On Christmas-day, 1851
years ago, if we had been at Rome, the great capital city, and mistress
of the whole world, we should have seen a
It was an old custom, that, among the heathen Romans, which their forefathers, who were wiser and better than they, had handed down to them. They had forgotten, perhaps, what it meant: but still we may see what it must have meant: That the old forefathers of the Romans had intended to remind their children every year by that custom, that their poor hard-worked slaves were, after all, men and women as much as their masters; that they had hearts and consciences, and sense in them, and a right to speak what they thought, as much as their masters; that they, as much as their masters, could enjoy the good things of God's earth, from which man's tyranny had shut them out; and to remind those cruel masters, by making them once every year wait on their own slaves at table, that they were, after all, equal in the sight of God, and that it was more noble for those who were rich, and called themselves gentlemen, to help others, than to make others slave for them.
I do not mean, of course, that those old heathens understood all this clearly. You will see, by the latter part of my sermon, why they could not understand it clearly. But there must have been some sort of dim, confused suspicion in their minds that it was wrong and cruel to treat human beings like brute beasts, which made them set up that strange old custom of letting their slaves play at being free once every Christmas-tide.
But if on this same day, 1851 years ago, instead of being in the great city of Rome, we had been in the little village of Bethlehem in Judaea, we might have seen a sight stranger still; a sight which we could not have fancied had anything to do with that merrymaking of the slaves at Rome, and yet which had everything to do with it.
We should have seen, in a
mean stable, among the oxen and the asses, a poor maiden, with her newborn
baby laid in the manger, for want of
It was He who gives men reason, and conscience, and a tender heart, and delight in what is good, and shame and uneasiness of mind when they do wrong. It was He who had been stirring up, year by year, in those cruel Romans' hearts, the feeling that there was something wrong in grinding down their slaves, and put into their minds the notion of giving them their Christmas rest and freedom. He had been keeping up that good old custom for a witness and a warning that all men were equal in His sight; that all men had a right to liberty of speech and conscience; a right to some fair share in the good things of the earth, which God had given to all men freely to enjoy. But those old Romans would not take the warning. They kept up the custom, but they shut their eyes to the lesson of it. They went on conquering and oppressing all the nations of the earth, and making them their slaves. And now He was come--He Himself, the true Lord of the earth, the true pattern of men. He was come to show men to whom this world belonged: He was come to show men in what true power, true nobleness consisted--not in making others minister to us, but in ministering to them: He was come to set a pattern of what a man should be; He was the Son of Man--THE MAN of all men--and therefore He had come with good news to all poor slaves, and neglected, hard-worked creatures: He had come to tell them that He cared for them; that He could and would deliver them; that they were God's children, and His brothers, just as much as their Roman masters; and that He was going to bring a terrible time upon the earth--"days of the Son of Man," when He would judge all men, and show who were true men and who were not--such a time as had never been before, or would be again; when that great Roman empire, in spite of all its armies, and its cunning, and its riches, plundered from every nation under heaven, would crumble away and perish shamefully and miserably off the face of the earth, before tribes of poor, untaught, savage men, the brothers and countrymen of those very slaves whom the Romans fancied were so much below them, that they had a right to treat them like the beasts which perish.
That was the message which
that little child lying in the manger there at Bethlehem, had been sent
out from God to preach. Do you not
If you do not, I must remind you of the song, which, St. Luke says, the shepherds in Judaea heard the angels sing, on this night 1851 years ago. That song tells us the meaning of that babe's coming. That song tells us what that babe's coming had to do with the poor slaves of Rome, and with all poor creatures who have suffered and sorrowed on this earth, before or since.
"Glory to God in the highest," they sang, "and on earth peace, good will to men."
Glory to God in the highest.
That little babe, lying in the manger among the cattle, was showing what
was the very highest glory of the
"And on earth peace" they sang. Men had been quarrelling and fighting then, and men are quarrelling and fighting now. That little babe in the manger was come to show them how and why they were all to be at peace with each other. For what causes all the war and quarrelling in the world, but selfishness? Selfishness breeds pride, passion, spite, revenge, covetousness, oppression. The strong care for themselves, and try to help themselves at the expense of the weak, by force and tyranny; the weak care for themselves in their turn, and try to help themselves at the expense of the strong, by cunning and cheating. No one will condescend, give way, sacrifice his own interest for his neighbour's, and hence come wars between nations, quarrels in families, spite and grudges between neighbours. But in the example of that little child of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ the Lord, God was saying to men, "Acquaint yourselves with Me, and be at peace." God is not selfish; it is our selfishness which has made us unlike God. God so loved the sinful world, that He gave His only-begotten Son for it. Is that an action like ours? The Son of God so obeyed His Father, and so loved this world, that He made Himself of no reputation, and took on Him the likeness of a slave, and became obedient to death, even to the most fearful and shameful of all deaths, the death of the cross; not for Himself, but for those who did not know Him, hated Him, killed Him. In short, He sacrificed Himself for us. That is God's likeness. Self-sacrifice. Jesus Christ, the babe of Bethlehem, proved Himself the Son of God, and the express likeness of the Father, by sacrificing Himself for us. Sacrifice yourselves then for each other! Give up your own pride, your own selfishness, your own interest for each other, and you will be all at peace at once.
But the angels sang, "Good
will toward men." Without that their song would not have been complete.
For we are all ready to say, at such
Yes, it is not in the NATURE
of man to do otherwise. In as far as man yields to his nature, and
is like the selfish brute beasts, it is not possible for him to do anything
but go on quarrelling, and competing, and cheating to the last. But
what man's nature cannot do, God's grace can. God's good will is
toward you. He loves you, He wills--and if He wills, what is too
hard for Him?--He wills to raise you out of this selfish, quarrelsome life
of sin, into a loving, brotherly, peaceful life of righteousness.
His spirit, the spirit of love by which He made and guides all heaven and
earth, the spirit of love in which He gave His only Son for you, the spirit
of love in which His Son Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for you, and took
on Himself a meaner state than any of you can ever have--the likeness of
a slave--that spirit is promised to you, and ready for you. That
little baby in the manger at Bethlehem--God sacrificing Himself for you
in the spirit of love--is a sign that that spirit of love is the spirit
of God, and therefore the only right spirit for you and me, who are men
and women made in the image of God. That babe in the manger at Bethlehem
is a sign to you and me, that God will freely give us that spirit of love
if we ask for it. For He would not have set us that example, if He
had not meant us to follow it, and He would not ask us to follow it, if
He did not intend to
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