Feast of CHRISTMAS-day.
THe Epistle, Gospel, and Collect are plainly suitable to the day, all mentioning the birth of Christ. Besides, this Feast hath proper Psalms, in which some Verses are peculiar to the day, as will appear, if they be well considered. The First Psalm for the Morning Service, is the 19. The heavens declare the glory of God; very suitable to the Feast, for at His Birth a new Star appeared which declared his Glory and Deity so plainly, that it fetcht the Sages of the East to come and worship him, S. Matt. 2. 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.
The Second Psalm for the Morning is 45. Which at the beginning of it is a Genethliack or Birth-song of Christ, The fairest of the children of men, v. 3. And of his mighty success in subduing the Devil and the world by the word of truth, of meekness and righteousness, vers. 5. &c.
The third is Psal. 85. which is principally set for the Birth of Christ. For it is a thanksgiving to God for sending a Saviour, which should save his people from their sins, the greatest captivity that is; and therefore cannot properly be meant of any but Christ, who was therefore call'd Jesus, because he should save his people from their sins, S. Matt. 1. 21. And so the Primitive Church understood it, and therefore selected it out as a part of their Office for this day, as being proper and pertinent to the matter of the Feast: For the meeting here specified, ver.10. 11. of Mercy and Truth, Righteousness and Peace, was at Christs birth, who said of himself, that he was the Truth; who as he had a birth from Heaven, to wit, his Divine nature, so had he another as Man from Earth from the Virgin; which birth drew Righteousness to look from Heaven, upon poor sinners with a favourable look, and made righteousness and peace kiss, for the delivering of sinners from their captivity. True it is, the Prophet in the first Verses speaks of this delivery as of a thing past, Lord thou hast turn'd away the captivity of Iacob.
Yet for all this it may be a prophesie of our salvation by the coming of Christ hereafter: for as S. Peter sayes, Acts 2. 30. David being a Prophet, and seeing this before, spake of Christs Nativity, as if it were already past.
The Evening Psalms are 89, 110, 132. The first and last of which are thankful commemorations of Gods merciful promise of sending our Lord Christ into the world, that seed of David, which he had sworn to establish, and set up his Throne for ever. For which, O Lord, the very heavens shall praise thy wondrous works, and thy truth in the congregation of the Saints, v. 5. Psal. 89. The Church was in affliction now, as is plain in both these Psalms: but such was the joy that they were affected with, at the promise of Christs birth and coming into the world, that they could not contain, but even in the midst of their misery, break forth into Thanksgiving for it: and how can the Church excite us better to Thanksgiving to God for the birth of Christ, upon the day, then by shewing us how much the promise of it afar off wrought upon the Saints of old? The 110. Psalm expresly mentions the birth of Christ, ver. 3. The dew of thy birth, is of the womb of the Morning; as the morning dew brings, forth innumerable fruit, so shall the birth of Christ bring forth innumerable faithful people: and therefore the Prophet here does, as we should this day, adore and praise the goodness of God for the birth of Christ, the cause of so much good.
It is admirable to behold the frame of the Churches holy Office and Service this day. In the First Lessons, she reads us the prophesie of Christs coming in the flesh: in the Second Lessons, Epistle and Gospel, she gives us the History of it. In the Collect, she teaches us to pray, that we may be partakers of the benefit of his birth: In the proper Preface for the day, as also in the proper Psalms, she sets us to our duty of Adoring and Glorifying God for his mercy. In the Lessons and Gospels appointed, holy Church does the Angels part, brings us glad tydings of our Saviours Birth, Behold I bring you glad tydings of great joy, for unto you is born this day a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord, S. Luke 2. 10. In pointing the special Hymns and Psalms, she calls upon us to do the Shepherds part, to glorifie and Praise God for all the things that this day we hear and see, ver. 20. And to sing with the Angels, Glory to God in the highest, for this good will to Men.
For the Antiquity of this day, many testimonies might be brought out of the Ancients; but, because I intend brevity, I shall be content with two beyond exception. S. Augustine, Ep. 119. witnesses, that it was the custome of holy Church to keep this day: And upon the five and twentieth of December, in Psalm 132.S. Chrysostom makes a Sermon to prove that the keeping of Christmas-day was ancient, even from the first times; and that the Church kept the true day. In the same sermon he sayes, It is a godly thing to keep this day. Nay further, that the keeping of this day was one of the greatest signs of our love to Christ. Amongst other Arguments which he uses there, to perswade his hearers to keep this day, he brings this, that the custome of keeping this day was religious, and of God, or else it could never have been so early spread over the whole World, in spight of so much opposition. Orat. in Natal. Dom. Tom. 5. Edit. Savil.