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Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child, and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed, and lo! the star which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him: And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream, that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Let us observe, with pleasure, this farther honour which God did to his only begotten Son in ordering a new star to appear as the signal of his birth, and in calling these illustrious persons from afar to pay their early adorations to him. No doubt they thought such a discovery, as brought them to the feet of their Infant Saviour, an ample recompence for all the fatigue and expence of such a journey. They were exceedingly transported when they saw the star. So let us rejoice in every thing which may be a means of leading our souls to Christ, and of disposing us to cast ourselves down before him with humility and self-resignation!
Let us look upon this circumstance of the sacred story as a beautiful emblem of that more glorious state of the Christian church when the Gentiles shall come to its light, and sages and kings to the brightness of its rising; when the abundance of the sea shall be converted to it, and the wealth of the Gentiles shall be consecrated to its honour. The multitude of camels shall cover it, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord. Isa. lx. 3, 5, 6.
How wonderful was the honour conferred upon so obscure a town as Bethlehem when it was made thus illustrious among the thousands of Judah! Happy they who consecrate not only their gold and their other possessions, but also their souls and their bodies to their great Ruler, whose office it is to feed and
govern the Israel of God: under whose conduct and care they shall receive blessings infinitely more valuable than all the treasures of the east or the west!
But oh, the fatal power of carnal influence on the heart! This engaged Herod to receive the news of a Redeemer's birth with horror; and with execrable cruelty and vile hypocrisy, to contrive his murder under the specious form of doing him homage. Vain and self-confounding artifice! Let us rejoice in the thought, that there is no understanding, or wisdom, or counsel against the Lord: no scheme so artfully disguised that he cannot penetrate it, or so politically formed that he cannot with infinite ease confound it.
To what perplexity and grief might these sages have been brought had they been made even the innocent instruments of an assault on this Holy Child! But God delivered them from such an alarm, and happily guided their return; so that, through his care and favour, they carried home, in the tidings of the new-born Messiah, far richer treasures than they had left behind. Thus shall they, who in all their ways acknowledge God, by one method or another find that he will graciously direct their paths.
MATTHEW ii. 13-23.
AND when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child, and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation and
weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream in Egypt, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea, in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
What is our fallen nature, that it can be capable of such enormities as we have now been surveying! Or what imaginable circumstances of grandeur and power can free the mind of an ambitious creature from servitude and misery! Who can behold Herod under the agitation of such a barbarous rage, and not see the vanity even of royal dignity, when the man that sways the sceptre over others hath no rule over his own spirit? Surely none of the innocent victims of Herod's wrath felt so much from the sword of their barbarous murderers as the guilty mind of the tyrant from its own unnatural transports.
The indignation which arises in our minds on the view of so much wickedness, finds a secret satisfaction in this thought. But how grievous is it to reflect on what the parents of these poor babes felt while the sword that murdered their children in their very sight pierced through their own bowels! Happy, in comparison with these, were the wombs that never bare and the paps that never gave suck! Let parents remember how soon their dearest hopes may be turned into lamentation, and learn to moderate their expectation from their infant offspring and check too fond a delight in them.
Let us all learn to be very thankful that we are not under the arbitrary power of a tyrant, whose sallies of distracted fury might spread desolation through houses and provinces. Let us not say, Where was the great Regent of the universe when such a horrible butchery was transacted? His all-wise counsels knew how to bring good out of all the evil of it. The
agony of a few moments transmitted these oppressed innocents to peace and joy; while the impotent rage of Herod only heaped on his own head guilt, infamy, and horror. He conceived mischief, and he brought forth vanity, (Job xv. 35.) and while he studied to prevent the establishment of the Messiah's kingdom, and set himself with impious rage against the Lord, and against his Anointed, He that sitteth in the heavens did laugh, yea, the Lord had him in derision. (Psalm ii. 2, 4.) That God, who discerns every secret purpose of his enemies, and foresees every intended assault, knows how, whenever he pleases, by a thought, by a dream, to baffle it.
The preservation of the holy child Jesus in Egypt may be considered as a figure of God's care over his church in its greatest danger. God doth not often, as he easily could, strike their persecutors with immediate destruction; but he provides a hiding place for his people, and, by methods not less effectual, though less pompous, preserves his chosen seed from being swept away, even when the enemy comes in like a flood.
Egypt, that was once the seat of persecution and oppression to the Israel of God, is now a refuge to his Son; and thus all places will be to us what Divine providence will be pleased to make them. When, like Joseph and Mary, we are cut off from the worship of his temple and perhaps removed into a strange land, he can be a little sanctuary to us, and give us, in his gracious presence, a rich equivalent for all that we have lost.
They continued here till he gave the signal for their departure. Let us, in like manner, remember that it is God's part to direct and ours to obey; nor can we be out of the way of safety and of comfort while we are following his directions, and steering our course by the intimations of his pleasure!
Jesus survived his persecutors, and returned into the land of Israel again; but such was his condescension, that he abode at Nazareth, which seems to have been allotted him as the most humble station. Let us never be unwilling to bear reproach for him, who from his infancy endured it for us; nor take offence at the meanness of his condition, whose removes were directed by angelic messengers, as immediate envoys from the God of heaven!
LUKE ii. 40-52.
AND the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at
the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Let us, who are heads of families, take occasion from the story before us to renew our resolutions, that we and our house will serve the Lord; and remember that it is a part of our duty, not only to God but to our domestics, to engage them with us in his public worship; the pleasures of which will surely be increased when we see them, and, especially our dear children, joining with us in attendance on our great common Father.
Let children view the example of the holy child Jesus with an humble desire to copy after it. Let them love the house and ordinances of God and thirst for the instructions of his good word. Let them think themselves happy if his servants in the ministry will bestow a part of their important time in those exercises which are especially suited for their instruction; and let them not only be careful to return the properest answers they can, but at convenient times, with modesty and