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was mindful of his people; he supported their spirits, that they might not be overwhelmed. - Fear not" was a consolatory assurance that, while they were surrounded by an unusual glory, they were not exposed to any danger. It was a customary salutation on such occasions. When Mary and Mary Magdalene went to the sepulchre on the first day of the week, the angel saluted them with, “ Fear not ye.” When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias at the altar of incense, and fear fell upon him, the angel said, “ Fear not.” The same was said to Mary, the mother of our Lord, “ Fear not, Mary."
The appearance of the angel to the shepherds was indicative to their minds of the greatness of the event; and they believed it, for they said, “ Now let us go to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” An old divine has said, that “ spiritual morsels ought not to be ate alone.” When birth is given to a prince, the high officers of state are called in as witnesses to the fact; but at the advent of Christ, who came in a state of deep humiliation, shepherds were deemed the most suitable witnesses where the birthplace was a stable, and equally credible with the high officers of state. When the shepherds had communicated the tidings to others, we read that they wondered at those things which were highly calculated to excite their wonder and amazement, and one would have thought equally adapted to have elicited their faith; but we know from every-day experience that sinners can listen, not only to the birth of a Saviour, but also to his dying agonies upon the cross, without being moved in sympathy, without evincing faith or feeling love, and therefore we do not
66 To you
so much wonder at the relation made by the shepherds having had no other effect than that of producing amazement in their hearers.
The next remark is upon the time of the Saviour's birth.
born this day”—the day which the angel reported the fact to the shepherds; but the period when this event occurred is not now so well known. The day appointed to be kept in celebration of the birth of Christ is the 25th of December ; but the ancient Fathers in the Christian church were divided in opinion respecting the day on which Christ was born, and that at the comparatively short space of 194 years after the event took place. 66 Clemens Alexandrinus reckons, from the birth of Christ to the death of Commodus, exactly 194 years, one month, and thirteen days; which time being taken according to the Egyptian account, and reduced to the Julian or Gregorian style, makes the birth of Christ fall on the 25th or 26th of December; yet notwithstanding this, the same father tells us that there were some who more curiously searched after the year and day of Christ's nativity, affixed the latter to the 25th of the month Pachon. Now in the year in which Christ was born, the month Pachon commenced the 20th of April, so that according to this computation Christ was born on the 16th of May; others again say the general assessments were always in autumn, and that this was the time when shepherds watched their flocks by night,' and thence they infer that the nativity was either in September or October.” I have made this quotation to shew how little certainty there is in the affair, since the learned differed in their opinions respecting the time so soon after the event occurred.
I would here advert to the inconsistency of esteeming any day more sacred than the Christian sabbath.
The Lord Jesus is the great head of the Christian church. He has appointed the sabbath day to be kept holy, and had he seen the necessity of observing any other day with equal solemnity, doubtless he would have appointed it. Had he intended that the day of his nativity, or the day of his crucifixion, should have been observed by the Christian churches, he would have set apart such days in his holy word, and would have cared that no mistake should have arisen respecting the real days. But as the word of God contains no rule or command respecting the observance of these and other days, which are consecrated with peculiar solemnity by the churches of Rome and England, such observances ought to be discontinued ; for they only tend to encourage superstition in the ignorant, and are a tacit reflection on the great head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul censures these practices in writing to the Galatians : “ How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements ? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and seasons." Reader, do you not perceive a great inconsistency in many worshippers in the church of England, who pay great deference to a day like this, in attending church and partaking of the sacrament, and yet neglect to worship the God of their fathers on the only day that he has appointed to be kept holy, who make light of the sabbath, and employ its sacred hours in transacting worldly affairs, in travelling, and in pastimes ?
But we proceed to notice a remarkable circumstance relating to the birth of the Saviour, in order to the fulfilment of a prophecy wbich is to be found in the Book of Micah, v. 2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me who is to
is to say,
be ruler in Israel.” The residence of the supposed father, and Mary the mother of Jesus, was at a great distance from Bethlehem ; but at that time the country of Judea was under tribute to the Romans, and it was the custom of the Romans to levy a tax upon all persons in their dominions, for the purpose of defraying the expenses of government. God so ordered it in his providence that just at the period that Mary was to be delivered of her first-born, a decree was issued by the Roman emperor for the numbering of the tribes of Israel in their respective cities, for the purpose of taxing them. Joseph and Mary were of the tribe of Judah; Bethlehem was the chief city of their tribe, and to that city they journeyed for the purpose of meeting the Roman commissioners ; that
this was the ostensible reason; but, according to the decrees of providence, all this procedure was arranged for the accomplishment of ancient prophecy, respecting the birth of the promised Messiah : “ And so it was, that while they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered,” and thus unto you was born this day in the city of David, Christ, a Saviour. Further, it appears that in consequence of the great influx of persons to the city to be taxed, there was found no room for them at the inn; they were therefore glad to take up with a resting place in a stable, after their fatiguing journey, and there Mary cradled her infant in a manger, for want of better accommodation.
We may admire the amazing condescension of the Creator of the universe, that though he claimed equality with God the Father, yet humbled himself so infinitely as to be born of parents whose circumstances could command no better provision of comforts than was afforded in the manger of a stable, among cattle.
Jesus Christ, by thus making himself of no reputation, poured contempt upon the great things of this world, and the luxuries of life. The humiliation of his birth bespoke the humiliation of his death; the whole course of his life proved him to be a man of orrows, and acquainted with grief and reproach. Nevertheless, we read that divine honours were paid to him, amidst all this ignominy, for the angels of God, those ministers of his that do his bidding, celebrated his nativity in accents the most seraphic; for suddenly there was with the angel who appeared to the shepherds, “a multitude of the heavenly host,”—in the book of Psalms called “the Lord's host,"_"praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.”
Thus we have attended to some of the circumstances connected with the birth of the Messiah. I would now turn attention to the good tidings which the angel brought to the shepherds, and respecting which he gave them no charge of secrecy; for such was the nature of the tidings that it behoved all men to be made acquainted therewith ; it was a subject of universal concern, and we who have attained to a knowledge of the tidings wonder that it is not a subject of universal interest. These were good tidings of great joy, because they declared the fulfilment of ancient prophecies respecting the Messiah. - Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah, the Prince, shall be seven weeks, and three score and two weeks, and after three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself.” This prophecy was made by Daniel, and it was on this foundation that the Jews calculated the time when the advent of Christ should take place; and is it not