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known unto them. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” the angel had prepared their expectation, they found the narrative verified, and saw the glory and the mystery of it by that representment, which was made by the heavenly ministers, seeing God through the veil of a child's flesh, the heir of Heaven wrapt in swaddling-clothes, and a person, to whom the angels did minister, laid in a manger; and they beheld, and wondered, and worshipped.
7. But as precious liquor, warmed and heightened by a flame, first crowns the vessel, and then dances over its brim into the fire, increasing the cause of its own motion and extravagancy; so it happened to the shepherds, whose hearts being filled with the oil of gladness up unto the brim, the jo ran over, as being too big to be confined in their own breasts, and did communicate itself, growing greater by such dissemination. For “ when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying, which was told them concerning this child. And,” as well they might, “ all that heard it, wondered.” But Mary, having first changed her joy into wonder, turned her wonder into entertainments of the mystery, and the mystery into a fruition and cohabitation with it: For “ Mary kept all these sayings, and pondered them in her heart.” And the shepherds having seen what the angels did upon
the publication of the news, which less concerned them than us, had learnt their duty, to sing an honour to God for the nativity of Christ : for “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things, that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
8. But the angels had told the shepherds, that the nativity was “glad tidings of great joy unto all people ;” and, that “ the heavens might declare the glory of God, and the firmament show his handy work;" this also was told abroad, even to the Gentiles, by a sign from heaven, by the message of a star. For there was a prophecy of Balaam, famous in all the eastern country, and recorded by Moses, “ There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall arise out of Israel : Out of Jacob shall come he, that shall have dominion.” Which although in its first sense it signified David, who was
# Num. xxiv. 17.
the conqueror of the Moabites; yet, in its more mysterious and chiefly intended sense, it related to the Son of David. And, in expectation of the event of this prophecy, the Arabians, the sons of Abraham by Keturah, whose portion given by their patriarch was gold, frankincense, and myrrh, who were great lovers of astronomy, did with diligence expect the revelation of a mighty prince in Judæa at such time, when a miraculous and extraordinary star should appear. And therefore," when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa, in the days of Herod the king, there came wise men,” inspired by God, taught by art, and persuaded by prophecy, “ from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews ? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him." The Greeks suppose this, which was called a star, to have been indeed an angel in a pillar of fire, and the semblance of a star; and it is made the more likely, by coming and standing directly over the humble roof of his nativity, which is not discernible in the station of a star, though it be supposed to be lower than the orb of the moon. To which, if we add, that they only saw it, (so far as we know,) and that it appeared, as it were, by voluntary periods, it will not be very improbable, but that it might be like the angel, that went before the sons of Israel in a pillar of fire by night; or rather, like the little shining stars sitting upon the bodies of Probus, Tharacus, and Andronicus, martyrs, when their bodies were searched for, in the days of Dioclesian, and pointed at by those bright angels.
9. This star did not trouble Herod, till the Levantine princes expounded the mysteriousness of it, and said it declared a “king to be born in Jewry,” and that the star · was his, not applicable to any signification but of a king's birth. And therefore, although it was no prodigy nor comet', foretelling diseases, plagues, war, and death, but only the happy birth of a most excellent prince; yet it brought affrightment to Herod and all Jerusalem : for " when Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” And thinking that the question of the kingdom was now in dispute, and an heir sent from
h Epiplian. in Expos. Fid. Cath. c. 8. i Et terris mutantem regna cometem.--Chalcidius in Timæum Platonis.
heaven to lay challenge to it, who brought a star and the learning of the East with him, for evidence and probation of his title, Herod thought there was no security to his usurped possession, unless he could rescind the decrees of Heaven, and reverse the results and eternal counsels of predestination. And he was resolved to venture it, first by craft, and then by violence.
10. And first,“ he calls the chief priests and scribes of the people together, and demanded of them, where Christ should be born;" and found, by their joint determination, that Bethlehem of Judæa was the place, designed by ancient prophecy and God's decree. Next, he inquired of the wise men concerning the star, but privily, what time it appeared. For the star had not motion certain and regulark, by the laws of nature ; but it so guided the wise men in their journey, that it stood when they stood, moved not when they rested, and went forward when they were able, making no more haste than they did, who carried much of the business and employment of the star along with them. But when Herod was satisfied in his questions, “ he sent them to Bethlehem,” with instructions “ to search diligently for the young child, and to bring him word,” pretending that he would “ come and worship him also."
11. The wise men prosecuted the business of their journey, and “having heard the king, they departed; and the star,” (which, as it seems, attended their motion,) went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was ;" where “ when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Such a joy as is usual to wearied travellers, when they are entering into their inn; such a joy as when our hopes and greatest longings are laying hold upon
proper objects of their desires, a joy of certainty immediately before the possession : for that is the greatest joy, which possesses before it is satisfied, and rejoices with a joy not abated by the surfeits of possession, but heightened with all the apprehensions and fancies of hope, and the neighbourhood of fruition ; a joy of nature, of wonder, and of religion. And now their hearts laboured with a throng of spirits and passions, and 'ran into the house, to the
* Leo Serm. 4. de Epiphan.
embracement of Jesus, even before their feet: but " when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child, with Mary his mother." And possibly their expectation was something lessened, and their wonder heightened, when they saw their hope empty of pomp and gaiety, the great King's throne to be a manger, a stable to his chamber of presence, a thin court, and no ministers, and the King himself a pretty babe ; and, but that he had a star over his head, nothing to distinguish him from the common condition of children, or to excuse him from the miseries of a poor and empty fortune.
12. This did not scandalize those wise persons; but, being convinced by that testimony from Heaven, and the union of all circumstances, “ they fell down and worshipped him,” after the manner of the Easterlings, when they do veneration to their kings; not with an empty Ave, and gay blessing of fine words, but “ they bring presents, and come into his courts;" for “ when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” And if these gifts were mysterious', beyond the acknowledgment of him to be the King of the Jews, and Christ, that should come into the world, frankincense might signify him to be acknowledged a God, myrrh to be a man, and gold to be a king: unless we choose by gold to signify the acts of mercy; by myrrh, the chastity of minds and purity of our bodies, to the incorruption of which myrrh is especially instrumental; and by incense we intend our prayers ", as the most apt presents and oblations to the honour' and service of this young King. But however the fancies of religion may represent variety of ideas, the act of adoration was direct and religious, and the myrrh was medicinal to his tender body; the incense possibly no more than was necessary in a stable, the first throne of his humility; and the gold was a good antidote against the present indigencies of his poverty : presents such as were used in all the Levant, (especially in Arabia and Saba, to which the growth of myrrh and frankincense were proper,) in their addresses to their God and to their king; and were instruments with
IS. Ambros. in ii. Ln. 6. Leo, Ser. de Epiph. Theophil. in Matt. ii, S. Bernard, in Serm. 2. de Epiplı.
in Phil. iv. 18. Ps. cxli. 2. Rev. v. 8. VOL. 11.
which, under the veil of flesh, they worshipped the eternal Word; the wisdom of God, under infant innocency; the almighty power, in so great weakness; and under the lowness of human nature, the altitude of majesty and the infinity of divine glory. And so was verified the prediction of the prophet Esay “, under the type of the son of the prophetess, “ Before a child shall have knowledge to cry, My father and my mother, he shall take the spoil of Damascus and Samaria from before the king of Assyria.”
13. When they had paid the tribute of their offerings and adoration," being warned in their sleep by an angel, not to return to Herod, they returned into their own country another way;" where, having been satisfied with the pleasures of religion, and taught by that rare demonstration which was made by Christ, how man's happiness did nothing at all consist in the affluence of worldly possessions, or the tumours of honour; having seen the eternal Son of God poor and weak, and unclothed of all exterior ornaments; they renounced the world, and retired empty into the recesses of religion, and the delights of philosophy.
Ad SECTION IV.
Considerations upon the Apparition of the Angels to the
Shepherds. 1. When the angels saw that come to pass, which Gabriel, the great ambassador of God, had declared; that which had been prayed for and expected four thousand years; and that, by the merits of this new-born Prince, their younger brethren -and inferiors in the order of intelligent creatures were now to be redeemed, that men should partake the glories of their secret habitations, and should fill up those void places, which the fall of Lucifer and the third part of the stars had made, their joy was as great as their understanding ; and these mountains did leap with joy, because the vallies were filled with benediction, and a fruitful shower from heaven. And if, at the conversion of one sinner, there
Isa, viii. 4. Justin M. Dial. cum Tryphon. Tertul. lib. iii. contra Marcion. c. 13.