Christmas: The Day on which Kings and Prophets Longed to Feast

nativity
Nativity by Bastiano Mainardi (†1513)

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.

Advertisements

Don’t Retreat. Stay, and Help with the Shouting

There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of blog posts and articles about the various ‘options’ that we Christians in America have for living in a world that repeatedly shows disdain for our values. If we are followers of Christ, we’ll admit our sin, and perhaps even, we’ll take some advice from an unbeliever. Seneca, writing at the same time as the birth of Christianity, has this advice for us (see here, pp. 227-231)

Athenodoros seems to have surrendered too quickly to the times, to have retreated too quickly. I myself would not deny that sometimes one must retire, but it should be a gradual retreat without surrendering the standards, without surrendering the honour of a soldier; those are more respected by their enemies and safer who come to terms with their arms in their hands.

What does Seneca think we should do then if our arms become useless against the might of the enemy and we have no choice left but to retreat?

If Fortune shall get the upper hand and shall cut off the opportunity of action, let a man not straightway turn his back and flee, throwing away his arms and seeking some hiding-place, as if there were anywhere a place where Fortune could not reach him, but let him devote himself to his duties more sparingly, and, after making choice, let him find something in which he may be useful to the state. Is he not permitted to be a soldier? Let him seek public office. Must he live in a private station? Let him be a pleader. Is he condemned to silence? Let him help his countrymen by his silent support. Is it dangerous even to enter the forum? In private houses, at the public spectacles, at feasts let him show himself a good comrade, a faithful friend, a temperate feaster. Has he lost the duties of a citizen? Let him exercise those of a man.

If we desire to be “great in soul” (a.k.a., magnanimous), Seneca explains, then a complete retreat is never an option:

The very reason for our magnanimity in not shutting ourselves up within the walls of one city, in going forth into intercourse with the whole earth, and in claiming the world as our country, was that we might have a wider field for our virtue […] If Fortune has removed you from the foremost position in the state, you should, nevertheless, stand your ground and help with the shouting, and if someone stops your throat, you should, nevertheless, stand your ground and help in silence. The service of a good citizen is never useless; by being heard and seen, by his expression, by his gesture, by his silent stubborness, and by his very walk he helps. As there are certain salutary things that without our tasting and touching them benefit us by their mere odour, so virtue sheds her advantage even from a distance, and in hiding.

One is reminded of St. Paul’s “you are the aroma of Christ.” If we have any concern for God’s Kingdom, any humility, then let’s be humbled by Seneca’s wisdom. Don’t retreat too quickly, and if retreat is necessary, do not be silent without being seen, without stubborn resistance. The whole world is our country, for Christ has given it to the meek.

The Scribe is a ‘gatherer of old things’

According to Francis Rous, Westminster Divine, the learned scribe must, as Jesus says, bring both old and new things out of his storehouse. Since the question of renaissance is one of my favorite themes, I couldn’t pass up another blog post on Rous. Of course, the perennial question for theologians is, what old things are there to gather, and from whose storehouse do we draw our influence? Rous answers that the learned Scribe must constantly be searching nature for old things like an archeologist or a treasure hunter searching, digging, and hoping to uncover something old. The old becomes new in the moment of recovery and restoration. If he happens upon other diggers who have worked to uncover the artifacts of the past, he should use their knowledge and even use their instruments of recovery. Let the Gibeonites draw water into the Temple.

Having then so absolute, both a Patterne and a Teacher, let us boldly frame the character of our heavenly Scribe, to the shape both of this chiefe Doctor, and of his Doctrine. Accordingly wee will commend to our Scribe things both new and old (but the old first, because they are first) and after him who is Truth, will lay downe this true position; That toward the making of a learned Scribe, there is a great advantage to be gained by the gathering of old things into his treasurie. The Scribe that wil be learned, may be a gatherer of old things; and so let him be. Let him gather into his treasurie the things of Nature, yea gather a stock of them, and lay them up for his use, when he comes to the new. Let him know in a competent measure what is to be found abroad in the old Creation; yea, let him learne what is copied out of it by art and industrie, to serve him in the things of Regeneration: and if in this search he meet with the learning of the Aegyptians, he may carrie their jewels into his treasurie. Let an Heathen Logician or Philosopher, be his Gibeonite to cleave wood, and to draw water for his service in the Sanctuarie. Let the one divide, define, and order; and the other draw secrets from the depths of Nature, to serve the Lords servants in the Tabernacle. Let the precept and patternes of vertues, gathered from their doctrines and stories, serve for spurs and incentives to grace, to goe beyond the effects of Nature; and for exprobrations when shee doth it not. And let the languages both of the Unbeleever, and Mis-beleever, serve for keyes to open to new men, those mysteries which the old men see not, neither doe open to themselves, though the keies be in their hands (The Heavenly Academie, 4-6).

The true scribe is spurred on in search of Truth in every possible vessel because every vessel contains some of it. In this way he imitates the heavenly Scribe, who is his exemplar, and is able to become “all things to all men” as was St. Paul’s custom. So, let the scribe constantly confront what is new with the fresh eyes of ancient wisdom.