Fourth Sunday in Advent, 1857, being S. Thomas's Day.
Isaiah xl. 10.
THE two things that most of all I desire to impress on you, dear Sisters, are these: your infinite weakness, and your infinite strength. So weak you are, that again and again, spite of all resolutions, notwithstanding all endeavours, you fall again, and again, and again: so strong, that, notwithstanding the host of spiritual enemies drawn out to oppose you, principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, still, on the whole, you are advancing. This is what I feel, this is what I cannot but feel, when an)' one of you kneels by me here:--"This dear child, whose sad list of leaving undone what she ought to have done, and doing what she ought not to have done, I am hearing now, oh what an inexhaustible supply of strength there must be in her to enable her to persevere as she does; to rise, after falling; to conquer, after being defeated; to begin again, when former beginnings have proved useless: to persevere, though, what perseverance costs her, bitter experience must tell her!" In this was the interchange, dearest Sisters, made, between you and the Heavenly Bridegroom. You gave Him of your weakness, and He gave you of His strength: you gave Him of your weakness, and straightway, "He being wearied, sat thus on the well;" straightway, they took Him even as He was, and He slept in the ship; straightway, He fell three times under the bitter load of the Cross. He gave you of His strength; and straightway it is, "I can do all things through CHRIST Which strengthened! me;" straightway it is, "In all these things we are more than conquerors;" straightway it is, "They came about me like bees, and are extinct even as the fire among the thorns, for in the Name of the LORD I will destroy them." Like members, like Head, For this contrast of strength and weakness was in Him no less than in you. "Behold, the LORD will come with strong hand." What the Hand strong that, as near this very time, clung with an unconscious baby-grasp to that dear Virgin Mother! that as years passed, assisted with childish eagerness in the carpenter's shop of S. Joseph! that, in after times, held, weak and trembling, the Reed of Scorn? that, as soon as the bitter nail was drawn from the holy Cross, fell, powerless and lifeless, to the Wounded Side! Truly, yes. That Hand had touched the leper, with, "I will, be thou clean;" that Hand had anointed the sightless eyes, and forthwith it was, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see;" that Hand had taken the lifeless hand of Jairus's daughter, and her spirit came again to her, and she revived. Never wonder, dear Sisters, if there be such a mixture of weakness and strength in your own actions, when, to say it with all reverence, there was the same in His. Advent is the time to remind you of that. The courtiers at His first coming, the ox and ass: as it is written, "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider." At His second, all the \ armies of the Angels, all the innumerable legions of the Saints, every righteous soul from just Abel to the ingathering of the fulness of the earth. The King, at His first coming, the Infant, wrapped in swaddling-clothes and laid in a manger: at His second, the Incarnate Word, having now exalted our flesh to the very Throne of GOD, and making manifest, as the grand old hymn says--
"That flush hath purged what flesh had stained,
And GOD, the Flesh of GOD, hath reigned."
"Behold, the LORD GOD will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him." And what does this mean, save that He won, as we must win, the greatness of His excellency by His own struggles and His own sufferings? "He shall reign," indeed, "till He hath put all enemies under His feet;" but not only as having received the Crown by right of inheritance, but as having won it by right of conquest. Not to be crowned, till He had striven: not to be declared Victor till the battle was over: not to ascend into joy, before He had suffered pain: not to enter into glory, before He was crucified. This He did for Himself, and He expects no less from you. Therefore, my Sisters, take courage. Poor trembling children of His as you are, why, you would lose one mark of your union with Him, were there not this weakness. "When I am weak, then am I strong." You never can feel your own infirmity too much, if only you feel His strength enough.
And now comes that which most of all I want you to consider. "Behold, His Reward is with Him, and His Work before Him." Oh gracious Master! Who first gives the pay, and then expects the work! Who first crowns, and then leads to the contest! Who first proclaims you victors, and then gives you power to become so! And now see: "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears." This clay, nay, this very hour, "the LORD GOD will come with strong hand." He will come to you in the form of His great humility. He will give Himself to you to be touched, to be handled, to be gazed on, to be received by you, to become "bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh.'' And this with a strong hand indeed. He comes, that there should not be one deed of weakness in this House this day. Think, dearest Sisters, after that most intimate, that most wonderful union with the King of kings, how, all through the work, or recreation, or whatever duty of the day, you should reverence yourselves, you should reverence each other! That coal from the Altar has touched your lips; shall one idle word proceed from them? That Saviour of the world has been held by you, as of old time by Simeon; and are not those hands consecrated to, and strengthened for, His service? "If I may but touch the hem of His garment, I shall be whole." Well: and you will touch, not the hem of His garment, but Himself; the very same Body which Thomas was invited to touch; the very same Body on which John leaned at the Great Supper. And now see how beautifully the end of the verse comes in: "Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him." And why? It goes on directly: "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd." O loving Shepherd, That feeds His ransomed ones with no perishable pastures, with no grass of the field, "which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven," but with the Food of Immortality, and the Chalice of Blessedness! with the Corn of the Mighty, and the Wine that blossoms into Virgins! Who, because He can give them nothing more precious, gives them Himself! "His reward is with Him," indeed! How can I be thankful enough, dearest Sisters, that you know this as you do! that you cannot have a greater misery than to see the LORD of Life and Healing, when He goes forth in this little Oratory, not pause for you! when JESUS does not, as of old time, stand still, and command you to be brought! I know, while this is so, I know, while you thus cling to His Presence here, that you must be loving Him; that you must be longing for that more beatific Presence, which makes the heavenliness of Heaven. This makes it the joy it is to me, to offer here that great Sacrifice for quick and dead. One lamb we have in the heavenly fold, now the companion of the Immaculate Lamb. The rest, though still pasturing near the lions' dens, the mountains of the leopards, must lift up their eyes to the everlasting hills whence their help cometh; whence their Shepherd watches them; where the fold shall some day open for them, of which it is written, "No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there."
"His reward is with Him." A reward, oh how infinitely surpassing your poor love! If it were said of old, "Whence is this to me; that the Mother of my LORD should come to me?" how much more may you say, "Whence is this, that the LORD Who died on Calvary, the LORD Who arose from the new tomb, the LORD That ascended into Heaven, the LORD That sitteth at the Right Hand of the FATHER, my LORD and my GOD, should come to me?" Whence indeed, but of the same love which made Him choose you--each one of you, individually--to be His own; that gave you the desire to be His; that keeps alive that desire in you? That love is the cause why He comes; and that love, what return does it not deserve? For see how it goes on: "Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.'' Your work, which is His work, lies before you this day, and this week. Let this week of wonders be also a week of love. Your work, dearest Sisters, now lies here, When you go out to more active service for that same LORD, let the strength you are now to acquire go with you still. You are now to lay up what will serve you then. You know, dear Sisters, how often when you are thus at a distance, you are pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that you are almost ready to despair. You know that without the grace and power which your own LORD gives you here, you could not thus serve Him there. I earnestly pray that this Christmas week may be, as S. Peter says, one of the times of refreshing from the presence of the LORD. If we begin it with a likeness of our own want of faith, in the Apostle who, except he saw, would not believe, we end it with the triumphal ascent into Heaven of the glorious Proto-Martyr. It is truly a ladder set upon earth, but the top of it reacheth to Heaven.
The week of peace, my Sisters, must raise your thoughts to the True Vision of Peace; the peace on earth, to that ceasing from battle for ever. (And I earnestly trust that you have all done what I told you to do, with respect to those who have raised up so great a commotion and turmoil against us: that your time of prayer for them was no unmeaning formality, but real and earnest and prevailing; not a mere fashion of speaking, but such prayer as deserved the name of prayer; not a mere generalised petition, but, so far as you know them, for each of those that have injured us. That is the way to come worthily to this glorious Festival.) And I earnestly pray that to that midnight Communion, when to us a Child shall be born, unto us a Son shall be given, and the government shall he upon His shoulder, you will come without one taint or particle of unconfessed sin; that the leaven, as of old time, will be most diligently put out of your houses--those habitations of your souls which GOD has chosen to Himself--of which your Blessed LORD Himself would say, "This shall be My rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein."
"Behold, His reward is with Him." What hereafter will that reward be for those that have kept closest to Him here! that have trodden the more excellent way; that have been able to receive, and have received, their LORD'S saying; that have wholly devoted themselves to Him That was born of a spotless Virgin, and That feedeth among the lilies! You are about now to receive His Body and His Blood, together: to be united in one golden link that will, I trust, in GOD'S good time grow stronger and more tenacious. GOD grant that some day I may be able to speak to you all as my own dear Sisters! may know that you all have set down your names to that most especial covenant with GOD; have laid your hands on this plough; have resolved to run in this race! I may promise, may! not, dearest Sisters? to her who has but just come among" us, that your prayers, as well as mine, will be with her, just as I tell her that her prayers and remembrance must be with us.
"Yet a little while, and He That shall come will come, and will not tarry." Yes: it is but a little while. Every day the hills of that heavenly Canaan, rising above the mist and haze of the desert, grow brighter and clearer; every day some portion of the waste howling wilderness is left behind us. Every day brings that final reward nearer every day repeats more clearly the blessing to him that over-cometh. God grant that all of you, after having given Rebekah's answer, "And they said, Wilt thou go with this Man? And she said, I will go,'' may, at eventide, that glorious eventide, be met by the True Isaac, and received into the House of His FATHER and her FATHER, of His GOD and her GOD.
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.