Christmas: The Day on which Kings and Prophets Longed to Feast
Lancelot Andrewes, English bishop and theologian, preached a sermon on Christmas day in the year 1609 and again in 1610. In both of these sermons Andrewes encourages his audience to be thankful for the “fullness of times” now ushered in by birth of the Messiah. The Feast of the Nativity is not merely a time for celebrating the birth of a king, he says, but also the dawning of the last age of human history, when the eternal God took human form. This celebration calls for thanksgiving and feasting, for participating in the activities of eternity made temporal. It calls for being full because we have been filled. It also calls for worship and for participating in the greatest act of thanksgiving, that is, the Eucharist. Andrewes explains:
After our ioy-fulnesse, or fulnes of ioy, our fulnes of thankes, or thank-fulnes, is to ensue: for, with that fulnesse, we are to celebrate it likewise. Our minds first & then our mouthes, to be filled with blessing, and praise, and thankes to Him that hath made our times, not to fall into those emptie ages of the world; but to fall within this fulnes of time, which so many Kings & Prophets desired to haue liued in, but fell short of; And liued then, when the times were full of shaddowes, and promises, & nothing else. How instantly they longed, to haue held such a Feast, to haue kept a Christmasse, it is euident, by Dauids Inclina caelos; by Esaies Vtinam disrumpas caelos, Bow the Heauens, and Breake the Heauens: How much (I say) they longed for it: and therefore, that we make not light account of it. To render our thankes then, and to remember to doe it fully, To forget none: To Him that was sent, & to Him, that Sent; Sent his Sonne, in this; the Spirit of his Sonne..
To beginne with Osculamini filium, it is the first duetie enioyned vs this day, to kisse the Babe new borne, that when his Father would send Him, sayd, Ecce venio [Behold, I am coming], so readily: and when he would make Him, was content with Corpus aptasti mihi, to haue a body made him, meete for him to suffer in: who willingly yeelded to be our Shilo; to this ἀπέστειλεν [he sent] heere; yea to be not onely Christ, but an Apostle for vs (Heb. 3.1.), euen the Apostle of our profession. And not to Him that was sent and made alone: but to the Father that sent Him, and to the Holy Ghost that made Him, (as by whom He was conceiued.) To the Father, for his mission; The Sonne, for his Redemption; the Holy Ghost, for his Adoption; For by him it is wrought. He that made Him the Sonne of man, doth likewise regenerate vs, to the state of the Sonnes of God. And this for our thankfulnesse.
And, to these two, (to make the measure full) to ioyne, the fulnesse of duetie, euen whatsoeuer duetifull minded persons, may yeeld to a bountifull minded, and a bountifull handed Benefactor. And with this to begin, to consecrate this first day of this fulnesse of time: euen with our seruice to Him at the full; which, is then at the full, when no part is missing: when all our dueties, of preaching, and praying, of Hymnes, of offering, of Sacrament, and all, meet together. No fulnes there is of our Liturgie, or publike solemne seruice, without the Sacrament. Some part; yea, the chief part is wanting, if that be wanting. But our thanks are surely not full, without the Holy Eucharist, which is by interpretation, Thankesgiuing it selfe. Fully we cannot say, Quid retribuam Domino [what shall I return to the Lord]? but we must answere, Calicem salutaris accipiam, we will take the cup of saluation, & with it in our hands giue thanks to Him; render Him our true Eucharist, or real Thanksgiuing indeed. In which cup is the blood, not only of our redemption of the Couenant, that freeth vs from the Law, and maketh the Destroyer passe ouer vs: but of our Adoption of the new Testament also, which intitles vs, and conueyes vnto vs (Testament-wise, or by way of Legacie) the estate we haue in the ioy and blisse of his heauenly kingdome, wherto we are adopted. We are then made partakers of Him, and with Him of both these His benefits. We there are made to drinke of the Spirit, by which we are sealed, to the day of our redemption, and adoption both. So that, our freeing from vnder the lawe, our inuestiture into our new adopted state, are not fully consummate without it.
And what? Shall this be all? No, when this is done, there is allowance of 12. dayes more, for this fulnesse of time: that, we shrinke not vp our duety then into this day alone, but in the rest also remember, to redeeme some part of the day, to adopt some howre at the least, to be thinke our selues of the duetie, the time calleth to vs for: that so, we haue not Iobs dies vacuos, no daye quite emptie in this fulnesse of time. Hereof assuring our selues, that what we doe in this fulnesse of time, will haue full acceptance at His hands. It is the time of his birth, which is euer a time as accepted, so of accepting, wherein, what is done, will be acceptably taken to the full: fully accepted, and fully rewarded by Him, of whose fulnesse we all receiue: with this condition, of grace for grace, euer one grace for an other. And so, growing from grace to grace, finally from this fulnes, we shal come to be partakers of another yet behinde, to which we aspire. For all this, is but the fulnesse of time: but that, the fulnesse of eternitie, when time shall be runne out, and his glasse emptie, Et tempus non erit amplius [And time shall not be full anymore]; which is, at His next sending. For yet once more shall God send him, and He come againe.
So, I hope you all find yourselves filled with joy on this Feast of the Nativity, finding yourselves fully accepted in His grace. Look forward to that day when the fullness of time will become the fullness of eternity, and have a very Merry Christmas.