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of the bosom of the Father, to declare his will, who alone knew the Father. In the man Christ Jesus all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were hid, and he was sent more fully to reveal and make known to the world the whole will and council of the Father, concerning its perfect sanctification and salvation.1
The substance of Gabriel's message was our redemption, but the form of his salutation was certainly not a prayer into which it has since been drawn by the Church of Rome. Gabriel, signifying "the strength of God," was a fit messenger to announce the conception of the "Lion of the tribe of Judah," whose redemption of the world is called the strength of God's arm. The holy virgin was naturally startled at the appearance of the heavenly messenger, and at the words of his salutation; but he composed her fears by assuring her that she had found favour with God. He then announced to her that she should conceive and bring forth the long expected Messiah, the desire of women and of nations, of whom the Lord promised to give the sign of a pregnant virgin : "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.' The angel cited part of the words of the prophet, " and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth even for ever." Mary's answer betrayed none of that want of faith which characterized the reply of Zacharias to the same messenger, and for which he was struck dumb for a season; but merely a desire to be informed how such a preternatural pregnancy could take place. Of this he satisfied her, and showed her that with God nothing shall be impossible; " for her cousin Elizabeth, who was well stricken in years, had conceived a son in her old age, and was then in the sixth month. Mary's reply evinced both her faith and obedience: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." "Neither is it to be doubted but that upon her consent and desire the fulfilled, and the Son of God became incarnate, and was made man, taking upon him human nature, body and soul." And, therefore, she is blessed among women, free from their curse of bringing forth in sorrow as wives, and from their sterility as virgins.
Virginity and childbirth long asunder,
promise began to be
In Mary's womb made up a truce of wonder.'
On the departure of the angel, Mary arose and went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth, which was an act of faith, being desirous of communicating to her the joy which she felt at being the mother of the long expected Hope of Israel, and to none could she with more propriety unbosom herself than to so near a relation, who was beyond the giddiness of youth, and one who besides was herself an instance of the power of God. On hearing the Virgin's salutation, Elizabeth experienced a supernatural motion of her child, and the Holy Spirit communicated to her by inspiration, that the mother of her Lord was pre
1 John i. 18; iii. 2; xiii. 13.
3 Isa. vii. 14.
2 St. Luke i. 51; Isa. li. 9.
"Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake with a loud voice," and, using the angelic salutation, said, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." The holy Virgin also, being inspired and full of grace, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, broke out into that beautiful hymn of joy and thanksgiving called the magnificat, which from the first promulgation of Christianity has ever made part of the devotions of the Church.
After a visit of three months, the holy maiden returned to her own home at Nazareth, when the pious heart of her espoused husband was filled with sorrow by discovering her pregnancy. Although her carriage had been humble and chaste; yet, when he saw the evidence of apparent guilt, being ignorant of the high honour conferred on her, was minded to put her away privily, so as not to expose her to an ignominious death, by making her a public example. He intended to send her back to her friends privately, so as not to excite attention; but, while meditating on this painful subject, it pleased God to clear up his doubts in a vision. And, moreover, he revealed to Joseph that Mary should bring forth the Saviour of the world, the only Mediator between God and man, and commanded him to "call his name JESUS, for he shall save his people from their sins."
Kings reign and princes decree justice under the overruling hand of God, who makes their ambition, pride, and vain-glory, subservient to his own wise purposes and designs; an eminent instance of which is now before us. It was a time of profound peace throughout the world, in token of which the temple of Janus at Rome was shut. An imperial decree "went out from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed" or enrolled, which was a mere inquest into the strength and population of the Roman empire, and from which the imperial treasury would derive no advantage, at least in Judea; because Herod, the tributary king, received all the revenue of that kingdom. It was made, however, under the especial direction of God, who rules and turns the hearts of princes as he wills, for the more conspicuous accomplishment of the prophecy of Micah, that out of Bethlehem Ephratah, should come forth the ruler in Israel, and thus, by verifying a prophecy, he might proclaim the divinity and mission of Christ. So powerful was the tradition that about this period the Messiah should come, that many impostors, pretending to be the Christ, drew followers after them; and it appears from the speech of Gamaliel that Judas of Galilee, in the days of the taxing, that is, at the birth of Christ, proclaimed himself the Christ, and drew much people after. He perished as well as Theudas, who had immediately preceded him, and those who believed these impostors were either slain or dispersed.2
In obedience to the imperial decree, Joseph, accompanied by Mary his espoused wife, went to Bethlehem, to render an account of his property to the Roman procurator. During their abode in Bethlehem, which was only a few miles from Jerusalem and in the tribe of Judah, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. So great was the concourse of people that the mother of God could find no better accommodation than a stable; there was no room for them in the inn,
where the man with the gold ring was preferred to the uppermost rooms at their feasts. The mother of the King of kings and the Lord of lords was obliged to resort to a manger of unreasonable beasts, where she brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.
Bethlehem, says an old author, was the city of David and nursery of kings, of whose lineage Christ was; and, though born in Bethlehem, by occasion of the taxing, yet conceived a Nazarite, (thence came this good in spite of all ill proverbs). That town of Ephratah, which, as it signifies fruitfulness, is a region, not only of wood, but of wine; and Bethlehem, signifying a house of bread, affords us this comfortable extract, that the Word made flesh,' in the house of bread and region of wine, leads us to the arms of Christ in the blessed Sacrament worthily received."
St. Paul says, that" when Christ was born the angels of God worshipped him, and we read of no other attendants that waited on the virgin mother at that time. "The WORD was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth, and the WORD was GOD." The Word was not the written word of God, nor the vocal sound which man utters; but the substance of that blessed word of promise which God made to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the faithful, respecting man's redemption. The same was in the beginning with God, the omnipotent Word, without whom nothing was made, and who alone could repair and restore man who had at first created him. The word is a metaphorical expression, a figure of condescension to our capacities, borrowed from the similitude of our own mind and apprehension, to express in some sort that divine nature to our understandings. As our words ought to be the resemblance of our thoughts, so was the Word the brightness of the glory and the express image of the Father, there being the same relation between the Father and the Word as there is between our word and mind. Christ is styled the Word of God, not only with reference to the Father, by whom he was sent; but also to man, whom he created at first, and now came to save and teach, both by precept and example. And there could not be a more appropriate title for him, whose word cured diseases both of body and soul-commanded the elements-raised the dead-and cast out devils, than by a figure of excellence, THE WORD. As Israel could only look on Moses when he veiled the brightness of his face; so may we also behold the light of the world shining in the obscuration of the veil of flesh. The power of God appeared in the creation, and his wisdom in governing all created things; but his mercy was chiefly displayed when the glorious light of heaven was obscured by an earthly body, wherein appeared the kindness and love of God towards man.4
Christ was born of a virgin, and He will be cherished only by an unpolluted virgin soul; he will not dwell in a heart devoted to sinful pleasures and the worldly defilements of impurity, avarice, or sacrilege and which is stained with blood, or the spots of malice and uncharitableness; but in a virgin soul that is pure, or at least groans to be so.
1 Heb. i. 6.
2 St. John i. 1-14.
3 Heb. i. 3.
4 Titus iii. 4.
soul is a fit virgin for the Holy Ghost to overshadow, when all its affections are fixed on God alone. Christ was born according to the flesh, that we might be regenerated according to the Spirit, that his natural might be our spiritual birth, and he "be formed in us.'
As angels were the attendants on our Lord's birth, so they were the first to proclaim it to men. A multitude of the heavenly host appeared during the watches of the night, in such a glorious and heavenly light, to some shepherds who were tending their flocks, as to make them sore afraid;" like Zacharias, they were "troubled, and fear fell upon them." But the angel calmed their troubled minds, and said, "Fear not for behold I bring you good tidings (i. e., the gospel) 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." Thus the gospel of peace was preached by the angelic host to humble shepherds, who we may conclude were poor in spirit," for to such was the gospel to be preached, and an assurance given that it should be preached to all people. Before their departure they sung a hymn, which has ever since made a part of the most solemn devotions of the church in her eucharistic service-" Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men."
The shepherds immediately went in haste to Bethlehem, and found the thing signified by the sign which the angels had given them. They then proclaimed to the indifferent world, absorbed in selfish cares, the glad tidings which they had heard from the angels, and their confirmation in the stable; but all they that heard it merely wondered at what the shepherds told them. "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."
As Christ took on himself the seed of Abraham, it behoved him to be made in all things like unto his brethren, and to fulfil all righteousness by obedience to the law of Moses. And thereupon "when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb,"-"A name which is above every name, and at which every knee shall bow, both in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."1 Circumcision was both the sign and the seal of the covenant which God made with Abrabam, commemorative of the promised Messiah, and prefigurative of baptism and the spiritual circumcision of the heart. Circumcision figured spiritual mercies and spiritual duties; it typified the cutting off" the sinful lusts of the flesh," and that "circumcision of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter," effected by the sword of the Spirit. Christ came to fulfil the law, and therefore he conformed to the legal time, which was the eighth day, signifying the general resurrection, when mortality shall be cut off with immortality, as the seven days uncleanness of the mother indicated the duration of the world. Submission to this painful rite was a demonstration that he had true flesh, and had taken on himself the seed of Abraham, being made of a woman, made under the law of Moses, when he both fulfilled and took away the type, which prefigured the circumcising the whole man, the cutting off all
1 Phil. ii. 9-12.
the superfluous cares of the world and lusts of the flesh, the transformation of the corrupt old man into the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.1
In every age the Father of mercies provided visible signs for man's weakness and instruction; as the trees of life and knowledge to Adam; the rainbow, to Noah; circumcision, to Abraham; the paschal lamb, to the Jews; and, lastly, baptism and the eucharist, to the Christian Church. When administering circumcision a relation held a vessel full of dust, into which the priest cast the foreskin after he had cut it off with a sharpened flint; which might perhaps prefigure the Corner Stone of the new covenant, as the rite itself signified regeneration, and the dust in the vessel the substance of which man is made and into which he will return. At this sacrament a witness held the child in his arms, who was called the "master of the covenant;" and which is the origin of godfathers and godmothers in baptism. At circumcision, the name of the child was given. Although the female sex could not undergo this rite, yet they were reckoned within the covenant, because they were sprung from circumcised fathers, and were destined to be married to circumcised husbands.
At the expiration of forty days the blessed Virgin brought her Son to the temple at Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord, as well as to offer the sacrifice for her own purification. After the Lord smote all the first-born of Egypt, he commanded Moses to sanctify all the firstborn unto himself: "whosoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast, it is mine." And the reason of this is," because the Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of beast: therefore, I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix being males, but all the firstborn of my children I redeem." From this redemption it might have been pleaded that the infant Jesus was exempt because he was the Lord of the temple, the end and substance of the figure; but he came to fulfil the law, and, therefore, he performed all its rites and ceremonies. This was Christ's own redemption, as he afterwards redeemed us. He was the first-born in many respects, of his divinity, of his humanity, of grace, of power in the resurrection, being "the first fruits of them that slept," ,"5 and of the regenerate. He was presented in the temple and redeemed, to show that God was the author both of the law and of the gospel, that he might redeem those who were under the law, and to avoid all cause of scandal with the Jews, who would not have listened to a teacher who had not performed all the rites of the law.
Simeon, a just and devout man, who waited for the appearance of the consolation of Israel, and to whom it had been revealed that he should see Christ in the flesh before he himself should be gathered to his fathers, was led by the Spirit into the temple, and taking the babe in his arms he gave thanks to God for being permitted to see his salvavation prepared for all people. He held in his arms the Light which lighteth every man who cometh into the world, both Jew and Gentile, who enlighteneth our understandings that before were darkened, being
'Eph. iv. 22-24.
2 Vide Leviticus xii. passim.
3 Exod. xiii. 2, 12-17. 4 Eph. v. 2.
61 Pet. i. 3.