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Jews could be no where else born. Bethlehem, justly the house of bread; the Bread, that came down from Heaven, is there given to the world: whence should we have the Bread of Life, but from the house of bread? O holy David, was this the well of Bethlehem, whereof thou didst so thirst to drink of old, when thou saidst, Oh, that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem! Surely that other water, when it was brought thee by thy worthies, thou pouredst it on the ground, and wouldst not drink of it. This was that Living Water, for which thy soul longed, whereof thou saidst elsewhere, As the hart brayeth after the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God : my soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.
It was no less than four days' journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. How just an excuse might the Blessed Virgin have pleaded for her absence ! What woman did ever undertake such a journey, so near her delivery? And, doubtless, Joseph, which was now taught of God to love and honour her, was loth to draw forth a dear wife in so unwieldy a case, into so manifest hazard. But the charge was peremptory; the obedience, exem: plary. The desire of an inoffensive observance even of heathenish authority digests all difficulties. We may not take easy
. occasions, to withdraw our obedience to supreme commands. Yea, how didst thou, O Saviour, by whom Augustus reigned, in the womb of thy mother yield this homage to Augustus ! The first lesson, that ever thy example taught us, was obedience.
After many steps, are Joseph and Mary come to Bethlehem. The plight wherein she was would not allow any speed ; and the forced leisure of the journey causeth disappointment. The end was worse than the way: there was no rest in the way : there was no room in the inn. It could not be, but that there were many of the kindred of Joseph and Mary at that time in Bethlehem ; for both, there were their ancestors born if not themselves, and thither came up all the cousins of their blood ; yet there and then doth the Holy Virgin want room to lay either her head or her burthen. If the house of David had not lost all mercy and good nature, a daughter of David could not, so near the time of her travail, have been destitute of lodging in the city of David.
Little did the Bethlehemites think, what a guest they refused; else they would gladly have opened their doors to him, which was able to open the gates of Heaven to them. Now, their inhospitality is punishment enough to itself. They have lost the honour and happiness of being host to their God.
Even still, o blessed Saviour, thou standest at our doors and knockest. Every motion of thy good Spirit tells us thou art there. Now thou comest in thine own name, and there. thou standest, while thy head is full of dew, and thy locks wet with
the drops of the night. If we suffer carnal desires and worldly thoughts to take up the lodging of our heart, and revel within us, while thou waitest upon our admission, surely our judgment shall be so much the greater, by how much better we know whom we have excluded. What, do we cry shame on the Bethlehemites, whilst we are wilfully more churlish, more unthankful ?
There is no room in my heart, for the wonder at this humility. He, for whom heaven is too strait, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, lies in the strait cabin of the womb; and when he would enlarge himself for the world, is not allowed the room of an inn. The
many mansions of heaven were at his disposing; the earth was his and the fulness of it; yet he suffers ħimself to be refused of a base cottage, and complaineth not. What measure should discontent us wretched men, when thou, O O God, farest thus from thy creatures? How shall we learn both to want and abound, from thee, which, abounding with the glory and riches of heaven, wouldst want a lodging in thy first welcome to the earth ! Thou camest to thine own, and thy 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 cratch 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 mightest teach us to contemn them? that thou mightest 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 obscuro 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 news of their Saviour, than their neighbours: their vigilancy is honoured with this heavenly vision. Those, which 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 inquire 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
CONTEMPLATION IV.—THE SAGES AND THE
The shepherds and the cratch 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 oh the Divine Majesty, that shined in this baseness ! There lies the Babe in the stable, crying in the manger, whom the angels came down from heaven to proclaim, whom the Sages come from the East to adore, whom a 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 that 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 atheistic. 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, which 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 wisdom of our good 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 Messiah, 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. Give them to be the offspring of Balaam, yet the true prediction of that false prophet was not enough warrant. If he told them the Messiah should arise as a Star out of Jacob, he did not tell them that a Star should arise far from the posterity of Jacob, at the birth of the Messiah. 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 magnificence, that a Star from heaven should publish him to the earth, and that his subjects should not know it; and therefore, as presupposing a common notice, they say, Where is he, that is born King of the Jews? There is much odeceit 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 are 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.