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that is, the sun of humanity, whose rise had been preceded by the long and fearful night of sin and ignorance, and whose coming had shed light and warmth and life over the hearts of men! A certain preacher even went so far as to say that "Christ himself chose the 25th of December for his birthday on this very ground !” The second reason was, that at Roma the days from the 17th to the 23d of December were devoted to unbridled merrymaking. These days were called the Saturnalia, after the god Saturnus, whose memory is still retained in the name of the seventh day of our week. These Saturnalia were consecrated to the memory of the Golden Age, which the heathen placed in the far-off past. All business was suspended, the freest hospitality was exercised, and public and private rejoicings were universal. All distinctions of rank and position were forgotten, and masters and slaves sometimes even changed places! In the Roman carnival and some of our Christinas customs the remains of the Saturnalia may still be traced. Now the Church was always anxious to meet the heathen, whom she had converted or was beginning to convert, half-way, by allowing them to retain the feasts they were accustomed to, only giving them a Christian dress, or attaching a new and Christian signification to them. 1 And in the Saturnalia, apart from the licentiousness that disfigured them, the Church must have found much that was attractive. Had not Jesus abolished the slavery of sin, superseded the distinction between class and class by the spirit of brotherly love, and brought in the Golden Age of peace with God?
Such were the thoughts which the Christians expressed in their Christmas festivities; and even now Christmas is the happiest festival of all the year. The very season helps to heighten the attractiveness of its warm and home-like customs. Our heathen forefathers, the Germans, had a somewhat similar feast called Yule, after the shortest day of the year. At this feast agreements were renewed, the gods were consulted as to the future, sacrifices were made to them, and the time was spent in jovial hospitality. Many features of this festiral, such as burning the Yule-log on Christmas-eve, still survive among us. In Germany, the birthday of the child Jesus is made a children's festival; and it is to Germany that we owe the Christmas trees, now so common in England. In Holland, the children's festival is held on St. Nicholas's day, the 6th of December, corrupted into Sinterklaas, and by
i See vol. i. pp. 103-107.
uz into Santa Claus ; so that in making Santa Claus bring the Christmas presents we have mixed up the two distinct festivals.
In German, Christmas is called Weihnachten or Holy Night, because it was the practice of the early Church, and of the Middle Ages, as it still is of the Roman Catholics, to celebrate more especially the night before the 25th of December, since, according to Luke, Jesus was born in the night. In English, it is simply called Christmas; that is, the mass or religious service held in honor of Christ.
THE WISE MEN FROM THE EAST.
E must now put entirely out of our minds all those
as calling attention to Jesus at the time of his birth, or shortly afterwards ; for we are to return to the first Gospel, which does not make the slightest allusion to them, and indeed excludes every thing that could possibly have called attention to Mary's son, or spread a rumor that the Messiah was born. Joseph and his wife, then, were citizens of Bethlehem.' Joseph had indeed been intrusted by an angel with the secret of the divine origin of Jesus; but of course the public had nothing to do with the matter, as it was not a thing to publish abroad. Alas! the people of Bethlehem would too soon be compelled to think of their little fellowtownsman, and to regard it as a fatal distinction that he had been born among them.
Two years had not passed when an event occurred which threw the neighboring Jerusalem into a fever of excitement. Certain strangers from the East, belonging to the distinguished order of the magi — that is to say the priests and astronomers had come to the city, and had immediately asked where they could find the infant king of the Jews. They said that many months ago they had marked ihe appearance of a new and marvellous star in the heavens, and
i See p. 40.
by the rules of their art it showed infallibly that a great ruler had been born among the people of the Jews. Upon this they had set out to come and pay their homage to him, and had naturally expected to find him in the capital.
But at Jerusalem no one knew any thing about it. It was evident that neither the reigning prince nor any of his sons was meant. So far was this from being the case that when the news reached Herod he was thrown into the utmost terror, for he and all the city understood that it must be the Messiah whose birth had been announced in the heavens. His own throne therefore, or at least his dynasty, was on the brink of ruin. What was he to do? Might not a bold stroke avert the danger yet?
He called the Sanhedrim together, hoping that the learned men might tell from the study of the Scripture where the Messiah would be born. He was not disappointed, for, on the authority of the prophecies of Michal, they indicated Bethlehem as the appointed place.
Herod, who believed as firmly as any one else in the truth of astrology, the authority of the prophets, and the interpretation of the learned Scribes, had soon matured his treacherous and murderous plan. Secretly (for the affair had maile only too much noise already) he summoned the magi into bis presence and made the closest inquiries as to the time at which they had first seen the star, for fear that some acuident might prevent their return to Jerusalem with more delinite news.
Then he urged them to go to Bethlehem, to search out the child without delay and without error, and bring back word to him. He would then go himself, he said, and bow down in homage before the child whom so great a future awaited. The magi, suspecting nothing, made the required promise, and went on their way. According to the usual custom of the East they travelled by night. What was their surprise and delight to see the star once more shining in the sky! They had not seen it since they had left their own country. And now, wonderful to say, it went before them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the surest guide that they could have, and when they reached the little city it stood still over one of the houses there! They did not need to ask for any further information now! They had found what they were seeking. They knocked at the door, and when they entered Joseph's house, there was the baby lying on its mother's breast ! In a transport of joy and reverence they threw themselves upon the ground, and faid
buch homage as it was customary in those districts to render to a king; and, since it was not usual to enter into the royal presence empty-handed, they produced the little caskets of treasure that they had brought with them, and made their offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The object of their journey was accomplished. But it was itself the cause of the utmost danger to the life of the child. Providence, however, did not sleep. In a dream the magi received the divine command not to return by Jerusalem or tell Herod the result of their search ; and in obedience to this injunction they returned by another way to their fatherland. In itself this could only delay for a time the danger which it could not avert; but in the very night of their departure, as Joseplı slept, he once more saw a messenger from heaven, who warned him of the wicked purposes of the king, and summoned him to rise at once and flee with all haste to Egypt with the little Jesus and Mary. There he could remain for the present in safety from the tyrant. There was no time to lose. Joseph rose from his bed, and the “ holy family " set out at once upon their flight.
Meanwhile Herod awaited the return of the magi in vain. Was it possible that they were mocking him? Maddened by his disappointment, he despatched a band of soldiers to Bethlehem, with the ghastly order to butcher all the baby boys of two years old and under in the town itself and the surrounding houses or huts. Ile congratulated himself on having already discovered, from the calculations of the astrologers, that the child must have entered upon his second year, and he was determined to make sure of the death of so dangerous a rival. Not a single male child must be spared, and the murderers must close their ears against the cries of the mothers' anguish. .
This was one of the last deeds of Herod's reign. Not long afterwards he breathed his last, in frightful agonies, at the age of seventy. Once again an angel of God visited Joseph, now in Egypt, in a dream, and told him that the wretch who had sought to kill his foster-child was dead, and that he might now return with his family to his native land. Obedient now as always, he set out upon his journey at once, taking his wife and the boy with him. He intended, of course, to return to his own house in Bethlehem ; but on his way thither he heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father in the government of Judæa. As this prince was said to rival Herod himself in cruelty and superstition, Joseph per•
ceived that he would not be safe in his old abode. at a loss how to act; but now, as so often before, wisdom came to him by night, for he was directed in a vision from God to go to Lower Galilee, which lay in the district of Herod Antipas; and there he settled down in the lovely little city of Nazareth.
The brow of many a theologian has been bent over this narrative! For as long as people believed in the miraculous inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, of course they accepted every page as literally true, and thought that there could not be any contradiction between the different accounts or representations of Scripture. The worst of all such pre-conceived ideas is that they compel those who hold them to do violence to their own sense of truth. For when these so-called religious prejudices come into play, people are afraid to call things by their right names, and without knowing it themselves become guilty of all kinds of evasive and arbitrary practices; for what would be thought quite unjustifiable in any other cause is here considered a duty, inasmuch as it is supposed to tend toward the maintenance of faith and the glory of God! Those who speak out simply and clearly what they feel and see to be the truth are set down as proud, impious, and unbelieving. Let us see to it that we are never shaken in the sacred conviction that God cannot possibly be served by any thing against which our conscience protests! For it is not in the traditional articles of faith, but in the sense of truth and the sense of duty, which are both of them planted in our bosoms by nature, and can both be trained and strengthened, - it is there that God reveals himself to us.
The divine revelations or angelic visions during sleep, of which such prodigal use is made in this narrative, are in themselves enough to prevent our believing it. But in former times they seemed to present no difficulty. No more was any one disturbed by the fact that Joseph, who is kept entirely in the background in the third Gospel, is quite a prominent figure in the first. I may take this opportunity of remarking that Joseph, who is scarcely noticed again in any of the Gospels, came to be highly honored by the Christians of later centuries, and was glorified with especial zeal and enthusiasm in the East. The day of his death, which was fixed on the 20th of July, was celebrated with great splendor. In the fifth century a ** History of Joseph the Carpenter”