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WE are come, O Father in heaven, to adore, and to pour out our thankful hearts before thy holy presence. For that thy only begotten Son came into this world, that he took upon him our flesh and blood, and “was found in fashion as a man,” in order to diffuse light and truth amongst his brethren on earth—this is the dispensation of thy companionate grace for our benefit. Make us rightly to discern his heavenly greatness and glory, and bring before our eyes in the purest splendour the sublime and. radiant form,. in which he walked on this dark earth, that our souls may be filled with true Christian joy on his holy festival, and that our mouths may glorify him. “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.” In this joy we name thee with increased fervour our heavenly Father, and pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” &c. &c.310
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 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. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
THIS Gospel for the festival, devout hearers, relates to us a most singular and wonderful event: it leads us into a wretched but in the town of Bethlehem, and there makes us witnesses of the birth of a child, for whom at first no human being, save his parents, felt any concern, and for whom even they, being poor pilgrims in a strange inn; could only prepare his first earthly couch in a manger. But while this takes place, a light from heaven shines through the darkness of night which envelopes the city and country, and the glory of the Lord shines round about the shepherds in the neighbouring plains, who abide there with their flocks, and voices of angels bid. the terrified to be of good cheer, for. even now the Saviour of the world is born, and the moment is come for crying, ‘Glory to God in the 311highest, on earth peace, good-will towards men!’ As wonderful and extraordinary as this may be, yet its inward import is as simple and significant. The light from above, which encircles the mean birth place of our Lord, how aptly does it express his high destination to be the light of the world The heavenly brightness that illumines the night in which he enters into mortal existence, how pleasantly it indicates the spiritual illumination, that he should bring to mankind lying in darkness! The sea of radiance, which was poured forth over the vicinity of the city of David, amidst the cry of joy of divine messengers, how obviously does it point out the bright kingdom of truth, which this great scion of the house and lineage of David was sent to establish amongst his brethren, benighted in conceit and error!
And has not this fair presage been abundantly fulfilled? Does not the whole Christian world revere Him, who entered into life amongst them as the Son of the Highest, who, mightier than all who preceded or followed. him, lifted up the torch of truth and light, to disperse the darkness which rested on the minds of men, to enlighten their undertandings respecting matters of the most sacred interest, to bring their knowledge of divine things to the highest point it can attain, and to enrich them with all that intelligence, on which the dignity and likeness of man to God depends? Are you not 312yourselves assembled to-day in the presence of God, to thank him for having made you through Jesus “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” and for having “delivered you from the power of darkness, and translated you into the kingdom of his dear Son3939 Colossians i. 13.?” Did you not all come here, summoned by the bells of the holy Christian festival, in order to rejoice with one another that you walk in the light, which was kindled by Christ; and that you participate in the grace and truth, which poured forth from him over the earth?
Now if you will do this with becoming cordiality, keep in view the image of our Lord and Saviour,. principally as the image of a celestial bringer of light to the world, and collect yourselves round that holy form of it, as, awe-inspiring, it stands at the entrance of the history which begins with him, and devoutly join in the meditations to which it gives occasion, Meditations on the light, which arose to mankind through Jesus. Light, devout hearers, light is the excellent and significant expression, with which the holy Scripture denotes the state of that clear knowledge and discernment of man respecting his relation to God and his destiny, in which alone he can esteem himself and feel happy as a rational being. In this sense then perfect light once arose to mankind through Jesus our Lord; for 313 he came down from heaven to earth for this purpose, to communicate the fullest measure of that clear judgment to his earthly brethren.
In indulging in these reflections on the subjects to which this holy festival invites us, we cannot in the first place deny, that this light was highly necessary to mankind, for they sat in darkness and the shadow of death. This was asserted even by the holy prophets of that people, on whom the rays of an earlier divine revelation had shone; and much as they laboured to diffuse amongst this people a purer knowledge of God, generous zeal for virtue, and the sense of a higher destiny; yet they continually remained in thick spiritual darkness and estranged from all effectual enlightenment until the last of their prophets rose up amongst them. Thus their learned in the law sat in Moses’ seat, and taught unfruitful subtleties, instead of the plain truth, on which rests the belief and conduct and hope of man. Their priests then performed an idolatrous temple service, instead of inculcating a reverence for God, to be manifested by a pious mind and good deeds. High and low had then the wise oracles of their inspired men in their hands, and knew not how to make use of them properly for the benefit of either their minds or hearts; and as the guides of the multitude were struck with blindness, so the latter followed perverse ways, being abandoned to pernicious delusion and deplorable ignorance. And the 314other nations of the earth, how far were they also removed from all knowledge that enlightens the mind, improves the heart, and directs the thoughts to things above! They might justly boast, in individual instances, of their sages, their poets, their orators, their artists, their heroes and statesmen; but what acquaintance had the great majority of them with that wisdom, which teaches to fear God, to do right, and to look forward with cheerful hope? How could faith find sufficient nourishment among them in a senseless mythology; endeavours after virtue, in a universally prevalent immorality; and the longing for a better futurity, in the fabulous kingdom of an obscure world of shadows? How could a clear insight into the most sacred concerns of man be ever even spoken of, where heathen blindness possessed the whole mass? In this state of things, the light which broke over mankind through Christ our Lord, was most urgently needed; and nothing more fortunate could happen to them than this, that God, who is willing that all should be saved, and all come to the knowledge of the truth, sent him on earth with this commission, “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house4040 Isaiah xlii. 7..” For there was every where wanting that simple and clear discourse of heaven, in which he proclaimed God as the God of 315all gods, and the Father of all men; that earnest exhortation, with which he enjoined man, created after his image, to resemble him in deed and in truth; that sweet solace, with which he directed the hope of the oppressed, the wretched, and the dying, from earth to heaven; that portrait of improved mankind, which he exhibited in himself as a pattern for imitation to all his brethren; and that holy kingdom of God, into which only the enlightened and pious children of their heavenly Father should be admitted. From thence proceeds the high delight, with which his Apostles saw the beams of light, that went out from him, more brilliant even than that of his holy birth-night, illumine the darkness of the earth; the unconcealed joy with which they cried, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand4141 Rom. xiii. 12.;” the heartfelt warmth and energy with which they gave the converted from Judaism and Paganism, to understand “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord4242 Eph. v. 8..” They knew from their own experience and observation, what the review of ages preceding the appearing of our Saviour teaches, that the light which arose to mankind through him, was most needful, because they “'sat in darkness and the shadow of death.”
In following up our meditations on this light, we 316must also acknowledge that it threw out a bright refulgence, for a considerable part of mankind was in the course of time enlightened by it. Yes, it was not in vain, that the Saviour announced himself to the people of that age, with the words, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth me, should not abide in darkness4343 John xii. 46..” For as healthy plants, tenacious of life, involuntarily turn towards the bright sunshine, in order to imbibe from it strength and nourishment, so thousands in the native land of our Lord, and out of it, in a short time most ardently joined themselves to him and to the faithful ones, whom he had chosen to be the bearers of his light into the world, in order to satisfy their long and vainly-cherished thirst for spiritual illumination. Jewish temple service, and heathen idolatry, soon gave way to the preaching, which inculcated the worship of God in spirit and in truth, and which proceeded from Christ; and where, hitherto, altars had been built to empty phantoms, and fruitless sacrifices offered to creatures of their own imagination, there men bowed at the word of Jesus, with clear understandings and pure dispositions, before the living God, who path made heaven and earth, who supports all things with his mighty word, and embraces all men as his children with paternal love. The spark of that 317feeling lying in every breast, that man is formed for honest exertion to preserve purity of soul and an unspotted course of life, and that, in consequence of his divine relationship, he must raise himself above animal lusts and grovelling vices, was every where kindled, where the preaching of the truth that Christ taught, penetrated into a bright flame, and united his worshippers in churches, which were holy and without reproach, and sought not only to pay him reverential homage, but also faithfully to follow him as their pattern, beaming with full Divinity. Belief in a heavenly country, which puts an end to all earthly trouble, and renders the deserved recompense both to virtue and vice, soon possessed the minds of those who attended to the Gospel of Jesus, and supported the believers under the most oppressive hardships, and regulated their lives in the midst of the seductive examples of an evil and untoward generation. And as the brook, which a copious spring sends forth, becomes in its further course a stream, that brings blessing and prosperity to the most distant regions; so the at first small number of the enlightened through Jesus grew, in the progress of time, into a large people of God; and the light of the Lord, which first shone only within the narrow limits of the Jewish land, was raised by degrees into a pillar of fire, illumining all countries, and sent out its rays to the east and the west, to the south and the north, and invited all nations to enjoy its celestial 318splendour, and to partake of the spiritual vital power, that streamed from it. Thus we also stand, as late-born children of the light which proceeded from Bethlehem centuries ago, before that heavenly Father, who caused it to shine in the earth’s darkness; we find in all quarters, wherever we turn our eyes, brethren in the spirit and fellow-believers; we see the world-enlightening Gospel propagated in its remotest ends; we hear how the sound of it penetrates among the rudest and most savage nations; we observe that the church, of which Jesus Christ is the foundation and corner-stone, grows more numerous and flourishing from year to year, and ever seeks to make an improved use of its spiritual advantages; and we gratefully lift up our hands to God in union with the millions who know “no other name whereby they may be saved, but the name of Jesus,” and exclaim with joyful emotion on the festival, on which once the angels announced the rising luminary; ‘That which was promised by the mouth of the old prophets, is accomplished,’ “The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising4444 Isaiah lx. 3. “Gratifying result of the contemplations to which the entrance of our Saviour into the world gives occasion! The light that arose with him over it, has thrown out a brilliant lustre, for a considerable portion of mankind was, in the course of time, enlightened by it.319
But these reflections lead us also to a less pleasing result: for if we are quite impartial in our inquiries, we shall find, that the light which arose with Jesus was in various ways obscured, because men “loved darkness rather than light.” Thus our. Lord himself complained, while he yet visibly walked on earth, though he took; the greatest pains to enlighten the minds of those around him; thus the servants of darkness assiduously contended against him,. because this better suited their evil deeds, and rested not, until they thought they had extinguished his light together with his life. And had then the messengers of light, whom he sent out into the world, other and better experience? Were not the powers of darkness amongst Jews and heathens,—false opinion, superstition, malice, and wickedness,—arrayed in hostility to them also, when they propagated the knowledge of the kingdom of God, that the brightness of the dawning day might not endanger their lucrative situations? And when the light of the Gospel, nevertheless, forced its way under the mighty protection of God, and spread its radiance over the whole of our quarter of the globe, how active were not even Christian hands to obscure and extinguish it! How cunningly and boldly did not the chief bishops of Christendom contrive, for their personal advantage, to set up new idols for adoration together with the Lord of heaven and earth; to convert the spiritual 320worship of God into a new heathenish temple-service; to promise his favour, not to virtue and morality, but to outward works of superstition; to convert the glad prospect beyond the grave into the means of gain by disquieting timorous hearts; to pollute the clear fountain of truth which flowed from the mouth of Jesus and his disciples with the muddy waters of fraudulent institutions of men; and to bring on a new eclipse over the divinely illumined kingdom of Christianity, in which the very last glow of the light which came out of Judah seemed ready to disappear! You know, however, this was not permitted: on the contrary, the light was invested with new splendour. The powerful breath of our Luther blew it again into a bright flame, and countless generations of Christians walked afresh in its rays, and we ourselves rejoice and believe, act and hope in it, as the divine Master taught. But is not the enemy, who would deprive us of this light, still active? Do not the powers of darkness still rage against it? Do they not still send out their servants to entice away those, who confess our evangelical faith, to their brilliant deceit, and to undermine our Church, built upon the foundation of the Apostles? Do not even many members of our Church stretch forth their hands with unaccountable blindness, to assist in putting the light of evangelical truth under a bushel, to confound men’s minds with delusion and irrationality, 321to render them weak in moral energy, and thus to surrender them as a fit prey to the prince of darkness, who has no part in Jesus? Are not our ears assailed in every quarter by voices, defaming the luminous information of this age, which has its origin in the light of Christ, as a misleading light, dangerous to the state and pernicious to men? Are not those who seek to keep themselves in their sworn fidelity to the Lord, calumniated and persecuted in the bitterest manner, as apostates and enemies of his cause? Is it not openly asserted,—that the welfare of mankind will then first commence, when the truth, through which Jesus made the world free, shall have given way to the lie, by which it was once so deplorably entangled? Yes, Christians, we are now compelled to witness this. Thus must we complain on a day, in which we rejoice before God, as the day on which for the second time he said, “Let there be light, and there was light!” The considerations to which we are led on this occasion, shew us, that the light which appeared to the world in Jesus has been in various ways obscured, because men, from the beginning until now, “loved darkness rather than light.” Shall we then in consequence of this go mournfully before the presence of God, and let our joy in Christ be converted into disquietude? By no means.
The reflections of this day teach us also, lastly; That the light, which dawned on the human race 322through Jesus, shall never expire, for it came from above, from the Father of light. Or do you think, that this Father of light, who sent his Son to take our flesh upon him, in order to enlighten the earth lying in darkness, will and can leave his compassionate work unfinished? He, whose glory burst through the night, in which the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person “was born in the world,” shall he and can he permit the return of that spiritual night, which was driven away through him? He, who every morning makes his sun to rise over us, that every thing in nature may be invigorated by its beams, and imbibe from them strength and fulness of existence, shall and can be find pleasure in gloom and darkness in the world of man? Did not the eternal luminous stream of truth flow from the beginning out of his Divine fulness? Did not his powerful finger prepare the ways in every century, by which it should penetrate to nations and men? Did he not give to our race, in the Divine gift of reason, the ability to perceive its sacred rays, and to make them its own? Did he not always guide external relations and circumstances for the promotion of its great cause? Did he not constantly assist with his power him, whom he called in times of danger to labour and contend for it? Did he not most abundantly bless the exertions of those, who, from Moses down to Jesus, from Jesus down to Luther, from Luther down to 323our days, were friends of the light and heralds of the truth? No, fear nothing, Christians! Let the prince of darkness now or at any time ever so much rage and threaten; the Father of light keeps faithful guard over his peculiar kingdom, and knows how to keep in subjection the dark powers, that array themselves against it. The Church of Christ, which bright and clear looks up to him, maintains its course according to his will, and looks forward with hope beyond the grave, is safe under his celestial protection, for he himself has founded it, and will not let the sacred inheritance of his Son perish. Do you only on your parts be worthy members of this Church, and watchful citizens of his heavenly kingdom of light. As such “let your light shine before men,” and advance the cause of Christ, who made you children of light, as you have power; and avoid delusion, error, and superstition, wherever they may meet you, and receive willingly, and gladly, whatever may enlighten your minds respecting their most sacred concerns, and lead you to the possession of the truth which came from heaven through our Saviour; and nothing shall be able to rob you of the glad confidence, that the light of him, whose birth we commemorate, shall never be extinguished here below, but shall shine ever brighter and more brilliant, and sooner or later to all who dwell on the earth—as the universal and daily light of the sun.324
But to thee, O Father of light, from whose bosom the light of the world descended to us, thou who in that hour of night, when the angels announced Jesus Christ to be born, madest the hour of illumination break forth for all times and nations; to thee be its dominion henceforward committed in fervent prayer! Banish with thy divine power the clouds which overshadow it, and throw down the bulwarks of darkness which tower against it, and make the bounds of the kingdom of light, which he founded with thy mighty aid, from year to year wider and more comprehensive, and lead us all hereafter from the shade and obscurity of this earth into the everlasting empire of light. Amen.325
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