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THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST'S BIRTH, AND OF OUR NEW BIRTH.

(PREACHED ON CHRISTMAS-DAY.)

ISAIAH lv. 8, 9.

“ My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways, saith the LORD: For as the Heavens are higher than the Earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

When a person wakes on a Christmas morning, and turns his mind at once, as a thoughtful person naturally will, to the great and unutterable Miracle of the day, it is somewhat of the same kind of thought as when we gaze earnestly on the deep heaven above us; and the longer we gaze, the more certainly we feel how far it reaches, how utterly and entirely beyond us; how we might go on for ever, and be more and more lost and swallowed up in the contemplation of it.

It should seem that the blue sky or firmament was on purpose so made, the light caused so to pass through it, and our eyes so formed, that as we look on it, or but think of it, spread above us, we may feel that we are in the midst of a Power and Wisdom which we can by no means understand; which is at the same time close to us, and yet infinitely far above us. The Scripture encourages this thought in many places. Thus God is called, first in Job, and many times afterwards in the Prophets, " He who stretcheth out the Heavens alone, by Himself; Who spreadeth out the Heavens like a curtain ; Who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers ; Who stretcheth out the Heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." “ The inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers :” surely that word speaks to every man's heart, expressing how little, and mean, and insignificant, we feel, when we look up to the unbounded sky, and think of ourselves, how little room we seem to take in God's vast and wonderful world.

This is an overpowering thought; but the Scripture tells us something else, which makes it a thought full of all consolation. The height of Heaven represents to our very eyes, not only God's incomprehensible greatness and wisdom, but His infinite love also. For “ look how high the Heaven is in comparison of the earth, so great is His Mercy also turned toward them that fear Him: look how wide also the east is from the west, so far hath He set our sins from us." The space in which our eyesight loses itself, when we look up on a clear day, or when we look all around from a high place on some boundless prospect, is an appointed measure of God's love,-a token from Himself of His pardoning and life-giving favour, shown to us as members of His Son. The Psalms repeat this over and over : Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the Heavens, and Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds." As if it were God's purpose, that in that portion of the Scriptures, which the rules of His Church should make most familiar to all, that is, in the Psalms, Christian children should learn from the beginning the right use of the things which they see around them, and should never want something to remind them of saving truth, since even so common a thing as the sky, which they cannot help seeing with their eyes, is made to them a kind of sacramental token of Infinite Power, Wisdom, and Love. As in

many other places of the Prophet Isaiah, so here in the text, the Almighty commends to us this thought, That we should learn, from the very sight of the Heaven above us, not to lose in our sense of God's mercy, the deep trembling awe and reverence, with which we ought to regard all His doings; not to dream that we understand them ; nor to conclude that they fail, because we do not yet see the fruit of them : but to labour diligently in the ways of our duty, and for the rest to be silent before Him, and wait on Him with adoring patience. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways, saith the Lord: For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Now this same lesson, which the very height of the Heavens was intended to teach all mankind, seems to be brought before us Christians in a wonderful, unspeakable way, when we are called on to remember our Lord's Nativity. For what, in fact, was that Birth which took place to-day at Bethlehem, eighteen hundred and forty one years ago, and in remembrance of which the whole Church has ever since kept this day holy? It is something so high and sacred that it seems almost presumption to speak of it: we have need first to pray, that we may be forgiven for speaking unworthily : however, let us speak of it, as we may, in the words of the Church. We believe that, as on this day, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost and made Man, was born at Bethlehem of the Blessed Virgin Mary : that on this day God was manifested to men and angels in the Flesh, so declaring and making known the Eternal FATHER, in Whose Bosom He is, and Whom no man hath seen at any time. We believe that HE who was from the beginning, begotten from everlasting of the FATHER, condescended early this morning to have a beginning and birth of His own : that He who is God of God vouchsafed to be Man born of a woman : that He who is called Light of Light prepared HIMSELF, as it were, a visible tabernacle, an undefiled human soul and body, wherein to dwell visibly for ever and ever: that the infant who was born in the stable and laid in the manger is Very God of Very God, True Son of the Most High God, and HIMSELF Truly God as His Father is : that although in His human soul and body He is made and created as the first Adam was by His own Almighty Power, yet is HE, as the Son of God, begotten not made : He was seen lying in the manger

this morning, just born, weak and helpless as another infant might be; yet He was even then, and had been for ever and ever, in Heaven with the ALMIGHTY FATHER ;-HE, that helpless babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, as any child born yesterday, was the Lord and CREATOR of Heaven and Earth, of those who worshipped Him and of those who persecuted Him, of His Mother who had just borne Him, and of the Angels who were at hand to sing glory to Him. By Him all things were made, that are in Heaven and that are in earth," whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were created by Him and for Him; and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” This Great and Eternal God, pitying His creatures in their darkness and misery, and accomplishing His own eternal purpose from the beginning, descended and was incarnate, so many months ago, when the Blessed Virgin was visited by the Angel Gabriel, and the Holy Ghost came upon her, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her. For us men and for our salvation HE came down from Heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man. And now, at the end of nine months, He made Himself visible to the world which He had created.

He began to show Himself to Angels, as well as to men, as St. Paul tells us in several places : that “to the principalities and powers in heavenly places was known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God;" and that “these things the Angels desire to look into.” And accordingly the Angels came, as all Christian children know, to sing their Christmas Hymn in the hearing of the shepherds.

This very thing by itself, God Incarnate, was the wonder of all wonders,

-a matter surely as much above the thoughts and conjectures of man, as the Heaven is higher than the earth : that the CREATOR should become a creature; that the LORD, most holy and true, should join HIMSELF to a sinful race, and become one of them, to deliver them from the evil consequences of their sin.

But even suppose the thought of God's becoming Man had entered into any man's heart, the circumstances of His coming into the world were far unlike what we should have imagined. We should have expected some such appearance as the Psalms and Prophets sometimes speak of,—in the clouds of Heaven, in terrible majesty : that He should bow the Heavens, and come down ; that He should touch the mountains, and they should smoke; or at least that He should enter into His Temple in glory, as the Ark of His Covenant had done of old. It would never have come into any of our minds to think of any thing so quiet, so poor, mean, and ordinary in outward appearance, as the nativity of the Child Jesus at Bethlehem.

Consider, first, the quietness of this great event : how in the silence of the night, in a town of no great size nor wealth, in an outhouse of an inn, the Great God came visibly among His creatures ; as it had been prophesied concerning Him: the Dew of His Birth was of the womb of the morning : as His Eternal Birth was in the secret and silence of God's nature, unspeakably everlasting, beyond all thought of the highest Angel, so His mysterious Birth at Bethlehem was a wonder in silence, and out of sight : none knew it, as far as we are told, but His Virgin Mother and the holy Joseph : every thing, it would seem, was ordered so as to make it most suitable for the God of Israel that hideth HIMSELF.

Again, how poor and lowly was every thing around Him, who was come down to bring us all the treasures of Heaven! His mother, the betrothed wife of a poor tradesman, who had not, as it seems, wherewith to find her a lodging ; the place, a stable (in which, according to ancient report, an ox and an ass were at that very time feeding); His cradle, a manger; His dress, such swaddling clothes as the children of the poor were commonly wrapt up in. The first persons who came to see Him, plain simple shepherds, of no account among men, either for their knowledge of the Scriptures, or for their place and station, and qualifications in other respects. And if they said high things concerning Him, having heard them from the Angel, yet all was kept quiet, His Mother pondering them in her heart, but nothing coming of it all for many years. What talk there was of the wonder in that immediate neighbourhood very soop seems to have died away; and partly perhaps on this very account, the Angel bade Joseph return to Nazareth, that our LORD might grow up in quiet and obscurity, at a distance from those who might have heard of the wonders of His birth.

The whole history, from beginning to end, is such as no one ever could have imagined : suited to His ways and thoughts, Who is far above out of our sight; but far unlike the ways and thoughts of mankind.

Imagine only what we should any of us have thought, had we

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