Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology
Lancelot Andrewes Works, Sermons, Volume One
SERMONS OF THE NATIVITY.
PREACHED UPON CHRISTMAS-DAY, 1620.
Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Monday, the Twenty-fifth of December, A.D. MDCXX.
Transcribed by Dr Marianne Dorman
St. Matthew ii:1-2
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea, in the days of Herod the King, behold there came wise men 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.
Cum ergo natus esset Jesus in Bethlehem Judae, in diebus Herodis Regis, ecce magi ab Oriente venerunt Jerosolymam, dicentes, Ubi est Qui natus est Rex Judaeorum? Vidimus enim stellam Ejus in Orientes, et venimus adorare Eum.
We pass now this year from the shepherds and the Angels to the wise men and their star. This star and their coming, no less proper to this day than those other were. For though they came not to Jerusalem this day, yet this day venerunt ab Oriente, ‘from the East they came.’ They set forth this very day. For they came when ‘Jesus was born,’ and this day was He born. Howsoever the star brought them not to their journey's end till twelve days hence, yet this day it first shewed itself; how soon Jesus was born, vidimus stellam, it appeared straight, For which very appearing, you shall find the Fathers of the East Church do call this first day tű ™pif£nia, as well as the last. This first, wherein His star appeared and they began their journey. [233/234] The last, wherein He appeared Himself, and their journey was at an end. First and last, an appearing there was. One begins, the other ends the feast.
We pass from one of them to the other, but from the less to the greater; for of the twain this is the greater. Greater in itself, greater to us. Two ways greater in itself. The other of the shepherds, a poor one, poor and mean. This of the wise men a sign of some state, highly and Heavenly.
God bade Ahaz ask a sign; ‘ask one from here below, or one from the height above,’ He would ask neither, but God gave both. From below, hoc erit Signum, ‘you shall find the Babe in a manger’ -low enough, That we have done withal. Now from above, ecce vidumus Stellam, the sign from Heaven—His new star.
Besides, to speak uprightly, one might in some sort complain of the privateness of the Angels' appearing. Somewhat obscure it was, few privy to it; passed over in the night between the Angels and them. And upon it, three or four shepherds got them into the stable; and what there they did no man could take notice of.
More famous, and more manifestation-like was this here. A new light kindles in Heaven, a star never seen before. The world could not but look up at it, and ask what it meant, Nothing appearing there, but ‘the sound of it goeth out into all lands, and the news of it to the utmost parts of the earth.’
This made another manner venerunt. Upon this came there to Jerusalem not a rout of shepherds, but a troop of great persons. And not from a heath or sheep-common hard by, but from afar, ‘from the east,’ twelve days journey off. All Jerusalem rang of it. The King, Priests, and people busied with it. To this day remembered in all stories. It cannot be forgotten; ‘For this was not done in a corner,’ this was indeed a manifestation. Better in itself thus.
And for us better—for us all. For we all hold by this. It was a brack in the former; the sermon was made, and the anthem sung, and none at it but the shepherds. And what were they? Jews. What is that to us? This Scripture offereth ‘more grace.’ These here that ‘came from the East,’ first they were Gentiles. Gentiles—that concerns us, for so are we. We may then look out, if we can see this star. It is ours, it is the Gentiles' star. [234/235] We may set out course by it, to seek and find, and worship Him as well as they.
This is for us all. But there is yet more grace offered to some in particular. The shepherds were a sort of poor simple men altogether unlearned. But here come a troop of men of great place, high account in their country; and withal of great learned men, their name gives them for no less. This lo, falls somewhat proper to this place and presence that will be glad to hear it. It is faustum et salutare Sydus to such; that wealth, worth, or wisdom shall hinder none, but they may have their part in Christ's birth as well as those of low degree. It is not only Stella gentium, but Stella magorum, ‘the great men's, the wise men's Star,’ this.
So quoad nos, ‘for us’ it fitteth well. And quoad se, ‘of itself’ it is fit every way. This star leads us to another star;—even ‘the root and generation of David, the bright morning Star.’ He of Whom Zachary saith in the Old Testament, Ecce Vir, Oriends nomen Ejus; yea Oriens ab alto, saith Zachary in the New; visits those of the East whence the day springeth, takes them that are nearest Him, and His rising works upon the place first that bears His name. ‘The wisdom of God, the beginning of all His ways,’ is found by wise men of all other, because they be wise, most fit to find Him.
Two verses I have read. In the former after the matter of the feast first remembered, ‘When Jesus was born,’ accompanied with the two circumstances of place and time,—the place where, ‘Bethlehem Judah;’ the time when, ‘the days of Herod the King’- there is a memorable accident that then happened set down; a venerunt, ‘a coming or arrival’ at Jerusalem. And they that so came were a company of magi ‘from the East.’ And this lo, hath the ecce on the head of it, Ecce, venerunt magi ab Oriente, ‘Behold, there came,’ &c. as the special point in the text; and so we to make it.
In the latter is set down their errand. Both the 1. occasion, and the 2. end; best expressed by themselves out of their own dicentes. 1. The occasion; vidimus stellam, they had ‘seen His star.’ 2. The end; venimus adorare, they are ‘come to worship Him.’ Viderunt, venerunt, adorČrunt.
That they may come to their finis ultimus they must have [235/236] a medius finis; that is, to worship, they must find Him where He is.
So they ask ubit est? Not whether He be born, but ‘where He is born.’ For born He is they are sure, by the same token they have seen His star. His star is up, that is risen, therefore He is risen too.
So the star in Heaven kindled another star in earth. St. Peter calls it the ‘Day-star which rises in the heart,’ that is faith, which shined and manifested itself by their labour in coming, diligence in enquiring, dutying in worshipping.
Christ's birth made manifest to them by the star in heaven. Their faith ‘the star in Heaven’ made manifest to Christ and to all by the travel of it, which showed it manifestly.
That upon the matter there falls a threefold manifestation, you may call them three stars if you please. 1. The star in Heaven, 2. The day-star in their hearts. 3. And Christ Himself, ‘the bright morning star,’ whom both the other guide us to; the Star of this morning which makes the day the greatest day in the year.
The sum of all riseth to this, that God hath ‘opened a door of faith to the Gentiles;’ and among them to wise men and great men, as well as to the simpler sort. But with this condition, that they say with them, venite adoremus; and so come and seek, and find and worship Him, that is do as these did.
‘When Jesus was born.’ That ‘when’ is now. His birth is the ground of the feast and the cause of our venimis, ‘our coming together.’ Where this we note first: it is the very first time, the first ‘was born;’ in the Bible; ‘was born’ never till now. Here the tide turns, the sense changes from ‘shall be;’ to ‘was.’ A blessed change. And the day is blessed on which it happened.
Before He was born, it was so sure He should be born as Esay said, Puer natus est nobis. But for all that there is some odds between Esay's natus est and St. Matthew's. That was but virtually as good as born, this actually born indeed.
‘Jesus Christ yesterday, and to-day, and the same for ever.’ ‘The same,’ yet not altogether after the same manner. There is as much between Jesus Christ ‘yesterday,’ [236/237] not come, and Jesus Christ ‘to-day’ cum natus esset, as is between a state in reversion and one in being.
The Fathers aptly resemble their case, that were the antenati before Christ, and ours that came after, to the two men that ‘carried the great cluster of grapes upon a staff between them.’ Both carried, but he that came behind saw that he carried; so did not he that went before. The post-nati sure are of the surer hand. And so for cum natus esset, the day and time, to hold a feast for ‘when Jesus was born.’
Weighty circumstances are ever matter of moment, in a story specially. Three there are in the first verse. 1. The place. 2. The time. 3. The persons. 4. I add a fourth out of the second verse, the occasion. The place ubi, ‘Bethlehem Judah.’ The time quando, ‘the days of Herod the King.’ The persons quibus, ‘wise men from the East.’ The occasion whereupon, a new star appearing. Every one of the four having a several prophecy running of it, and every prophecy a filling of it in these words.
The place. He was born in Bethlehem Judah; ‘And thou Bethlehem Judah,’ saith the Prophet Micah, ‘out of thee shall He come.’ And now come He is.
The time. ‘The days of Herod the King.’ ‘The sceptre shall not quite depart from Judah till Shiloh come,’ said old Father Jacob in his prophecy. Shiloh then is now come. For the sceptre is in Herod's hand, his father an Edomite, his mother an Ishmaelite—Judah clean gone.
The persons. Magi ab Oriente, ‘Kings from the East.’ The Kings of Arabia and Saba shall come and bring gifts, saith David. And Esay specifies them, gold, myrrh, incense. These Kings are come—here they are; they and their gifts both.
The occasion whereupon. ‘A star risen.’ ‘A star shall rise of Jacob,’ saith Balaam—no very good man, yet a true Prophet in this; and his prophecy true, and for such recorded in the Book of Moses. This ‘Star’ is this morning up to be seen. Prophecies of all four, and all four accomplished.
Of the place, of Bethlehem, out of Micah, it hath formerly been treated. I but touch it and pass it now. It was the place [237/238] where David himself was born. And what place more meet for the Son of David to be born in? It was the place where was heard the first news of the Temple. And where could the ‘Lord of the Temple’ more fitly be heard of? It interpreted domus panis, ‘the house of bread.’ What place more proper for Him Who is ‘the living Bread that came down from Heaven,’ to give life to the world? It was the least and lowest of all ‘the thousands of Judah.’ What little and low is in things natural, that lowliness and humility is in spiritual. This natural birth place of His sheweth His spirituality. Humility is His place—humility, as I may call it, the Bethlehem of virtues: where you find it. ‘Lo there is He born.’ So born in us, as born for us. Pass we Christ's ubi; and now to His quando.
Of the time. The days of Herod the King. And those were evil days—days of great affliction to that land. Judahs's ‘sceptre’ clean broken; not ‘a lawgiver’ left between his feet. Edom, that is Herod the Edomite, cried, ‘Down with them, down to the ground.’ Not so much as a sort of silly babes but barbarously slain in their mothers' arms, enough to make Rachael mourn as she lay in her grave. Dismal days certainly. Why, then comes Shiloh; when man's help farthest off, then God’s nearest. When it is dark, then rises the star.
What one prophecy of Him but came even so, even at such a time when they were most out of heart, and needed comfort most? Jacob's, when they were in Egypt, ‘the house of bondage.’ Balaam's, when in the waste and barren wilderness, ‘among fiery serpents.’ Esay's, when they were ready to be overrun with the two Kings of Syria and Israel. Daniel's, when In Babylon, the land of their captivity. Aggai's, when they built the wall with the trowel in one hand and the sword in the other. As His prophecies came still, so came He. His prophecies, saith Peter, as a candle; Himself as a star—in the dark both. For all the world like the time of the year His birth fell in; in the sharpest season, in the deep of winter. As humility His place, so affliction His time. The time and place fit well. For the time of affliction makes the place—makes humility. Which place Christ is born in. I pass this also, and come to the third; of the persons.
For there stands the ecce upon it. Which ecce points us to it, as to the chief point of all, as indeed it is. And our chief [238/239] endeavour to include ourselves, to have our parts in this venerunt, in coming to Christ.
Here is a coming, venerunt. And they that come, magi. In which comers we consider four points; they sustain four persons. 1. Of Gentiles; 2. Gentiles from the East; 3. great persons, great princes—for we may be bold to call them, as the prophecy calls them, Kings; 4. of great learning and wisdom; so magi their name gives them.
‘To Bethlehem came the shepherds.’ Nothing to us—they were Jews. But thither came these too, and they were Gentiles; and in this ‘Gentiles,’ we. So come we in. ‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles set open a door of Faith,’ at which door we enter, we with them and they with us, for they and we Gentiles both. The star is stella Gentium, and so ours; and we to direct our course by it. All that ever write call them Primitias Gentium, ‘the first-fruits;’ Antesignanos, the ‘standard-bearers’ to all the Gentiles that came in after. Upon this I beg leave to stand a little, since it is our tenure we hold by.
And that God would thus do, call the Gentiles in, there was some little ecce still, some small star-light from the beginning.
1. By way of promise. So much promised by the Patriarchs. Noah; that ‘Japhet should at the last dwell in the tents of Shem.’ Abraham; that ‘in his seed,’ not nay one nation, but ‘all the nations of the earth be blessed.’ Jacob; the Shiloh's coming should be—expectatio say some, and some aggregatio gentium. All nations look for Him, all be gathered to Him.
2. By way of figure. As much was shadowed in the Law, the Tabernacle, and the Temple; all ‘figures of things to come.’ The Law: where was it given? Was it not in ‘Sinai, a mountain in Arabia,’ saith the Apostle, and so upon heathen ground? I trust we may have leave to come upon our own ground. And by whom? Was it not by Moses? And we claim to him by alliance. His wife was the daughter of the Priest of Midian—so of a heathen woman; and his children, heathen of half blood.
The Tabernacle: was not the silk, and gold, and riches it was made of, the spoils of Egypt, and so heathen stuff?
The Temple: was it not founded upon the threshing-floor [239/240] of Ornan the Jebusite, a heathen man? So on heathen soil, and ĺdificium cedit solo. The timber and materials of it, came they not from Hirman's country, a heathen king? And the chief workman in it, the son of a man of Tyre, heathen also? So the heathen were never wholly out. Venerunt, ‘they came,’ they made their proffers. Some ecce, some little star still.
3. Now the Prophets, when they came, had we not hold there too? At the same time that God did he not likewise give Balaam to the Gentiles who in the mountains of the East prophesied of Christ's star, here? Great odds, I know, between the men, none between their prophecies; both alike true, both their places alike in the library of the Holy Ghost. After that, Jonas. Howsoever his book stand in the volume of the Prophets, yet when time was it shewed, that in time he was the first of the sixteen Prophets—before, and ancient to them all. And this was a fair star, that His first Prophet of all God sent to Nineveh, the great city of the Gentiles then; and sent him before He sent any of the other fifteen to His own people then in shew, the people of the Jews.
But even of them He sent to the Jews, saith not Esay directly, ‘the root of Jesse should be as a standard, all the nations gather unto Him?’ Saith not God there, it was too poor a service for Christ to do to Him, to draw to Him a sort of silly shepherds; He would give Him, ‘as a light to lighten Gentiles’ was this star, here; Simeon had it revealed to him whereto this star referred, and what it meant; for it lighted them indeed. And this, standing the first Temple. And saith not Aggai, standing the second Temple, ‘the desire of all nations should come,’ meaning Christ; the desire, not of one nation alone, but even of all? So the Prophets will not be against this venerunt, they are all for it.
4. And was not also this venerunt daily sung in their choir—the Psalm of the Nativity? ‘I will think upon Rahab (that is Egypt) and Babylon, among such as shall know Me. Behold ye the Philistines also and them of Tyre, with the Morians; lo, there was He born.’ ‘Born’ in all those places; that is, His birth concerns them all—all their interest in it. In the [240/241] Psalm of His Passion: ‘All the ends of the earth shall remember themselves, and shall turn unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of nations shall worship before Him.’ In the Psalm of the Resurrection; that, He should then become ‘the Head-stone of the corner,’ and join both Jews and Gentiles in one coin or angle. And, in the Psalm of His Ascension; that the ‘princes of the nations should be joined to the people of the God of Abraham.’ And in the Psalm of His Exaltation; ‘that all Kings should kneel before Him, all nations do Him service.’
That which was thus promised to, and by the Patriarchs, shadowed forth in the figures of the Law, the Temple, and the Tabernacle; that which was foresaid by the prophets, and forsung of in the Psalms, that was this day fulfilled. Venerunt, here ‘they are come,’ and venimus, ‘we’ in them and with them, who not only in their own names, but in ours make sure their entry; came and sought after, and found and worshipped, their Saviour and ours, the Saviour of the whole world.
A little wicket there was left open before, whereat divers Gentiles did come in. Many a venit there was. Venit Job in the Patriarch's days; venit Jethro in Moses,’ Rahab in Joshua's, Ruth in the Judges' time; Ittai, the King of Gath's son, in David's, the Queen of Sheba in Solomon's, the widow of Sarepta in Elias', Naaman, the Syrian, in Elisha's time. Each of these in their times had the favour to be let in. Now a venerunt, the great gate set wide open this day for all—for these here with their camels and dromedaries to enter, and all their carriages.
In the setting down His genealogy, the chapter before, that Salmon espoused Rahab the Canaanite, that Booz likewise Ruth the Moabite, it is plain that Christ descended according to the flesh of heathen. Descending of heathen, He will never disdain them of whom He is descended; never shut them out, but invite them to His child-house, as we see this day by His star He did.
And if you mark it of His first sermon, the widow of Sarepta and Naaman the Syrian were the theme; which made, His sermon was not liked. Yet that theme He chose purposely. [241/242] And the Queen of the South, and the men of Nineveh much in His mouth—He mentioned them willingly. And to end this point, He That at His birth now received these of the East, a little before His death in like sort received Grecians from the West, to see and to salute Him. And straight upon it, upon the receiving them brake out and said, ‘The hour is come now that the Son of Man is glorified,’ when East and West are come in both.
I have a little stood on this, because it is the ecce point. I conclude: the place He was born in, an inn, which is for all passengers of what country soever; the time He was born in of the tax, when ‘all the world came up to be taxed;’ the very star which, as the nature of stars is, is common to all coasts and climates, peculiar to none; all shew that from all coasts they may now come, that the Gentiles are now to be, as the Apostle in three pregnant terms delivers it sÚsswma, summýtoca, sugklhrŮnoma, ‘fellow-members, fellow-partners and fellow-heirs of one body,’ co-partners and co-heirs of Christ and His birth. This for stella Gentium, ‘the Gentiles’ star,’ so both theirs and ours.
There came Gentiles, and they came from the East. This may seem to set us back again, for we are of the West, the contrary climate. That is no matter. For in that ‘they came from the East,’ there lieth further hope for us, even from the point of the compass. For that is not only Gentiles, ‘but sinners of the Gentiles,’ sinners, and that chief sinners. For so were they of the East; greater, far greater sinners than the rest. For tell me, what sin was there that came not from thence? There was the tower set in hand, that should have confronted God; and of it came Babel, and from it confusion. Thence came all tyranny and oppression among men, from Nimrod who hunted and ranged over men as over beasts in a forest. Thence all idolatry and worship of false gods, both in earth from Belus' tomb first; and in Heaven, from ‘the star of their God Rempham’ which St. Stephen speaks of. Thence, ‘from the mountains of the East,’ the prosperity of Balaam, false prophets who ‘love the wages of unrighteousness,’ and from them all that naught is. And if in all these it did, it cannot be denied but that the whole world received their infection that way from the East. [242/243]
And herein ‘appeared the grace of God which brings salvation to all men,’ and to all sinners, as fair and clear as the star itself; that thence out of the mountains of the East God calls these to seek, and guided them to find Christ; that whence the poison first came, thence might come the triacle; and that as they were the first who went out, so they be the first who came in.
So the East sets us not farther back, but brings us nearer. For if the East may come which are the greater, much more may the West which are the less; if the seducers, the seduced. From the East to the West is a majore ad minus. That if venerunt ab Oriente, venient ab Occidente; if the greater, much rather the lesser. This for the star of the Gentiles first, and now the star of sinners, and chief sinners of the Gentiles, even oriental sinners.
But they sustain yet a third person, these—to come nearer, and to make it come nearer us, even to this place, For great men they were in their countries, of the highest place and account there, as all stories testify. The Psalm calls them ‘Kings of Sheba and Seba,’ and so may we. It may appear by Herod's respect to them, his calling a synod to resolve them, his privy conference with them. So may it by their treasures they opened, and by their presents they offered, presents for a King, which give them for no less. So this is now thirdly, Stella magnatum, ‘the star of princes and nobles also.’ Yes, stella regia, ‘the star royal;’ Kings themselves have their hold and claim by it.
Christ is not only for russet cloaks, shepherds and such; shews Himself to none but such. But even the grandees, great states such as these, venerunt, ‘they came’ too; and when they came were welcome to Him. For they were sent for and invited by this star, their star properly.
These at His birth, at His welcome into the world; and others such as these at His death, at His going out of it. Then Joseph of Arimathea, an honourable counsellor, bestowed on Him a fair new tomb; and others came with ‘their hundred pound of sweet odours.’ So that coming and going He was beholden to such. The tribe came of, was the royal tribe to whom the sceptre belonged; and in the prophecy it follows, ‘a star shall rise out of Jacob, and a pp.243/244 sceptre out of Israel.’ To Kings, to sceptres, Christ cannot but be well inclined.
Among his Prophets I find Amos, a herdsman. True; but I find Esay and Daniel, both nobly descended, and of the blood royal.
In His descent there are Booz and Jesse, plain countrymen; but there are David and Solomon too, and a list of Kings withal, that so there may be a mixture of both. It is true St. Paul saith, ‘You see your calling; not many mighty, not many noble after the flesh.’ ‘Not many’ he saith; ‘not any’ he saith not, he should then have spoken contrary to his own knowledge. Some pertained to this star, went by it. The Lord Deputy of Cyprus, the great Judge in Areopagus, divers of the nobler sort at Nerea, and divers of ‘Cĺsar's household’ came in, and had all their calling by, and from Him.
As likewise the great Lord Treasurer by St. Philip; and ‘the elect lady’ by St. John. Those all were of this troop here; under this star all of them, stella magnatum. To conclude from our Saviour Christ's mouth: as there is in Heaven room for poor Lazarus, so that room was in the bosom of one that was rich, that is of Abraham, a great man, yea a great prince in his time.
1. Stella gentium; 2. Stella peccatorum de gentibus; 3. Stella magnatum. But yet all this while we have not touched Stella magorum; not yet dealt with magi, the very word of the text, and the chief person they represent. For besides that they were great states, they were also great learned men; and being both, they are styled rather by the name of their skill and learning than by that of their greatness, to point us to the quality in them we are principally to regard.
You shall not need startle when you hear the word magi, as if they were such as Simon Magnus was. Of later times it sounds not well this name; of old it was a name of great honour, as was the name of Tyrannus and Sophistes, all in the like case. Evil and unworthy men took them up after, and so they lost their first reputation. Nut originally Magus was a title of high knowledge.
I add of heathen knowledge, and comprehend in it this very knowledge, that they were well seen in the course of [244/245] Heaven, in the stars and bodies celestial. Their vidimus stellam shews as much. ‘The stars God hath given for signs,’ saith the Book of Genesis, even the ordinary. And if them, the extraordinary such as this much more. For signs they are, open the signature who can.
This learning of theirs made them never the further from Christ we see, it did them no hurt in their coming to Christ. No more than it did Moses, that ‘he was well learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,’ saith St. Stephen. Nor no more than it did Solomon, that ‘he passed all the children of the East in their own learning.’ No more than it did Daniel, that ‘he was brought up and well seen in the cunning of the Chaldeans.’ No more these, than the gold and spoils of Egypt did the Tabernacle hurt, that was hung all over with them.
They that are seen in these learnings of Egypt, of Chaldea, of the East, are not thereby barred at all. This is their star, their guide; a guide apt and proper for them who knew the stars, for them who were learned. Christ applieth Himself to all, disposes all things; what every one is given to, even by that Christ calleth them. St. Peter, Andrew, James, and John, fishermen, by a draught of fish. These that were studious in the stars, by a star for the purpose.
And note that the apparition to the shepherds was no sooner over, but this star appeared presently, if not the very same hour; that is, both at once. In like manner Christ at first, to shew the glory of His greatness, took and employed fishermen, such as had no bringing up in schools. But it was not long after but learned men came in apace; learned men of all sorts; Zenas in law, Luke in physic, Apollos with his eloquence, Dionysius with his philosophy, St. Paul with pollű gr£mmata, ‘much learning,’ which he had at Tarsus, as famous a University for Asia as Athens was for Greece, Which learning, for all Festus' fancy, ‘turned not his brains,’ nor did them any hurt at all.
There is no star or beam of it; there is no truth at all in human learning or philosophy that thwarts any truth in Divinity, but sorts well with it and serves it, and all to honour Him Who says of Himself Ego sum Veritas, ‘I am the Truth.’ None that will hinder this venerunt, keep back any wise man, or make him less fir for coming to Christ. [245/246]
So you see your calling, all four. 1. Gentiles may come; 2. Sinners of the Gentiles may come, yea though they be peccatorum primi, ‘of the primer sort;’ 3. Men of place. 4. Men of gifts, learned and wise may come. In magis insunt omnes hi, all are in venerunt magi. The star goes before them, guides them all to Christ
It remaineth that what we may do we will do; that is, ‘come.’ For farther than venerunt we are not like to come at this time. And though we go no farther it skills not, so we do but that Ý ‘come;’ even that will serve. For it is all in all. We shall go in the company of wise men, that is once. And if the shepherds were too homely to sort with, these are company for the best; they were company for Cyrus and Darius, and all the great Monarchs of Persia.
Ecce venerunt it is in the text; and indeed, not only the persons, ecce magi, but their very coming deserved an ecce. It is an ecce venerunt, theirs indeed, if we weigh it well, whence they came and whither. Whence? from the East, their own country. Whither? to Jerusalem, that was to them a strange land: that was somewhat. They came a long journey, no less than twelve days together. They came an uneasy journey, for their way lay through Arabia Petraea, and the craggy rock of it. And they came a dangerous journey, through Arabia Deserta too, and the black ‘tents of Kedar’ there, then famous for their robberies, and even to this day. And they came now, at the worst season of the year. And all but to do worship at Christ's birth. So great account they made; so highly did they esteem their being at it, as they took all this great travel, and came all this long journey, and came it at this time. Stayed not their coming till the opening of the year, till they might have better weather and way, and longer days, and so more seasonable and fit to travel in. So desirous were they to come with the first, and to be there as soon as possibly they might; broke through all these difficulties, Et ecce venerunt, ‘And behold, come they did.’
And we, what excuse shall we have if we come not? If so short and so easy a way we come not, as from our chambers hither, not to be called away indeed? Shall not our non venerunt have an ecce, ‘Behold, it was stepping but over the threshold, and yet they came not?’ [246/247]
And these were wise men, and never a whit the less wise for so coming; no never so truly wise in any thing they did, as in so coming. The Holy Spirit records them for wise, in capite libri, ‘even in the beginning of the New Testament.’ Of Christ, when He came into the world, that is, when He was born, the Psalm saith, ‘In the beginning of the Book it was writ of Him, He said,’ Ecce venio, ‘Lo I come;’ of these in the same words, when they came to meet Him so born, it is said here in the beginning of the Gospel, Ecce venerunt, ‘Behold they came.’
And we, if we believe this, that this was their wisdom, if they and we be wise by one Spirit, by the same principles, we shall follow the same star, tread the same way, and so come at last whither they are happily gone before us.
Nay, not only that ‘come,’ but this withal; to think and set down with ourselves, that to come to Christ is one of the wisest parts that ever these wise men did, or we or any else can do in all our lives.
And how shall we that do? I know not any more proper way left us, than to come to that which Himself by express order has left us, as the most special remembrance of Himself to be come to. When He came into the world, saith the Psalm, that is at His birth now, He said, Ecce venio. What then? ‘Sacrifice and burnt-offering Thou wouldst not have, but a body hast Thou ordained Me.’ Mark, saith the Apostle, ‘He takes away the first to establish the second,’ that is, to establish His body, and the coming to it. By the ‘offering,’ breaking, and partaking of which ‘body, we are all sanctified,’ so many as will come to it. ‘For given it is, for the taking away of our sins.’ Nothing is more fit than at the time His body was ordained Him, and that is to-day, to come to the body so ordained.
And in the old Ritual of the Church we find that on the cover of the canister, wherein was the Sacrament of His Body, there was a star engraven, to shew us that now the star leads us thither, to His body there.
And what shall I say now, but according as St. John saith, and the star, and the wise men say, ‘Come.’ And He, Whose the star is, and to Whom the wise men came, saith, ‘Come.’ And let them who are disposed, ‘Come.’ And [247/248] let whosoever will, take of the ‘Bread of Life, which came down from Heaven’ this day into Bethlehem, the house of bread. Of which Bread the Church is this day the house, the true Bethlehem, and all the Bethlehem we have now left to come to for the Bread of life,—of that His life which we hope for in Heaven. And this our nearest coming that here we can come, till we shall by another venite come, unto Him in His Heavenly Kingdom, to which He grant we may come, That this day came to us in earth that we thereby might come to Him and remain with Him for ever, ‘Jesus Christ the Righteous.’