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See, on the earlier part of this chapter, Mrs. Browning's striking poem, 'Christmas Gifts'.
Savonarola, after quoting verses 1 and 2 in one of his sermons, proceeds to harangue the Florentines as follows: 'Mark the words and observe the mysteries. Behold then that He by whom all things were made is this day born upon earth. Behold He that is above all things begins by having a native land; He begins as the compatriot of men, the companion of men, the brother of men, and the son of man! Behold the wise men; behold the Chaldeans; behold those who were not born among Christians; behold those that were not baptized; behold those who were not instructed in the law of the Gospel; behold those that did not receive the numerous sacraments of the Church; behold those who heard not the voice of preachers. Behold the wise men from the East, from the midst of a perverse and evil nation, from distant and remote regions, shrinking from no expense, from no weariness, from no danger. They came. And when was it they came? When Christ was a babe, when He lay upon straw, when He showed nought but weakness, when He had as yet done no miracles.' And so on. Professor Villari adds that 'this description of the wise men coming from distant lands and through many perils to seek the infant Jesus, while Christians remain indifferent to Christ the Man, even when He has risen to the splendour of His glory, and opens His arms invitingly to them, was undoubtedly one of the appeals that acted most magically upon the people.'
The Star of the Wise Men ( epiphany )
The lessons which we may learn from these wise men:
I. The Way in which They were Brought to Seek for Christ. This is pointed out in the Collect, 'O God, Who by the leading of a star didst manifest Thy only begotten Son to the Gentiles'. It was through their own common and proper occupation of watching and studying the stars that God led them in the right way to behold His Son. This is an example of the way in which He always works. We are very apt to think that any occupation rather than our own is the best and easiest for serving God. This is the greatest delusion. The one great truth which we must hold fast at starting and never let go is that God is really Himself our leader and our teacher wherever we are, and whatever we may be doing.
II. Consider the Gifts which the Wise Men Brought. They were offerings of love and worship, signs of the devotion within their hearts rather than presents intended for His use: for, whatever may be thought of gold, one sees not what He could do with frankincense and myrrh. And, secondly, they were just the things, the most precious things, found in their own country. Here surely is a lesson to ourselves of the kind of sacrifices with which God is well pleased.
III. These Wise Men are to us an Example of Faith. They are presented to us as such in the Collect, which says, 'we, who know Thee now by faith'. It needed much faith first to care for a King of the Jews at all, then to leave their own home and take a long journey to see Him, and then more than all not to be staggered when they found Him: through faith they were not dazzled by the earthly greatness of Herod or withheld from worship by the low estate of Him Whom they found lying in the manger.
It is the same when God would fain lead us to His Son and to Himself. We must learn to love goodness for its own sake, and to recognize it even when it is naked and seemingly weak, and to trust in its undying strength. Every day almost may show us how easily without faith we may come to reject that which has the mark of God upon it, and is strong with His everlasting strength, because we deceive ourselves with outward appearances.
IV. But the Collect points out a higher goal which may be reached in this way, and in no other: 'Mercifully grant that we which know Thee now by faith may after this life have the fruition, that is, the enjoyment, of Thy glorious Godhead'. The wise men sought and found the King of the Jews because they believed in a King of heaven.
F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 48.
The Wise Men From the East
The visit of the wise men furnishes us with the following topics for consideration:
I. An Insight into the Method of Divine Revelation. 'We, being in the East, have seen His star.'
God adapts His method to the mental capacity and ordinary circumstances of men. To the Jews prophecies were given. To shepherds, accustomed to stories about angelic visitors, an angel was sent. To astrologers a meteor appeared.
II. A Recognition of Christ's Royal Dignity. 'Where is He that is born King of the Jews?'
'We are come to worship Him;' i.e. pay Him homage.
III. An Indication of the Extent of Christ's Kingdom. In His infancy He received the adoration of Gentiles (Isaiah 60:3-6 ).
IV. The Reward of Persevering Faith. A long weary journey was repaid with the sight of Christ.
F. J. Austin, Seeds and Saplings, p. 12.
References. II. 1. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 60. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 22. II. 1, 2. H. P. Liddon, Christmastide in St. Paul's, p. 348. F. C. Blyth, Plain Preachings for a Year, vol. i. p. 103. H. C. Beeching, Sermons for the People (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 1. H. Scott Holland, Church Times, vol. li. 1904, p. 80; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 24. H. Hensley Henson, ibid. vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 33. Trench, The Star of the Wise Men (commentary on the second chapter of Matthew). F. W. Robertson, Sermons (2nd Series), No. 2. Cecil's Sermons, p. 123. Cox, Expository Essays, p. 264. Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i. p. 30. Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 401; vol. iii. p. 36; vol. iv. p. 97; vol. xviii. p. 392; vol. xxvi. p. 159. Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i. pp. 52, 381, 557. Kitto's Daily Bible Illustrations, vol. vii. pp. 91, 110, 118, 133. Fairbairn, Expositor (1st Series), vol. vii. p. 161, and Gibson, Expositor (2nd Series), vol. iii. p. 116. Biblical Things not Generally Known, pars. 2, 354, 798. Hall's Contemplations. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 125. A. Whyte, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i. p. 339, and vol. vi. p. 28. II. 1-3. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. 1900, p. 33. P. H. Hall, The Brotherhood of Man, p. 52. II. 1-4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2325. II. 1, 2, 11. H. C. Beeching, Faith, p. 12. II. 1, 2, 9, 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1698. II. 1-12. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 19.
The Witness of the Children (Holy Innocents' Day)
I. The Lambs Sacrificed for the Sake of the Lamb of God. The Holy Innocents were martyrs in deed but not in will, spotless lambs who were fit to be folded in the fold of God, spotless and innocent flowers fit to be planted in the gardens of Paradise.
The festival of the Holy Innocents was observed by the Church from very early times, though at first it would seem to have been joined to the Feast of the Nativity, which was also combined with the Epiphany.
II. The Story of the Holy Innocents. As the gallows which Haman had erected for Mordecai became his own place of execution, so the sword which Herod sent forth against the Innocents slew his own child and touched not the Child Jesus. These little ones of Bethlehem died as silent witnesses to Him Who, like them, was born in Bethlehem. Thus early in His earthly life Jesus called little children unto Him, as though He said already, 'Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God'. He had come to set up the kingdom of God, and the very first to be called to it were the children; the Holy Innocents were the first flowers transplanted to the Paradise which the Lord had come to open to all believers.
III. Christ's Dwelling-place. ' Where is He that is born King of the Jews?' In the hearts of little children. In the pure shrine of an innocent child's soul.
H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Notes of Sermons for the Year, pp. 47-50, part i.
Worshipping Christ (For Christmas)
Jesus Christ Himself did not often use the word worship, but He did once use it with striking and continual effect 'The Father seeketh such to worship Him.' What is the meaning of 'such' in that relation? It indicates people who worship God in spirit and in truth, people whose hearts are altars, whose lives are tabernacles which the Lord hath chosen as His abiding places. They offer acceptable worship, whatever it be, how poor soever, who really mean it.
I. We know what it is to worship. Let us for the moment drop the word worship, regarding it as having become too narrowly a church word that has upon it a kind of religious symbol. The spirit of worship is in us all. It may not be directed to the right end, but the spirit or instinct of worship is in us, though, mayhap, we may be atheists. Instead of saying 'worship' let us say homage.
We advance a step, and come to the idea of deliverance, redemption, answered expectancy. We live in expectation. There are those who would not use the word prayerful hope, and yet they are living in expectation of a coming Christmas, they have a Messiah of their own; they say, The right man has not yet come, but he is coming, and he will come; for we have seen his star, and we have heard voices of silence, the sublimest eloquence, the spiritual grandeur of speech. All men live in expectation of their own Christmas. They may cast out the dear Son of God, the Babe of Bethlehem, they may deride Him, but they have a cradle of their own, a Bethlehem Ephrata out of which is to come the delivering soul, the mighty man whose garments are red as with the blood of victory. It is a political messiah or a commercial or some kind of intellectual messiah, it is a great Humanity or a splendid ideal. What talk is that? It is Christian speech, turned from the directly Christian line, yet full unknowingly of Christian meaning. Man must have a Christmas, a born Christ, a Babe, a Root, a Branch, a germ out of which will come the whole kingdom of reconciliation and righteousness and final peace.
II. We find our Christ in Bethlehem. We believe that He will make the whole world right. He claims time in which to carry out His great ministry. He comes in the flesh; He vanishes from the body that He may send the true Paraclete, the abiding Spirit, the true inward Personality the personality that is a Trinity in itself. He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment to come that other trinity that rules from a throne unseen.
III. We have come to worship the Son of God. Worship is not a mere sentiment; worship is a great practical force. Do not be afraid of the word sentiment; it is a softening, healing, comforting word. Without sentiment much energy would be simply lost. We are indebted to the sentiment of the dew for the richness of the literal flower. Only Christ can make things go right, and He is very slow about it, as we count slowness.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 2.
The Visit of the Magi
Today we commemorate the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus. These wise men offered to the Lord Jesus Christ the very best they possibly could; they gave Him the homage of their hearts. They were sincere in worshipping Him, and they also offered gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. I would ask you all to do as the wise men did, and accept Jesus as your own personal Saviour, not merely by assenting to the general religious doctrine that Christ is the Saviour of the world, but by offering yourselves to Him.
I. True Wisdom. We know next to nothing about these wise men. A good many people think they were kings, and it seems certain they were men of substance. The only thing I would ask you to note is this, that they were wise men, and the way in which they showed their wisdom was in going, at great trouble and expense, and perhaps peril, in order to give the homage of their hearts to Christ. They had the wisest wisdom, the spirit of the Holy Ghost, to guide them by means of the star to where Christ, the newborn King, was to be found. We do not know from what kingdom they came: they might have come from Persia, or some of those ancient cities in the East, or possibly from where Israel was carried away captive. They must have heard something of the coming of the Christ, the Jewish Messiah, of the King of Kings, of the Lord of Lords, Who was to appear in Judaea, for these Eastern countries were not left without warning as to the truth of God. We have the striking prophecy uttered by Balaam, and there were other prophecies that had been uttered, not only in the Jewish language, but in the Chaldean, one of the common languages of the East.
II. Little Knowledge. The wise men had very little to help them, but they made the best use of what they had. When the extraordinary star appeared, which was always connected with the coming of a new king, they felt confident that the time had come, and they set forth upon that difficult and dangerous journey in order to go and worship Christ They had no gospel, and in this respect they put us to shame. Here we are, with our complete Bible, and Church services and meetings, and yet some of us have not even yet given our hearts to Christ Jesus is not very far from us; we have not a long journey to take; we have no difficulties to contend with; we have nothing to do but to go to Jesus, and we know He invites us again and again: think of His loving words, 'Come unto Me... and I will give you rest,' and yet we have closed the door against Him.
III. Much Faith. These wise men triumphed over the difficulties which stood in their way. They had so little to guide them from the world's point of view. They went in speculation, as it were; they might have been disappointed, and have had all their trouble in vain; but they were not to be deterred by any consideration of that kind. When they got to Jerusalem there came a very great difficulty and a disappointment. They were told there was no new king there, they were told that Herod was king; and, added to this very great disappointment, their guiding star had disappeared. We do not read that in Jerusalem the star was shining over any particular portion of the city. They might have considered that they had made a mistake, and have turned back. But no, they were thoroughly in earnest. We want to be in earnest; we want not only to think of these things in church, but to do them day by day, and labour in all earnestness. If you will put Christ in the forefront of your life He will give you help. Even when the wise men saw the star again that did not finish their disappointment. The star went on to Bethlehem, and took them to an inn. But there was no Christ in the inn. And at length the star stood over a very humble building a mere shed, a stable. Then surely they might have given up the search altogether, but faith enabled them to triumph over every difficulty. When they got inside they did not even see a costly fur on which the infant Christ lay; there was only straw, and there were oxen lying close behind, and there was a manger and in it lay the newborn King.
IV. Wholehearted Adoration. At once these men fell down before Him, and they laid at His feet not only their hearts, but also the most expensive things they had brought with them. The best things they gave were their hearts.
These men, for their own part, came I beg you very earnestly again to note this not to see, nor talk but to do reverence. They are neither curious nor talkative, but submissive.
Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, xii.
Follow you the star that lights a desert pathway, yours or mine, Forward, till you see the highest Human Nature is Divine.
Human learning well improved makes us capable of Divine. God would never have bestowed any gift that should lead us away from Himself.
Claudius Buchanan, as Dr. Eugene Stock tells us, took this text for his great missionary sermon at Bristol on 26 February, 1809, which, said a paper of the day 'kept the minds of a large auditory in a state of most lively sensation for an hour and twenty-five minutes'. He said: 'While we are disputing here whether the faith of Christ can save the heathen, the Gospel hath gone forth for the healing of the nations. A congregation of Hindus will assemble on the morning of the Sabbath under the shade of a banyan-tree, not one of whom, perhaps, ever heard of Great Britain by name. There the Holy Bible is opened, the word of Christ is preached with eloquence and zeal; the voice of prayer and praise is lifted up; and He who hath promised His presence when two or three are gathered together in His name, is there in the midst of them to bless them, according to His word. Those scenes I myself have witnessed, and it is in this sense in particular I can say, "We have seen His star in the East".'
In his Postilla, Melanchthon quotes the opinion of Chrysostom that the star was an angel, and adds that this view does not displease him, although it might have been a real star which an angel guided or led. There may have been 'both an angel and a star'.
References. II. 2. A. G. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 40. Lyman Abbott, ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 392. H. Scott Holland, ibid. vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 33. A. H. Moncur Sime, ibid. vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 381. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 21. B. Wilberforce, The Hope that is in Me, p. 62. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. vi. p. 15. Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 403. G. Tyrrell, Oil and Wine, p. 76. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 967.
Jesus entered into the world with all the circumstances of poverty. He had a star to illustrate His birth: but a stable for His bedchamber and a manger for His cradle. The angels sang hymns when He was born; but He was cold, and cried, uneasy and unprovided.
I see no man either of the city or the court to accompany them. Whether distrust or fear hindered them, I inquire not; but, of so many thousand Jews, no one stirs his foot to see that King of theirs which strangers came so far to visit. Yet were not these resolute sages discouraged with this solitariness and small respect, nor drawn to repent of their journey, as thinking, 'What, do we come so far to honour a King whom no man will acknowledge? What mean we to travel so many hundred miles to see that which the inhabitants will not look out to behold?' but cheerfully renew their journey. And now, behold God encourages their holy forwardness from heaver, by sending them their first guide; as if He had said, 'What need ye care for the neglect of men, when ye see heaven honours the King whom ye seek?'
References. II. 9. A. Young, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. 1897, p. 302. G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, Philippians 3:0 and 125. J. C. Jones, Studies in St. Matthew, p. 26. Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 306. Liddon, Sermons Selected from the Penny Pulpit, vol. i. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to Tracts for the Times, vol. ii. p. 292; vol. vi. p. 15. Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i. pp. 29, 40, 50. F. W. Robertson, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 17. J. Vaughan, Sermons to Children (3rd Series), p. 98. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1634. Bishop Barry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii. p. 17. Bishop Boyd Carpenter, ibid. vol. iii. p. 36.
Stars That Lead to Christ (For Epiphany)
The festival of the Epiphany has a great deal of teaching to bring to us, and this account of the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem is one of the incidents of which it puts us in mind. They saw His star in the East A great many theories have been advanced to account for the appearance of this star, but what God tells us in the Bible is all that we need to know.
I. The Leading of the Star. The star led them to Jesus Christ, and so, too, may we be led to Him in some such way. Astronomy is a very fascinating study in itself, and it can hardly fail to make us realize something of the vastness of God, the Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. The distances from our earth to some of these stars are known to be inconceivably great. The light from the nearest star outside the system of our own sun and the planets is known to take some four years to reach our earth, and light can travel a distance of eight times round the world in a second. Surely facts like these may do something to lead us to know God's infinite greatness and our own insignificance, humbly to cry to Him for mercy and for grace, and to remember that to please Him is really the only aim in life that is worth our attention.
II. Stars as Types. The star was the sign that led the wise men to seek Jesus, and we may think too of the stars as types of some of those lights, as it were, in the darkness that may guide us if we will to His feet. Christian friendship shining like a beacon light in the darkness is often the star that has led to Christ. We may imagine how the wise men on their journey were a comfort one to another. They may not have said much about the object of their journey, but each one wanted to find Christ, each one had gifts to offer to Him, and so they cheered each other on their way. So, too, in our own life there are many of us who can think of some to whose quiet influence we owe very much. A quiet, steady, gentle light shone from them as if from a star that told of powers hidden away that were the strength and force of their character. They may not have said much to us; their lives were to us an open Bible that told us of God's laws. They may not have been at first sight the most attractive people, but soon we learned that the meek and quiet spirit that adorned them was far more beautiful than anything else. They were those whom we really loved and trusted. Let us then be careful in choosing which spirit is to guide us, who is to be our most intimate friend. While we must be careful not to wound the feelings of the sensitive, we must be careful that our friendships are a means to help us and our friends nearer to our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us take care also that our own star is shining, that by God's grace our lamps are alight to show others the way to God.
III. Other Stars that Lead to Christ. And the circumstances of life may be stars that lead us to the Lord Jesus Christ. The wise men left their country and their homes, all that was dear to them. There were dangers and hardships on the road for them to bear, but when they saw the star they rejoiced with an exceeding great joy. There were many disappointments for them. When they found Christ Himself all was so different from what they expected. They found the child cradled in a manger stall, but they had faith enough to see God's plans through it all. They worshipped Christ and they offered Him their gold, incense, and myrrh, as to their King and their God, and to Him Who would conquer by the sufferings of the Cross. And others besides the wise men have been led by hardship and disappointment to find joy and peace in Christ At the beginning of a new year we may perhaps feel how uncertain is the future that lies before us. Let us try to welcome whatever God may see fit to send. Hardship and disappointment are perhaps more likely to be the stars that lead to Christ than anything else. Let us look for the stars that will lead us to Christ, let us follow whither they lead. We give the incense of prayer, the gold of loyal obedience, and the myrrh of thanksgiving. There is still in our Saviour Christ a welcome now and for ever for all who truly turn to Him.
The Guiding Star (Epiphany)
St. Augustine tells us in one of his sermons the reason for observing Epiphany as a separate feast 'On this day we celebrate the mystery of God's manifesting Himself by His miracles in human nature; either because on this day the star in heaven gave notice of His birth; or because He turned water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana in Galilee; or because He consecrated water for the reparation of mankind by His baptism in the River Jordan; or because with five loaves He fed five thousand men. For each of these contains the mysteries and joys of our salvation.' The reverence for Epiphany grew and increased in the Church as time went on; on the vigil it was the custom for sermons to be preached, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated, and slaves had a holiday. The feast itself was known as the Day of Lights, and on it was consecrated the water to be used in baptism during the year.
I. Our Guiding Stars the Church.
In early times, before the mariner's compass was discovered, sailors steered their course by the stars. We all have our Epiphany stars if we would but see this, and they all guide us to our Lord, teaching us how to steer our course over the waves of this troublesome world. First among them, I place the Church. It was the custom in the early days to mark the Feast of Epiphany or day of lights, with many glowing lamps and tapers in church. It is still the custom in some churches to have a lamp burning perpetually before the altar, and in some Sanctuaries the lamp has not been extinguished for hundreds of years. These things are an allegory, the light of the Church never goes out; the Guiding Star of Epiphany never sets, but stands over against the place where the Holy Child is.
II. Our Guiding Stars the Conscience.
God not only gives us a guiding light in His Church, but He places a light within us. 'The Lord shall light my candle.' As long as we follow the light, walk in the light as children of the light, all is well. When the light shines through the church windows we know that God's service is taking place inside. When no light appears, the church is cold and forsaken. We are only serving God and keeping spiritually alive as long as the light of conscience shines like a star, and guides us to Jesus. In a certain old castle of former days, a beacon fire was always kindled at night, and when men saw its light shining forth, they knew that all was well with the castle. One night no beacon fire shone from the tower, and all men knew that ruin and disaster had fallen on the garrison.
III. Our Guiding Stars the Bible.
In the darkness of the night ships at sea signal by means of lights. We, in this world, are all 'as ships that pass in the night,' our course is often a dark and dangerous one, and we need a guiding light to point us to the haven where we would be, and that home where Jesus awaits our coming. The Bible gives us such a guide. 'Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.' If we steer by this light, we are safe. So many people lose their way in the fogs and darkness of men's devising, because they will not look for the light of God's Word.
H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Notes of Sermons for the Tear, pp. 56-61.
References. II. 10. W. J. Butler, Sermons for Working Men, The Oxford Sermon Library, vol. ii. p. 62. II. 11. G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 257. Morgan Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 54. W. J. Dawson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 403. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 58. G. W. Herbert, Notes on Sermons, p. 29. G. Tugwell, Church Times, vol. xliii. 1900, p. 105. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. i. p. 89. W. Howell-Evans. Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 31. R. C. Trench, The Star of the Wise Men, etc. Dr. Arnold, Sermons (3rd Series), No. xvii. F. W. Robertson (2nd Series), Sermon 2. Liddon, Three Hundred Outlines on New Testament, p. 3. Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i. pp. 381, 511, 537. 'Intellect, Power, Wealth, etc., Offering Itself to Christ,' Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i. p. 52. Hall, Contemplations, vol. iii. Dr. Whyte, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i. p. 339. Bishop of Ripon, 'The Lesson of the Epiphany,' Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 36. Ibid. p. 97. Bishop Barry, Epiphany Offerings, vol. xvii. p. 17. Parker, The Inner Life of Christ, vol. i. pp. 30, 40, and see his Homiletic Analysis. Pulpit Analyst, vol. i. p. 30; vol. iii. p. 699. Cox, Expository Essays and Discourses, p. 264. E. White, 'Gospel of the Infancy,' etc., Mystery of Growth, etc., p. 66. Kitto, Daily Bible Illustrations, vol. vii. pp. 110 and 118. Biblical Things, etc., paragraphs 2,354, and 798. R. C. Trench, Poet's Bible, p. 49. II. 13. C. Silvester Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. 1900, p. 74. II. 13-15. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part i. p. 132. II. 13-23. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 28. II. 14, 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii: No. 1675. II. 16. J. B. Brown, The Soul's Exodus and Pilgrimage, p. 28. G. Trevor, Types and the Antitype, p. 155.
The Festival of the Innocents dates as far back as the third century. Its celebration has been universally observed from the first. Dying so early, these little ones are called Innocentes, or Innocui harmless babes, incapable not only of doing the least wrong to any person, but of defending themselves from their cruel persecutors. They were slain for Christ's sake; hence we keep this holy day.
I. The Disappointment Experienced by Herod. Herod, surnamed the Great, was reigning as king over Judaea when Christ was born in Bethlehem; but he had often to struggle hard, both by craft and sword, to keep his throne; so that when he heard of the Magi from the Orient inquiring in Jerusalem for the new King of the Jews, the sceptre seemed already to have fallen from his aged hands. Warned of Gad in a dream, the Magi went back to their own country without revisiting Jerusalem; and when Herod heard they had done so, his wrath burned like fire, and he felt more determined and vengeful than ever.
II. The Merciless Edict Issued by Herod. As he could not dispose of the young King as he intended, the plan of a general massacre suggested itself to him. So he issued his fiat. Strange that he could find anyone to execute it, for it was a barbarous piece of work; but his soldiers were Romans, who hated the Jews. Inhuman monsters these men! but he was the greatest of them all who was their chief. So all the centuries have regarded him. He was verily the incarnation of cruelty, and blood was his delight! But he was foiled a second time. Jesus was then in Egypt, safe and happy, and they who would touch the Lord's Anointed must first strike through the Lord's omnipotence!
III. The Bitter Sorrow Caused by Herod. This is forcibly expressed by three touching words 'lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning' which had original fulfilment when Nebuzaradan, after destroying Jerusalem, brought all the prisoners to Rama, and there disposed of them for the sword or captivity (Jeremiah 40:1 ); then the lamentation in Rama was so voiceful that it was heard in Bethlehem, where Rachel was buried, the two cities being not far from each other. But the prophecy had its complete fulfilment in connexion with the slaughter of the Innocents; the lamentation, however, in this latter case was not borne from Rama to Bethlehem, but from Bethlehem to Rama.
References. II. 16. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. ii. p. 292. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. i. p. 74. II. 16-18. J. Clifford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1895, p. 385.
It is indeed true that peace has its moral perils and temptations for degenerate man, as has every other blessing, without exception, that he can receive from the hand of God. It is, moreover, not less true that, amidst the clash of arms, the noblest form of character may be reared, and the highest acts of duty done; that these great and precious results may be due to war as their cause; and that one high form of sentiment in particular, the love of country, receives a powerful and general stimulus from the bloody strife. But this is as the furious cruelty of Pharaoh made place for the benign virtue of his daughter; as the butchering sentence of Herod raised without doubt many a mother's love into heroic sublimity; as plague, as famine, as fire, as flood, as every curse and every scourge that is wielded by an angry Providence for the chastisement of man, is an appointed instrument for tempering human souls in the seven-times heated furnace of affliction, up to the standard of angelic and archangelic virtue.
W. E. Gladstone.
In his Levana and our Ladies of Sorrows, De Quincey describes the eldest of these three as 'Our Lady of Tears. She it is that night and day raves and moans, calling for vanished faces. She stood in Rama, where a voice was heard of lamentation Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted. She it was that stood in Bethlehem on the night when Herod's sword swept its nurseries of Innocents, and the little feet were stiffened for ever, which, heard at times as they tottered along floors overhead, woke pulses of love in household hearts that were not unmarked in heaven.'
References. II. 18. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 47. II. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1632. III. Ibid. vol. xli. No. 2409; vol. xlvi. No. 2704.
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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29