased to look back to the
cause of their journey. It was that they might be registered
and taxed in that city to which their tribe and their family
belonged. Thousands of strangers had, at this time, flocked
to Bethlehem. ot only every inn, but every private house
was, probably, filled. Is it, then, strange that some should
fee found in the stables, or Caravanseras, when we consider
that those stables were purposely fui'nished with boxes for
poor travellers, and for servants.
We have thus, my brethren, come to the grand event
which we this day celebi-ate ; and, though we have intro-
-duced you into a stable, we have led you to the cradle of
92 A CHRISTMAS SERMO,
your Redeemer. You need, therefore, not be ashamed of
your situation, Christian. You need not be ashamed of the
company of Him whom angels worship. But, we proceed :
" There were in the same country shepherds abiding in
the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night." Here
we observe, first, that the Jews divided their day and night,
at all seasons, into twelve hours or portions each. The
night they further subdivided into four watches, or portions,
consisting each of three hours, longer or shorter, according
to the seasons of the yeaf. We observe, secondly, that it
was, and still is, customary in the East, among shepherds who
have large flocks, in order to preserve them from thieves and
wild beasts, to watch over them by turns, during the differ-
ent portions of the night, in small tents erected for that pur-
pose. We observe, thirdly, that, as the promise of a Re-
deemer was first made to Abraham and David, who were
shepherds, so also was his birth first announced to shepherds.
We observe, fourthly, that, as the first coming of the Son
of Man was in the dead of night ; so shall be also his second
" coming, to judge the world." " Be ye, therefore, always
ready."
In the next, which is the 9th verse, we are informed that
the shepherds were amazed and terrified at the sudden ap-
pearance of an angel, and of an extraordinary splendor
from Heaven, that shone around and dazzled them. Under
the Old Testament Dispensation, when God vouchsafed to
show himself to his people, his presence was generally signi-
fied by light or fire. Thus He appeared to Moses, in the
burning bush. Thus He appeared to the children of Israel,
on Mount Sinai. Thus He appeared in the " pillar of fire"
that guided them through the wilderness, and in " the cloud
of glory" that hovered over the holy ark in the Temple.
At this time, (the birth of Jesus Christ,) He seems to
have " opened the heavens," and to have descended in a
flood of glory upon the earth. And, as " the morning stars
sang together," and all " the sons of God shouted for joy,"
at tlie Creation ; so now, at the Redemption, they again
nnite their voices in singing, " Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will towards men !"
Let us now attend to the messagje of the an":el. " Fear
A CHRISTMAS SERMO. 98
not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which
shall be to all people. For to you is born, this day, in the
city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord ; and this
shall be a sign unto you — (of the truth of my words — that,
on going there) — you shall find the babe wrapt in swad-
dling-clothes, lying in a manger," " Fear not." I am not
a messenger of Satan, but an angel of light. Fear not, for
behold ! — behold this glory that surrounds you. Look up to
yon heavens, and behold Jehovah himself smiling upon the
earth. See yonder resplendent star, it is the herald of the
" Prince of Peace ;" it is the forerunner of the " Sun of
Righteousness," who is rising to illumine the world. " Be-
hold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy." God himself
is well pleased. His angels are shouting Hallelujahs, and
the foundations of Satan's kingdom tremble. " Great joy to
all people" — for unto you and them is " born this day, in
the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
" Joy to the world ! the Lord is come ;
Let earth receive her King- ;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and ature sing ! "
" Tidings of great joy to all people !" The Star of Jacob
has risen upon a benighted world. The age of darkness is
ended, and the " Light of the Gentiles" has appeared.
"The desire of all nations has come." The serpent's head
will soon be bruised — the Virgin has conceived, and the
promised Isaac is born. "Tidings of great joy." Tidings
four thousand years expected. Tidings which so many
prophets have foretold, and so many ceremonies have pre-
figured. Tidings for which the righteous have so long
waited, and which all nature seems to promise, by the uni-
versal corruption with which it is overspread.
All hail, ye exiles of Paradise ! The Lord has sent from
Heaven, to publish to you the means of your restoration. All
hail, ye heirs of death and misery ! The Lord has sent from
Heaven, to inform you that you have been restored to the
privilege of immortal life and unending felicity. All hail,
ye children of corruption, ye brethren of worms, for Heaven
has espoused your cause — the Divinity is united to hu-
4*
94 A CHRISTMAS SERMO.
manity, and the bodies and souls of men are the conse-
crated and deathless trophies of the Lord of Lords. Ke-
joice, ye righteous ! your God is reconciled and reconcileable,
and Heaven shall be the reward of your well-doing. Re-
joice, sinners ! your sins may now be forgiven ; and, through
the mediation and atonement of Jesus Christ, immortal life
is freely offered to all, upon the gracious terms of the
Gospel.
" Tidings of great joy to all people." AU ai'e interested.
The blessings of redemption are co-extensive with the curse
of Adam's sin. Heaven has not sent you a partial, but, in
one sense, an universal Savior ; " for He is able to save to
the uttermost, all those who come unto the Father through
Him ;" and God's decrees exclude none from the mercies
which He offers, except those who obstinately exclvde them-
selves, by wilfully refusing to accept them.
Can you scarcely believe tidings so unexpected, so
rich, so wonderful % Repair to Bethlehem, and you shall see
them verified. You shall find this heavenly stranger in ex-
traordinary and unheard-of circumstances — born in a stable,
wrapt in swaddling-bands, and laid in a manger. o sooner
was this said, than, as it were, to satisfy the utmost incredu-
lity, this celestial strain burst upon their astonished ears,
from a multitude of the heavenly host that hovered over
them in the air, praising God and saying, " Glory to God in
the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men."
Gloiy be to God, who dwelleth in tlie highest heavens.
His perfections are reconciled. "Mercy and truth are met
together ; righteousness and peace have embraced each other."
" His tender mercies ai-e over all his works." The hosts of
Heaven have new matter of wonder and praise to employ
their tongue to aU eternity. Glory to God ! The powers
of hell are vanquished, and ten thousand times ten thou-
sand, and thousands of thousands, are ransomed from eternal
death.
What new honors, what signal trophies shall we rear to
our Almighty Maker, for these extraordinary manifestations
of bis mercy and liis truth ?
** Mortals ! can you refrain your tongue,
When ature all around you sings 1
Oh ! for a shout from old and young —
From humble swains and lofty kings
A CHRISTMAS SERMO. 95
Go, crowd his gates with thankful songs ;
High as the heavens your voices raise.
Go earth, with thy ten tiaousand tongues.
And till his courts with sounding praise."
Glory be to God wbo dwelleth in the highest heavens !
for there is peace on earth, and good will to man ; for the
" Prince of Peace" has come, to make peace between man
and his Maker. God is reconciled and reconcileable, and
man has fi'ee access to the throne of mercy. Sinai's thun-
ders are hushed, and the Gospel whispers mercy and peace.
Thus, peace between man and his brother, peace between
man and his conscience, peace in life, peace in death, and
peace with God through all eternity are offered, upon the
gracious terms of the Gospel. O that we may all accept
salvation upon these gracious terms ! Thus, too, the good
will of God is manifested to the human race ; and that
"peace of God which passeth all understanding" is offered
to all men, through a living, penitent, obedient faith in Jesus
Christ ; for religion's " ways are ways of pleasantness, and
all her paths are peace."
We have thus, my brethren, given you a concise, though
desultory and inadequate commentary on that portion of
Scripture which our Church has appointed for this morning's
Second Lesson ; and we have touched upon some of the
truths and doctrines which this day naturally suggests to our
contemplation. But much remains still to be said. This
subject places us, as it were, on the pinnacle of the temple,
from whence we can have a clear and comprehensive view
of the whole revealed system of doctrines and duties that are
connected with it and dependent upon it. If Jesus Christ
be the eternal Son of God, and the second person in the
adorable Trinity, we cannot suppose that He would " leave
the bosom of his father, to tabernacle in the flesh," except
for the most gracious and most momentous purposes. Be-
lieve me, my dear fellow-mortal, if you had not a soul to
lose or save, Jesus Christ would never have left the mansions
of bli-ss, to sojourn in a Avorld of sorrow. Believe me, if you
could have been saved by your own exertions and merils — if
you could have wrought out your own salvation by good
works and religious obedience, Jesus Christ would never have
OQ A CHRISTMAS SEEMO.
died upon the cross. Do you, then, know what our Divine
Redeemer has done for you ? If the mercy of our God had
not moved Him to send you a Savior, you would have been
but as the " brutes that perish." If the mercy of our God had
not moved Him to send you a Savior, instead of reading on
those tombstones, " Our ashes rest in the hope of a blessed
immortality," you would read the heart-rending inscription,
' This is the end of man." If the mercy of our God had not
moved Him to send you a Savior, instead of joining with the
exulting Apostle in saying, " Although this house of our ta-
bernacle be dissolved, ive have a building of God, and a house
not made with hands, eternal in the heavens — you might adopt
the melancholy strain of the despairing heathen : " The sun
may set and rise again ; but man, soon as his short-lived
taper is extinct, sinks into a deep and everlasting sleep,
and no more wakes to day." Had not the compassion of
your Eedeemer induced Him to espouse the cause of self-
degraded humanity, this temple might have been dedicated
" to the unknown God;" these altars might have been stained
with the blood of your children and your parents, and the
yells of savages have been substituted for the hallelujahs of
saints. Instead of living in a land of light and liberty, you
might have been enveloped in heathenish darkness, and
governed by a savage tyrant ; you might have been chained
to a galley, or dragging out your wretched existence in a
dungeon.
What, then, has your Redeemer done, for you and the hu-
man race ? He has introduced a Revelation which, by its
influence, its doctrines, its precepts, and its promises, has, with
the assistance of divine grace, been the cause of virtue, of
piety, and of happiness to millions and millions of the human
race. ations and individuals, men and brute beasts have,
under all the circumstances of their existence, felt the benign
and salutary eifects of the Christian religion. " It has miti-
gated the conduct of war and the treatment of captives. It
has softened the administration of despotic governments. It
has abolished polygamy. It has destroyed the licentiousness
of di^vorce. It has put an end to the exposure of children
and the immolation of slaves. It has suppressed the combats
of gladiators, and the impurities of religious rites. It has
A CHRISTMAS SERMO. 9T
banished unnatural vices. It has ameliorated the condition
of the laboring classes, by procuring for them a day of stated
rest. It has produced numerous establishments for the relief
of sickness and poverty. It has triumphed over the slavery
established in the Eomau Empire, and is gradually triumph-
ing over that of the Western World. In every age, millions
have been made better by it, in their conduct and their disposi-
tions, and happier in the tranquillity and consolation of their
thoughts."*
Finally, my brethren, Jesus Christ has bestowed upon the
human race the most invaluable of all blessings, by redeem-
ing them from the curse of eternal death, and by offering to
them the Kingdom of Heaven and everlasting life, upon the
gracious conditions of the Gospel. For your immortal souls
and your immortal privileges which He has given you, my
dear hearers, you can never repay Him. Let, then, your
gratitude show itself, by doing his will, and by imitating his
example. He came " to destroy the power of the devil," and
to enable you to do the same. Resist, then, this enemy of
your souls and your salvation. He came to substitute
the hearts, for externals m religion. Love Him, then, with
aU your heart. He came to do the will of God, and
to enable us to do the same. Make it, then, your meat and
drink to do that will. He came to teach us the vanity of
this world, and, through his Word and Holy Spirit, to sanc-
tify our natures and to lead us to Heaven. Let us follow
Him thither, my brethren. Let us imitate the blessed exam-
ple of our Lord, in holy self-denials, in doing good, in taking
up our Cross to follow Christ, and in living, not to ourselves,
but to Him that loved us and gave himself for us. Let us
join the host of Heaven, in loving and praising Him who
came into this world and who suffered and died to give
us everlasting life. Let us open wide our hearts, to let the
King of Glory come in. And let us tremble for ourselves
and for others if we refuse or neglect to receive Christ as
He is offered in the Gospel. How shall we escape, if
we neglect his great salvation "? Where will the ungodly and
the sinner appear, wlio have trampled under foot the blood of
the Cross ? What will become of those who despise the
• Dr. Paley's Mor. Phil.
98 A CHRISTMAS SERMO.
Spirit of Grace, who refuse the last offers of mercy, and who
dash the cup of salvation untasted from their lips ? O thou
compassionate Redeemer ! soften their obdurate hearts, strike
conviction into their souls, and cause them with the sinking
Apostle, to exclaim, " Lord, save me, or I perish !"
Go, my hearers, instead of spending this season in criminal
pleasures, devote it to the Savior of your souls. Come, ye
professing followers of the lowly Jesus, having "prepared the
way of the Lord" in your hearts — commemorate at his table
his unquenchable love. And now, to God the Father, &c.
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