God with Us.
"Behold, a Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His Name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us."
IT is part of the majesty of Holy Scripture, as being the word spoken by the Eternal Word, that it is full of manifold meanings, embracing, in itself, all time, and itself, as the Word from Whom it issues, enduring for ever, reaching to the height of Heaven and the depths of Hell, God's Holiness and man's sin. It is verified again and again in the endless changes and variations of man's history. Like Him, it speaketh to our hearts, readeth our thoughts long before, scanning us from head to foot, laying us bare to ourselves, piercing or healing us, "a discerner of the intents of the heart." It telleth, in the past, of the future, and the future, as it shall again and again be, till the end come, as being a part of the Omniscience of God. And for this, it needs not, as we, many words. Rather, in few words, it reveals much; herein showing itself different from man's words, in which it comes to us clothed; for we, with many words, scarcely utter all our meaning; it, by reason of the Wisdom and Spirit dwelling in it, declares much in few. And so, when we know one meaning of any words of Holy Scripture, we should beware of thinking that we know all their meanings; lest we cease to search, and seeking not, find not.
Of this sort eminently are those amazing words "God with us." They contain in themselves the whole history, and course, and means of man's redemption. In their highest sense they express that unfathomable Mystery, that "God" hath been "with us," in our nature, that the Creator has taken His creature into Himself; but, by virtue of that gracious mystery, they declare God's Presence in His Church, and "with" and within the souls of her members.
For all man's history turns on this, to be with or without God, having or not having God with us. All the history of man's decay is but one manifold exhibition of being without God. All his pursuits, arts, inventions, ambition, aggrandisements, passions, lusts, wars, amusements, are, in themselves, but varied forms of godlessness. All his restoration, through revelations, guidances, Providence, chastenings, mercies, is but a course wherein God draweth nigh to him, and draweth him nigh unto Himself. To "live without God in the world," is man's one, though varied misery; "God with us" is the centre and circumference of the Divine Mercy.
And of this central mercy, the very centre is (how should it not be?) the mystery of this blessed Festival, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, "God manifest in the flesh." "He Who gave His Son for us, how should He not with Him freely give us all things?" The life of man, as it is the reward of the Saints, is the Sight and Presence of God. All man's fall has been a forgetfulness, a hiding himself from God. As fallen, he could not bear to see God; he could not bear to look upon himself in the Light of God. "The ungodly perish at the Presence of God." Restlessness, busy schemes, ambition, luxury, gluttony, worldliness, study of man's praise, self-deceit, are but man's conscious or unconscious contrivances, to cast a mist about him, so that the glorious light of God should not break in upon him, and shine upon his darkness, and shew him how foul is that darkness. All are but varied tokens of one deep disease. And God's remedy has been to accustom men to receive Him. Visibly or invisibly He has come to them, in the garden, ere they were yet cast out: to the Patriarchs, the Prophets, Judges, in the form as though of man: Enoch walked with Him, Unseen, as far as we know, by his bodily eyes; to Noah He came, and taught him to build the ark; to Abraham He promised Himself, as his Reward, and bade him "walk before Me, and be thou perfect;" He deigned to eat and drink with him; to Jacob He gave strength to wrestle with Him, and prevail; to Moses He spake face to face; to Isaiah He showed His glory; to the Prophets He, the Word of God, came; to Job in the whirlwind; to Elijah in the "still small voice;" on Ezekiel His Hand rested; on the Judges He came vehemently down, and bore them on to prevail against His enemies; on the Seventy with Moses, that they prophesied; with the whole people He was, in the pillar of the cloud, in the lightnings of Sinai; "the Face of God," i. e. the Son, Who is the Eternal Image of the Eternal Father, went with them, and saved them; He dwelt in the Shechinah, the bright Presence of God, in the Tabernacle and the Temple; with the Three Children He was in a "form as of the Son of God;" to Daniel He appeared "in night visions," as "the Son of Man."
And then, at last, He, Who had thus "not left Himself without witness," and had been accustoming man to receive Him, came. Before, He had appeared chiefly to the faithful, to be by them acknowledged and adored; now, He came into the world, to be by them rejected. Before, He came as God, for a season, and then withdrawing Himself; now, as Man, to sojourn: before, in glory visible mostly to the bodily eye; now, invisible, except to the eye of faith: before, in Majesty; now, in Humility. He Who had, from time to time, visited Patriarchs and Prophets, in the form of man, came as Man; He Who had shone in visible glory, in the Tabernacle, Himself tabernacled among us, and they whose eyes God opened "beheld His Glory, the Glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father," "God with us." In neither part was He wanting. Perfect God, He became Perfect Man, that He might thereby perfect the whole of man. He "sanctified Himself," that we might be sanctified in Him. He held back from nothing. The Lord of Heaven and earth did not disdain to lie hid in the Virgin's womb; the Omniscient deigned, as Man, to seem to receive and to put forth increase of knowledge; the Eternal Word not "to know to cry, my father, my mother;" He "Who upholdeth all things by the word of His Power" to be carried in the arm; the Eternal Will of the Father not to do His Own Will; the Holy One of God to be tempted by His unholy creature; the Lord of Life to suffer death; the Judge to be judged. [See on S. Ath. against the Arians, p. 461, b. 462, c. d. 464, f. 466, g. 468, k. 471, 0,473, p. 474, 9. Library of the Fathers.]
Such, then, is the two-fold force of the title Emmanuel, "God with us," "God" in Himself, but "with us" and such as we; not "with us" merely by mercy, or care, or providence, or protection, but "with us" as one of us; not doing only great things for us, but taking our nature on Him, and therein suffering for us and with us; not restoring us by His word, as He created us, but by becoming as one of us; not by raising us by the hand when fallen, but Himself humbling Himself to us; Himself sinking to us, that He might rise with us; might ascend to His Father, girt round with us, placing at God's Right Hand, united with Himself, and as part of Himself, the nature which He had redeemed. Great had been the mercy that we alone, who had fallen from God, should be restored to Him; that when He passed by "the Angels who left their first estate,1" He should have regard to us, who had defaced His Image, wherein He created us. But that He should do this by coming Himself to us, that to us, who dwell on this small earth, less than the least of the countless multitudes of His Creation, He, the Creator of all, should come; the Immortal should clothe Himself with our mortality, the Creator take the creature into Himself, He, the Unchangeable God, take that into the Godhead which was not before, the Eternal Son not appear only in our nature, but unite it more closely to Himself than our souls to our bodies; (for they shall be separated, for a time, by death; the Godhead shall never be divided from His Manhood); this is indeed an unsearchable depth of Divine Humility and Mercy, whereat we may well turn dizzy! Us, as well as the Eternal Son, hath He indeed "made a little lower than the Angels," that He might, in Him, "crown" us "with glory and worship." He passed by all the Heavenly Hosts, Angels, Archangels, Mights, Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers, the Cherubim and Seraphim, all the ninety and nine orders of Heaven, who went not astray; passed by, without a restoring look, the fallen Angels, whose captives we were, and came down to us, in ourselves, the last of His rational Creation, and who had since defaced, one by one, every feature of His Image, yea, and, as He knew, would again deface It, when He had retraced It on us. How had we not marred It when He came! so that we had become loathsome to ourselves, and the more loathsome when we saw it not. What was there to "call unto the deep" of Divine Mercy, but "the deep" of human misery?
As Advent then, and this glad Festival, come before Passion-tide and Easter, so have we need separately to meditate on this Day's Humility, before we contemplate the humiliation of the Passion. "Being in the Form of God," i. e. being essentially and truly God, "He emptied Himself, and took on Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man." This was His first humiliation, the earnest of that which was to follow; and then there followed that further humbling of Himself, that "He became obedient unto death, and," still beyond, "that, the death of the Cross." All is indeed one in God, in Whom all things are One, in Whom are no parts, with Whom is no time, but Who exists One Substance in the Ever-Blessed Three, and Whose creature time is. In Him, Who is the Beginning and the End, the First and Last, beginning and end are one. The Mystery of the Incarnation issues in the Mystery of the Cross; the Humiliation of the Cross pre-supposes the Humiliation of the Incarnation. But we cannot behold them as one. Each hath its own unfathomable depth of Divine Condescension and Mercy, and although we must, in either, have the other present in the mind, (as this day combines in one the memory of His Birth, Resurrection, the Gifts of His Spirit, and, in the Holy Eucharist, of His Precious Death), yet must we meditate habitually on each part, if we would behold the fulness of Either. [Preached when Christmas Day fell on the Lord's Day.]
The intensity, then, of this day's blessed Mystery is, "God with us;" that, to retrace His Image upon us, He, Who is the Co-Eternal Image of the Father, took us into Himself, and stamped again His Likeness upon us, by taking the likeness of our sinfulness; that us, who were aforetime alienated from God, He made to be at one with God, by Himself becoming one of us, and giving us of His Oneness with the Father; us, who were a blot in the Creation of God, outcasts from His Sight, He has brought back into the harmony and order of His obedient creatures, uniting us to the Father in Himself; replacing our deadness by Himself, Who is Life; our darkness by Himself, Who is Light; our blindness by Himself, Who is Wisdom; our corruption by His Interruption; our sinfulness by His Holiness; our emptiness by His Fulness, enlarging our finiteness to receive God, Who is Infinite.
Where shall be the bound or measure of His Mercies or of our praise? Our nature in itself the last, made, so to say, the Union between God and His creatures! For in Him Who is the Mediator between God and man, being Very God and Very Man, shall all things, "both which are in Heaven and which are in earth," be gathered together and summed1 up in one; Angels and Saints shall together be in-oned, being together in-dwelt by the Ever-Blessed Trinity, in "the Church, which is His Body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all."
And if He be such to us in deed and in the fulness of His purpose, if He have been thus "God with us," and purposeth that we should be thus "with God," if He have so taken our poor nature into Himself, that in Him it is In-Godded, Deitate, and we, if we be truly His members, are parts of Him Who is One with God, how should He not be "with us" now in all things, if we be His? ["One Person and One Christ, Who is God Incarnate and Man Deitate, as Gregory Nazianzen saith, without mutation." Abp, Cranmer to Bp. Gardiner, p. 350. See also Petav. de Inc. &c.] What but sin can hide His Face from us, in that it blinds our eyes that we see Him not? He, Whose "gifts and calling are without repentance," came not, (as at this time), to be with us, again wholly to leave us, that we should be without Him. He left us, but to be closer to us; left us in Bodily Presence, but to be present still more nearly in Spirit; not without us any longer, as Teacher, Guide, Comforter, but through that other Comforter, within us; withdrawn from our bodily sight, to fill our souls; no longer to be touched or handled by our hands, that His Spirit might be made manifest to our spirit, that we might touch Him with the hands of our heart, feed on Him with the cravings of our spirit, see Him with the eyes of our mind, be enlarged to receive Him, and, being expanded, be filled with Him, and be "one with Him and He with us."
How should He not be with us on our way, Who is Himself the Way? To us, as to the disciples, He shews Himself in different forms, but He is the Selfsame Saviour and Lord in all. Sorrow and joy, sickness or health, gladness of soul or heaviness of heart, the fulfilling of our desires or the taking away the desire of our eyes and that which we loved as our own souls, are but so many different forms of the same gracious Physician of our souls, binding us to Him by His blessings, or, by their withdrawal, teaching us to love Him Alone, our only Blessing. In all He is "God with us," that we may be with God. For this end "received He gifts as Man," that He might "give gifts to man," became, as Man, the Temple of the Incarnate Word, that we might become His Temple.
"All things," He saith, "that the Father hath are Mine: therefore, said I, that He shall take of Mine and shew it unto you." Not only is He our Mediator, as pleading the merits of His Precious Sacrifice with the Father, and receiving gifts for us, but His Human Nature is, as it were, the medium whereby the Fulness, and Holiness, and Immortality of God reacheth to us. "In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." He, being the Word of God, was the Wisdom of God, and the Power of God, and the Righteousness of God, and the Glory, and Image, and Truth of God, Light of Light, and Life, "as the Father hath Life;" and being this, and Very God, He took man into Himself, that, through that Human Nature which He had taken, His Gifts, and Fulness, and In-dwelling might extend through our whole nature. The Precious Ointment, which is the Holy Spirit, was received on the Head of our High Priest, that it might reach even unto us, and hallow us, if we be but the skirts of His garment, the mortality wherewith He clothed Himself, that He might give it His own Immortality and Life.
He is then "God with us" still. For, before He left us, He said, "Lo I am with you alway, even until the end of the world." He saith not "I will be," but, as God, "I Am;" unchangingly, unceasingly, by one everlasting ever-present Presence, because He is God. His Church is His Body, the token and channel of His Presence, possessing, as a whole, (as we daily repeat of her) His attribute of "Holiness," because she is (Scripture saith) His Body, indwelt by His Divinity; the Body whereof He is the Head, and, as such, living by His Life, moved by His Will, informed by His Spirit, imperishable, because as the Head forsaketh not the members, so neither He the Body He hath taken. She is one body, composed of the elder and more perfect Saints who are now perfected, and of us, as many of us as are yet in the Vine, and partake of His Holiness, and are living branches. In her hath He ever dwelt by His Spirit, manifesting Himself by divers tokens, according to His Wisdom or her needs and faithfulness, by miracles, by the endurance of Martyrs, the courage of Confessors, the perseverance of Saints, the holy prayers of the Devoted, the tears of Penitents, the self-denial and toils of Ascetics, the truth of Evangelists, the charity of the Bountiful, the humility of the Poor, the hope and sure trust of the Broken-hearted. She is one great mystery, consisting in Heaven of Angels and "just men, made perfect," and here below of such as being imperfect, are yet in the course of being perfected, and whom she is daily receiving into herself, under Him her Head, that they may, in Him, be perfected.
And in her He is yet "God with us" in His Sacraments; by the one whereof, we are made members of Himself; taken out of our state of nature and the mere lineage of Adam, and made a part of that mystical Body, which doth as truly belong to Him, as the Body which He, as on this day, took; yea, to form Which was His gracious purpose in taking that Body. "He giveth to the water of Baptism," it was said of old, "the same power which He gave His Mother,"--to bear sons of God, by adoption, as He is, by Nature, "the Son of God." [S. Leo Serm. 5, de Nat. Dom. c. 5. "He was made man of our race, that we might be capable of being partakers of His Divine Nature. That new original which He took in the Virgin's womb, He placed in the Fountain of Baptism. He Rave to the water what He gave to His Mother. For the Power of the Highest and the Overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, which caused Mary to bring forth the Saviour, the Same causeth the water to regenerate the believer."] And as, in the one Sacrament, He made us members of His mystical Body, invisibly, so doth He, in the other, give us invisibly His Body which was broken, and His Blood which was shed for us, that we, receiving Him, may be partakers of Him, have Him to dwell within us, as He cometh to us; feeding on Him, may live by Him, and in Him, and to Him, and He in us; that we, partaking of His Body, may be members of His Body, of His Flesh and of His Bones," yea, as Scripture says, may be "partakers of His Divine Nature." And He "with us," one with us through His Manhood, as One with the Father, by His Godhead, yet, being One Christ, is to us and in us "Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption," and "Peace," and "Salvation."
And being Man "with us," how, if our eyes were not "holden" and our hearts dull, might we not, in all the actions of life, see Him by our side join Himself to us, and hear His words, and "our hearts burn within us!" For all which we are, except sin, He became, that He might sanctify to us all our actions, and us in them. Whatever our age, such hath His been; infancy, childhood, opening youth, full age; all He took on Him, that He might hallow us in all; yea, and old age, and weakness too He anticipated, through suffering. He hungered and thirsted, was weary, or ate and drank, sat down on the well, slept and was refreshed, (although perhaps more often watching), "wept", and "rejoiced in spirit," was grieved, amazed, troubled in Himself, groaned, was "sorrowful even unto death," not only to set before us the great Mystery of this Day, that the Word indeed became Flesh, that He was indeed Man, soul and body, such as we, (which also, for its very condescension's sake, has been, to high-minded men, hard to believe), but that He might infuse into these acts His own Holiness. ["He destroyed not in Himself the law of human nature, but sanctified every age, by the likeness which it had to Himself. For He came to save all; all who, through Him, are re-born to God, infants and little ones, and boys, and young men, and elders So then He came in every age; being to infants made an Infant, sanctifying infants; in little ones a Little One, sanctifying those who are of this age, being also made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and subjection; in young men, a Young Man, becoming an Example to young men, and sanctifying them to the Lord. So also an Elder in elders, that He may be a perfect Master in all, not in the teaching of the truth only, but in age also, at the same time both sanctifying elders, and Himself also becoming an example to them; and thence, at last, coming even to death, that He might be the 'First-Begotten of the dead,' 'having in all things the pre-eminence,' the 'Prince of Life, before all and preceding all.'" S. Iren. 2. 22. 4. "Thou art not yet fifty years old," it was said to Him, (S. John viii. 57), before His last sufferings, as if His Human Form seemed already worn beyond that of other men.]
How might we, in the commands of parents, hear that which He obeyed; in the reproof of elders, His voice (as it indeed is), hear Him in His ministers; submit to authority with Him; bear revilings with Him; be poor with Him; suffer cold, or hunger, or pain, or bereavement, or friendless-ness, with Him; with Him, by resigning, in early years, our own will, learn, what He ever had, to have no will but His Father's! And if we suffered, and fasted, and mourned, and wept with Him, and, much more, if we strove, in His strength, to keep that Innocency, which was His, and which again, in Baptism, He gave us; then we might rejoice with Him, hold with Him this our Christmas Festival, feast with Him, lie down to rest in Him, awake in Him, as the emblem of our rising in Him, see Him "in all fair things around." For all which we see hath its uses or beauties from Him. He is our Corn and Wine, and His Spirit is our Oil; He our Sun of Righteousness, or our Shadow in heat; the Shower on our parched ground; the Bow in the cloud; in Him are we washed; in Him clothed; He is our Robe of Righteousness, and Immortality, He is our Home and our sure Abiding-place; and all things in this earth may speak of Him, for we dwell in a redeemed world, which His Sacred Footsteps have trod and sanctified; and it too, we may think, shall not utterly cease to be, but be "changed," purified by fire into "a new earth, wherein dwelleth Righteousness;" when the creature also shall "be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. "
Only if we would truly see Him, we must seek to have the mirror of our hearts cleansed, that it may receive His glorious Image. "The pure in heart," He hath promised, "shall see Him." Of them who love Him and keep His words, He saith "My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him." Love is the eye whereby the spirit sees God. Disputing about holy things, (as is now too frequent), but blinds us. If we love and as we love, we shall see and shall receive. While the world jangles, our Lord comes secretly to us, if we, with pure hearts, draw nigh to Him. The Mysteries of Faith must needs be an offence to the wisdom of the world, but we, who truly believe and meditate on the Mystery of the Incarnation, shall not stumble at any other mystery, nor wonder that He chose humble means, the elements of this world, whereby to convey His Presence, when He, the Immortal, Invisible, of the Substance of the Father, took Flesh of our substance, in the Virgin's womb. His Glory is invisible still to the "wise and prudent" of this world, and "revealed unto babes."
But if we would see Him in His Sacraments, we must see Him also, wherever He has declared Himself to be, and especially in His poor. In them also He is "with us" still. And so our Church has united mercy to His poor with the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, and bade us, ere we approach to receive Him, to remember Him in His poor, that so, "loving much," we, who are otherwise unworthy, may be "much forgiven," we, "considering" Him in His "poor and needy," may be permitted to behold Him; and for Him parting with our earthly substance, may be partakers of His Heavenly. Heal love to Christ must issue in love to all who are Christ's, and real love to Christ's poor must issue in self-denying acts of love towards them. Casual alms'-giving is not Christian charity. Rather, seeing Christ in the poor, the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, we must, if we can, by ourselves, if not, by others, seek them out, as we would seek Christ, looking for a blessing from it, far greater than any they can gain from our alms. It was promised of old time, as a blessing, "the poor shall never cease out of the land," and now we know the mercy of this mysterious blessing, for they are the Presence of our Lord. "The poor," He saith, "ye have always with you, but Me ye have not always," not in bodily Presence, but in His poor, whom we shall ever have.
The poor of Christ are the Church's special treasure, as the Gospel is their special property, the Church the home of the homeless, the mother of the fatherless. The poor are the wealth, the dowry of the Church; they have a sacred character about them; they bring a blessing with them; for they are what Christ for our sake made Himself. Such as them did He call around Him; such as they, whether by God's outward appointment, or by His Spirit directing men's choice, the "poor, rich in faith," have been the converters of the world; and we, my brethren, if we are wise, must seek to be like them, to empty ourselves, at least, of our abundance; to empty ourselves, rather, of our self-conceit, our notions of station, our costliness of dress, our jewelry, our luxuries, our self-love, even as He, on this day, emptied Himself of the glory which He had with the Father, the Brightness of His Majesty, the worship of the Hosts of Heaven, and made Himself poor, to make us rich, and to the truly poor He hath promised the Kingdom of Heaven; the hungry He will fill, but those in themselves rich, He will send empty away. Year by year there is more need; the poor are multiplying upon us, and distress on them; gigantic needs require gigantic efforts; in these our towns, our Church is losing its best blessing, that of being the Church of the poor; we know not too often of their existence; our fair houses are like painted sepulchres, hiding, by a goodly outside, from our own sight, the misery, and hunger, and cold, and nakedness, which we love not to look upon, but which will rise in judgment against our nation, if we heed it not. Realize we that they are Christ's, yea, that we approach to Christ in them, feed Him, visit Him, clothe Him, attend on Him, and we shall feel (as Saints, even of the noble of this world, have felt) that it is a high honour to us to be admitted to them. Such as can, would gladly devote their lives to them. We all should treat their needs with reverence, not relieving them coldly, and as a form, but humble ourselves in heart before their patient suffering; welcome the intercourse with them, as bringing us nearer unto Christ. In them He comes to us, in them we visit Him; in them we may find Him; He in them and for them intercedes for us with the Father; in them He Who gave them to us, the means and the hearts to relieve them, will receive our gifts; He, before men and Angels, shall acknowledge as done to Him, what, for His sake, we did to them.
Oh seek we then, at least for ourselves, one by one, while He may be found, our Lord Who, on this day, sought us, in all ways we can. Seek we Him, in the contemplation of His mysterious mercy; love we to be alone with Him, to leave the world, at intervals at least, to behold Him; seek we Him, in His House, whenever two or three may be gathered there; seek we Him, in the temples of our own hearts, where He has promised to dwell; seek we Him, with reverence and awe, in His Sacraments, where He has promised to give us His Body and Blood; seek we Him humbly, in His poor, as the source of true riches to us; and on this day let us, who hope to receive Him, return to Him more largely the alms to be offered to Him, for His use in His poor. So may we hope, in all things seeking Him, at length to find Him, yea to be found of Him, and in Him, and being found in Him, to be accepted for His mercy's sake, and He for ever be "God with us," and "we for ever be with the Lord;" loving Him for His mercy, loving Him that He gave us that love, loving Him with everlasting love, and filled and satisfied with His love, Who emptied Himself, that He might give us of His fulness, became the Son of Man, that we might be sons of God.