BUT not the Sunday after Christmas, for, until the Circumcision,
the great Christmas truth is still before us, though already the point
of view has begun to vary. On the Day of the Nativity our thoughts are
concentrated upon the Deity of Christ; to-day we think rather of His humanity.
Having learned whence He came, we are now taught whither He came, even
“to us men,” and why He came, even “for our salvation.” Having considered
the Incarnate, we now learn the meaning of the Incarnation, and pass from
the God-ward to ‘the man-ward view of the chief mystery of our faith. This
is, therefore, the Sunday of the Incarnation.
THE EPISTLE. (GAL. iv. 1.)
The truth of the Incarnation is here set forth by S. Paul with almost
the precision of a creed, especially as it affects our relation to God.
A. Man’s Position before the
The human race was then in its minority. This was the case even with
the chosen people, who, though the heirs of God, were still treated as
children, and expected to obey as servants, who “know not what their Lord
doeth.” Their position was preparatory, “until the time appointed.”
They were not as yet capable of freedom, but were under “tutors and governors.”
They were learning elementary lessons, and lessons pertaining to life in
this world—” the elements of the world” —and lessons very hard and burdensome,
for they were “in bondage.”
B. The Time of the Incarnation.
Christ’s coming took place at the time fixed and appointed in God’s
eternal decrees, and at the time determined in ancient prophecy, when the
kingly power had passed from Judah, and while the Second Temple was still
standing. It took place at the time most suitable, when the world had learned
that it was hope. less to think of improving the human race by means of
any of the religions or philosophies then existing; when all was ready
for the diffusion of a world creed, and the Empire by its arms and laws
had paved the road for the messengers of the King of Kings.’
C. The Truth of the Incarnation.
“ God sent forth His Son”—here is His preexistence, for He was before
He was sent; and His divinity, for He was with God before He was sent from
“Born of a woman” —here is His humanity, for He was born of woman as
men are born of women. No reference seems here intended to Our Saviour’s
supernatural conception, but only to His birth as man.
“Born under law” —here is His acceptance of the position of those He
came to save. He came not only to share our humanity, but our inferiority.
He accepted as man the relation in which He found men standing towards
God, even though this relation had been caused by sin. God’s children had
become merely servants so Christ took upon Himself the form of a servant.
Though void of sin, He accepted the low estate to which sin had brought
us, and was born “under law.”
D. The Purpose and Result of
Christ acquiesced in our condition and assumed our relation towards
God, but only in order that He might alter this relation by “redeeming
them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
This new relationship to God came by the Incarnation of “our brother
man, the Lord from heaven,” through brotherhood with whom we receive the
adoption. Nor is this change merely nominal, for with our position
is given the power to gain a new disposition, with our new relation the
power to acquire a new feeling of kinship with God. “Because we are
sons God hath sent forth the spirit of His Son into our hearts,” to enable
us to realize and act out our adoption. It is not because we are
spiritual that we are made sons, but because we are sons that we receive
the assistance of the Spirit, and “as many as are led by the Spirit” become
sons of God in the fullest meaning of the word, and shall in due time,
as “heirs of God,” enter into perfect communion with God. This is
the final goal of the Incarnation.
THE GOSPEL. (S. MATT. i. 18.)
The Incarnation of Christ is first a fact, then a doctrine; and the
doctrine of the Incarnation is just so much of the meaning of that fact
as God has enabled the Church to see. In the Gospel of to-day we
have this mighty fact attested by three witnesses.
A. The Witness of Joseph.
There could be no better witness than this holy and just man, to whom
at first it brought such terrible sorrow and anxiety that God Himself interposed
to comfort and reassure him. Hence-forward he became the first believer
of the good news, and shielded the Blessed Virgin with tender and reverent
care, and became the holy guardian of the infant Saviour. If Mary
was blessed among women, surely Joseph was among all men, so great in his
unselfish. ness of love, and so faithful to his trust. The blessedness
of Joseph is theirs who for Christ’s sake are the guardians of His Church
and of His little ones.
B. The Witness of the Angel.
There could be no better witness to the truth of the Incarnation than
that of one who came from Heaven. To him there would be no difficulty
of nature in the Incarnation, for angels are not subject to our laws.
To him the mystery would lie in God’s love and man’s sin. Thus he
came to herald the Name that saves from sin, from sin in the temper or
the tongue, in the action and habit, as well as from sin’s guilt and consequence.
If we can realize, like the angel, God’s love and man’s sin, we shall find
it easy to accept the Incarnation.
C. The Witness of the Evangelist.
Yet one more witness who could testify that the life of Jesus was worthy
of, and was only to be explained by, such a birth.
S. Matthew had left all that earth could give for the sake of Him Who
came from Heaven. No longer the grasping publican, he loves his race,
and sees in the Incarnation the past hopes of his nation realized. Here
was the true child Emmanuel, the pledge of Divine assistance against every
enemy; for, if God be with us, who can be against us?
This is the great Incarnation prayer founded upon the belief that He
Who planned the Incarnation must desire that all the purposes of the Incarnation
may be fulfilled in us.
A. The Purpose of the Incarnation.
This was the purpose of the Father, and the purpose of the Son as coming
to do the will of the Father. He sent His only-begotten Son, not
merely to live among men, but to live as man, and to be a man, taking our
nature upon Him, though not the corruption of our nature, through His birth
of a pure virgin.
B. The Prayer of the Incarnation.
We pray that the great object of the Incarnation may be realized in
us, and that we who, by baptism, have received a new position (adoption),
and a new nature (regeneration), may have the assistance of the Spirit
to perfect in our daily life the renewal begun by grace. Because
we are sons we are taught to pray for the spirit of God’s sons.