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to the earth! "Thou camest to thine own, and thine own received thee not." How can it trouble us to be rejected of the world, which is not ours? What wonder is it if thy servants wandered abroad in sheep's skins and goats' skins, destitute and afflicted, when their Lord is denied harbour? How should all the world blush at this indignity of Bethlehem! He that came to save men, is sent, for his first lodging, to the beasts the stable is become his inn, the crib his bed. O strange cradle of that great King, which heaven itself may envy! O Saviour, thou that wert both the Maker and Owner of heaven, of earth, couldst have made thee a palace without hands, couldst have commanded thee an empty room in those houses which thy creatures had made. When thou didst but bid the angels avoid their first place, they fell down from heaven like lightning; and when, in thy humbled estate, thou didst but say, "I am he," who was able to stand before thee! How easy had it been for thee to have made place for thyself in the throngs of the stateliest courts! Why wouldst thou be thus homely, but that, by contemning worldly glories, thou mightst teach us to contemn them, that thou mightst sanctify poverty to them whom thou calledst unto want! that since thou, which hadst the choice of all earthly conditions, wouldst be born poor and despised, those which must want out of necessity might not think their poverty grievous! Here was neither friend to entertain, nor servant to attend, nor place wherein to be attended, only the poor beasts gave way to the God of all the world. It is the great mystery of godliness, that God was manifested in the flesh, and seen of angels: but here, which was the top of all wonders, the very beasts might see their Maker. For those spirits to see God in the flesh, it was not so strange, as for the brute creatures to see him which was the God of spirits. He that would be led into the wilderness amongst wild beasts to be tempted, would come into the house of beasts to be born, that from the height of his divine glory his humiliation might be the greater. How can we be abased low enough for thee, O Saviour, that hast thus neglected thyself for us! That the visitation might be answerable to the homeliness of the place, attendants, provision, who shall come to congratulate his birth but poor shepherds? The kings of the earth rest at home, and have no summons to attend him by whom they reign. "God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty." In an obscure
time, the night, unto obscure men, shepherds, doth God manifest the light of his Son, by glorious angels. It is not our meanness, O God, that can exclude us from the best of thy mercies; yea, thus far dost thou respect persons, that thou hast put down the mighty, and exalted them of low degree. If these shepherds had been snoring in their beds, they had no more seen angels, nor heard the news of their Saviour, than their neighbours; their vigilancy is honoured with this heavenly vision. Those who are industrious in any calling, are capable of further blessings; whereas the idle are fit for nothing but temptation. No less than a whole choir of angels are worthy to sing the hymn of Glory to God," for the incarnation of his Son! What joy is enough for us, whose nature he took, and whom he came to restore by his incarnation! If we had the tongues of angels, we could not raise this note high enough to the praise of our glorious. Redeemer. No sooner do the shepherds hear the news of a Saviour, than they run to Bethlehem to seek him. Those that left their beds to tend their flocks, leave their flocks to enquire after their Saviour. No earthly thing is too dear to be forsaken for Christ. If we suffer any worldly occasion to stay us from Bethlehem, we care more for our sheep than our souls. It is not possible, that a faithful heart should hear where Christ is, and not labour to the sight, to the fruition of him. Where art thou, O Saviour, but at home in thine own house, in the assembly of thy saints? Where art thou to be found, but in thy word and sacraments? Yea, there thou seekest for us if there we haste not to seek for thee, we are worthy to want thee, worthy that our want of thee here should make us want the presence of thy face for ever.
The Sages and the Star.
THE shepherds and the crib accorded well; yet even they saw nothing which they might not contemn: neither was there any of those shepherds that seemed not more like a king, than that king whom they came to see. But, O the divine majesty that shined in this baseness! There lies the Babe in the stable, crying in the manger, whom the angels come down from heaven to proclaim, whom the sages come from the east
to adore, whom an heavenly star notifies to the world; that now men might see, that heaven and earth serves him, that neglected himself. Those lights that hang low are not far seen, but those which are high-placed are equally seen in the remotest distances. Thy light, O Saviour, was no less than heavenly. The east saw that which Bethlehem might have seen ofttimes those which are nearest in place are farthest off in affection. Large objects, when they are too close to the eye, do so overfill the sense, that they are not discerned. What a shame is this to Bethlehem! The sages came out of the east to worship him whom the village refused. The Bethlehemites were Jews: the wise men Gentiles. This first entertainment of Christ was a presage of the sequel: the Gentiles shall come from far to adore Christ, while the Jews reject him. Those easterlings were great searchers of the depths of nature, professed philosophers; them hath God singled out to the honour of the manifestation of Christ. Human learning well improved makes us capable of divine. There is no knowledge whereof God is not the author: he would never have bestowed any gift, that should lead us away from himself. It is an ignorant conceit, that inquiry into nature should make men atheistical. No man is so apt to see the star of Christ, as a diligent disciple of philosophy. Doubtless this light was visible unto more; only they followed it, who knew it had more than nature. He is truly wise that is wise for his own soul. If these wise men had been acquainted with all the other stars of heaven, and had not seen the star of Christ, they had had but light enough to lead them into utter darkness. Philosophy, without this star, is but the wisp of error. These sages were in a mean between the angels and the shepherds. God would, in all the ranks of intelligent creatures, have some to be witnesses of his Son. The angels direct the shepherds; the star guides the sages. The duller capacity hath the more clear and powerful helps. The wisdoin of our God proportions the means unto the disposition of the persons. Their astronomy had taught them this star was not ordinary, whether in sight, or in brightness, or in motion. The eyes of nature might well see that some strange news was portended to the world by it; but that this star designed the birth of the Messias, there needed yet another light. If the star had not besides had the commentary of a revelation from God, it could have led the wise men only into a fruitless
wonder. Grant them to be the offspring of Balaam, yet the true prediction of that false prophet was not warrant enough. If he told them the Messias should arise as a star out of Jacob, he did not tell them that a star should arise from the posterity of Jacob, at the birth of the Messias. He, that did put that prophecy into the mouth of Balaam, did also put this illumination into the heart of the sages. The Spirit of God is free to breathe where he listeth. "Many shall come from the east and the west to seek Christ, when the children of the kingdom shall be shut out." Even then God did not so confine his election to the pale of the church, as that he did not sometimes look out for special instruments of his glory. Whither do these sages come, but to Jerusalem? Where should they hope to hear of the new king, but in the mother city of the kingdom? The conduct of the star was first only general to Judea; the rest is for a time left to inquiry. They were not brought thither for their own sakes, but for Jewry's, for the world's; that they might help to make the Jews inexcusable, and the world faithful. That their tongues therefore might blazon the birth of Christ, they are brought to the head city of Judea, to report and inquire. Their wisdom could not teach them to imagine, that a king could be born to Judea of that note and inagnificence, that a star from heaven should publish him to the earth, and that his subjects should not know it and therefore, as presupposing a cominon notice, they say, "Where is he that is born king of the Jews?" There is much deceit in probabilities, especially when we meddle with spiritual matters: for God uses still to go a way by himself.
If we judge according to reason and appearance, who is so likely to understand heavenly truths as the profound doctors of the world? These God passes over, and reveals his will to babes. Had these sages met with the shepherds of the villages near Bethlehem, they had received that intelligence of Christ, which they did vainly seek from the learned scribes of Jerusalem. The greatest clerks are not always the wisest in the affairs of God; these things go not by discourse, but by revelation.
No sooner hath the star brought them within the noise of Jerusalem, than it is vanished out of sight. God would have their eyes lead them so far, as till their tongues might be set on work, to win the vocal attestation of the chief priests and scribes, to the fore-appointed place of our Saviour's
nativity. If the star had carried them directly to Bethlehem, the learned Jews had never searched the truth of those prophecies, wherewith they are since justly convinced. God never withdraws our helps, but for a further advantage. However our hopes seem crossed, where his name may gain, we cannot complain of loss.
Little did the sages think this question would have troubled Herod. They had, I fear, concealed their message, if they had suspected this event. Sure they thought it might be some son or grandchild of him which then held the throne, so as this might win favour from Herod, rather than an unwelcome fear of rivalty. Doubtless, they went first to the court; where else should they ask for a king? The more pleasing this news had been, if it had fallen upon Herod's own loins, the more grievous it was, to light upon a stranger. If Herod had not over-much affected greatness, he had not, upon those indirect terms, aspired to the crown of Jewry: so much the more therefore did it trouble him to hear the rumour of a successor, and that not of his own. Settled greatness cannot abide either change or partnership. If any of his subjects had moved this question, I fear his head had answered it. It is well that the name of foreigners could excuse these sages. Herod could not be brought up among the Jews, and not have heard many and confident reports of a Messias, that should ere long arise out of Israel; and now, when he hears the fame of a king born, whom a star from heaven signifies and attends, he is nettled with the news. Every thing affrights the guilty. Usurpation is full of jealousies and fears, no less full of projects and imaginations; it makes us think every bush a man, and every man a thief.
Why art thou troubled, O Herod? A King is born; but such a King as whose sceptre may ever concur with lawful sovereignty; yea, such a King, as by whom kings do hold their sceptres, not to lose them. If the wise men tell thee of a King, the star tells thee he is heavenly. Here is good cause of security, none of fear. The most general enmities and oppositions to good, arise from mistakings. If men could but know how much safety and sweetness there is in all divine truth, it could receive nothing from them but welcomes and gratulations. Misconceits have been still guilty of all wrongs and persecutions. But if Herod were troubled, as tyranny is still suspicious, why was all Jerusalem troubled with him?