Parvulus filius hodie natus est nobis, et vocabitur Deus, fortis, alleluia, alleluia.
Consider first, that the devotion of this holy time, and of this day in particular, calls us to the crib of Bethlehem, there to contemplate our infant Saviour, and to entertain our souls with him. O what a large field have we here opened to us for our meditations! Christians, place yourselves in spirit near the manger of our Lord, and fix the eyes of your soul upon him. Reflect who this is whom you see here lying before you, as a helpless infant, in this open stall; suffering and weeping, poor and humble, wrapt up in these mean swaddling clothes, and laid in this crib, between an ox and an ass. O! your faith will inform you that under all these mean appearances lies concealed the Lord of glory! This infant, not yet one day old, is the eternal Son of the eternal God; this weak helpless babe is he, who by his almighty power made both heaven and earth; he who is here wrapt up so straitly, and confined to this narrow crib, fills heaven and earth with his incomprehensible immensity; this speechless child is God's own Word, who called all things out of nothing, and whom all things obey. O wonderful mystery which has thus joined together the highest and the lowest; all that is great in heaven, with all that is little and contemptible upon earth, in the person of this infant God! But what is the meaning of all this? What has brought this great God down to this stable, to this crib? Why has he thus debased and perfectly annihilated himself? O my soul, it is for thy sake; it is for the love of thee; it is to redeem thee, and deliver thee from sin and hell; it is to give an example of all virtue; it is to draw thy heart to himself, and to engage thee to love him.
Consider 2ndly, and study well the great lessons which the Son of God desires to teach thee from the crib. Learn to be humble, by the contemplation of his unparalleled humiliations, which he here so joyfully embraces for thy sake; learn to be poor in spirit, by the consideration of his voluntary poverty; learn mortification and self-denial, by the view of his sufferings, which are all of his own choice. Learn of him here to despise this cheating world and all its empty show, its painted toys, its childish amusements, and all the allurements of its sensual pleasures, which he, who is the wisdom of God, despises and condemns in his birth. But especially apply thyself to study well, and to learn from the contemplation of the Son of God in the crib, the infinite charity of God, his infinite love for thee, and the infinite enormity of sin, by which we continually rebel against this infinite charity. O my soul, if thou couldst but penetrate, with thy inward eyes, into the heart of this thy infant God, what heavenly flames wouldst thou there discover of a more than seraphic love for thee! Thou wouldst here meet thyself, in the midst of the heart of thy Saviour, where he has so long ago given thee a place. O there thou wouldst effectually learn both to hate thy sins and to love thy God.
Consider 3rdly, the affections with which thou oughtest to accompany thy meditations in the stable of Bethlehem, if thou desirest to entertain here in a proper manner thy new-born king and Saviour. Here thou must exercise thyself in acts of all the three divine or theological virtues; of a lively faith in This thy infant God and all his sacred truths - which lie here concealed in this mystery of his incarnation and birth - and all the wonders of his almighty power, wisdom, and goodness, which he has here wrought for the love of us; and of all the treasures of heaven, which he here brings with him to communicate to our souls; of a most firm hope and confidence in his infinite power, mercy, and goodness, which he discovers to thee in this mystery; of a most ardent love for him in return for all that love which he here shows thee. Then pour forth thy soul in his presence, in acts of adoration, praise, and glory; in acts of thanksgiving for all he has done for thee and for the whole world; in acts of oblation of thy whole being, and of all the powers of thy soul, to his love and service: and make at his feet (who is come to be the great high priest of God and man) an humble confession of all thy sins, with a most hearty sorrow and contrition for having ever offended so good a God; craving mercy, pardon, and absolution of him, and through him, and firmly resolving upon a new life for the future.
Conclude to let this be thy daily exercise during this holy time of Christmas, and not to suffer worldly entertainments or diversions to keep thee out of the company of thy Saviour, at least so far as to hinder thee from waiting often on him, and spending a competent part of thy time with him, in proper meditations and affections. If thou art at a loss to know how thou oughtest to entertain thyself with him, beg of him to teach thee, for he comes to be thy teacher. And if thou art sensible of the meanness of thy own performances, in point of adoration, praise, glory, thanksgiving, &c., offer up to the eternal Father the adoration, praise, glory, and thanksgiving of this thy new-born Saviour, to supply thy defects.
Consider first, that St. Stephen was the first martyr; that is, the first who bore witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ by laying down his life for him; the first who after the death and passion of the Son of God returned him blood for blood, life for life; the first that was so happy as to be made a victim of divine love, a holocaust of sweet savour in the sight of God; in fine, the first that washed his robes by martyrdom in the blood of the Lamb, and is now at the head of his heavenly train, 'who stand before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, where he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell over them; and they shall no more hunger nor thirst, neither shall the sun fall on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall rule them, and shall lead them to the living fountains of waters,'
&c., Apoc. vii. 15, &c. O my soul, what a glory, what a happiness is it to lay down life itself for divine love! But alas! how far are the generality of Christians from this perfection of charity, who are so unwilling to suffer even the least inconvenience for the sake of their heavenly lover? And is not this our case too? O let us love at least these generous lovers of our God; let us conceive a holy envy for their happiness, by sighing and praying for a share of their charity and love.
Consider 2ndly, the character that is given to St. Stephen by the spirit of God: 'He was a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,' Acts vi. 5. 'He was full of grace and fortitude, and did great wonders and miracles among the people,' verse 8. 'By his zeal the word of the Lord increased, and the number of the disciples was multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly,' verse 7, 'and though many adversaries rose up, who disputed against him, there are none of them able to resist the wisdom and spirit that spoke,' verse 10. And when he was hurried by them before the council, all that were there 'saw his face, as if it had been the face of an angel,' verse 15. His zeal for the faith of Christ, and the courage and constancy with which he maintained it before the council, was rewarded with a heavenly vision, in which he 'saw the glory of God, and the Lord Jesus standing at the right hand of God,' Acts vii. 55. And his bearing testimony to this truth drew on him his martyrdom: for presently, 'casting him forth out of the city, they stoned him,' and invoking the Lord, he said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this he fell asleep in the Lord,' Acts vii. 57, 58, 59. Christians, what admirable lessons and examples have we here of all the virtues, in a heroic degree, in the life and death of this glorious saint? He was full of faith; he was full of the Holy Ghost and his gifts; he was full of grace, he was full of fortitude, he was full of zeal, he was full of heavenly wisdom, he was full of divine charity; in a word, he was full of God and of all good. O how happy shall we be, if we seriously endeavour to walk in the footsteps of this great saint by an imitation of these his virtues!
Consider 3rdly, that as amongst the virtues of St. Stephen none was more remarkable than his charity, so none more pressingly calls for our imitation. Charity has two branches, the love of God and the love of our neighbours: the love of God with our whole heart, and with our whole soul; and the love of our neighbours as ourselves. The love of God is exercised by seeking and by promoting in all things the glory of God; by sanctifying his name, both by word and work; by labouring to propagate his kingdom; by a perpetual dedication of our whole selves to his divine service. Thus did St. Stephen continually exercise himself in the most perfect acts of the love of God, not by the bare profession of the tongue, but by works and in truth. In like manner, the love of our neighbours is exercised by seeking and promoting their true and everlasting welfare upon all occasions, by withdrawing them from the error of their way, and from the broad road that leads to perdition, and bringing them to God and to his grace: thus also did St. Stephen continually exercise himself in the most perfect acts of the love of his neighbours, by his preaching and by his prayers; by his zeal for the salvation of their souls; and by his sparing no pains to bring them to Christ, through this charity cost him his life. Now 'greater love than this no man hath, that a man should lay down his life for his friends,' John xv. 13. But the most difficult point of all in the line of charity as it regards our neighbours, is the love of our enemies; of which St. Stephen has given us a most glorious example in his last dying prayer for them that were actually stoning him. 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.'
Conclude to honour this great saint, by diligently imitating his love for his God, his zeal for his glory, and for the salvation of souls; his fortitude and constancy in his sufferings, and his charity for his enemies. And to this end beg the assistance of his prayers.
Consider first, upon how many accounts we ought to honour St. John, the beloved disciple of the Son of God; and to glorify God in him, for the extraordinary gifts and graces bestowed upon him. He was called in his youth, whilst he was as yet innocent and pure, to follow our Lord Jesus; and he readily obeyed the call, and left both his parents and all things else for the sake of Christ. His zeal and fortitude in the cause of his master procured him the name of Boanerges, or a son of thunder. The purity of his soul and body made him a special favourite of his Lord; who therefore admitted him to lean upon his bosom at his last supper, and to draw from that sacred fountain of life the heavenly waters of grace and truth; and on the following day, when he was dying upon the cross, he recommended his virgin mother to his care, that she might be his mother, and he might be her son. O blessed saint, great favourite both of Jesus and Mary, introduce us also, by the interest thou hast now in heaven, into some share in their favour, by procuring for us, by thy prayers, the grace to imitate thy purity.
Consider 2ndly, to what a height St. John was raised by divine grace. He was made an apostle, and one of the chiefest of the apostles; even one of the three that were chosen by our Lord to be witness both of his glory on Mount Thabor, and of is anguish and agony on Mount Oliver. he was also an Evangelist or writer of the gospel, (which none of the other apostles were, except St. Matthew,) and amongst the four Evangelists is compared to the eagle, (which flies high, and looks upon the sun with a steadfast eye,) because of his sublime beginning, by taking his first flight up to the eternal Word, by whom all things were made; and his following throughout his whole gospel the same sublime course, with his eye still fixed on this great sun of justice, and the immense light of his divinity. St. John was also a martyr, by drinking of the chalice of his Lord, (as he had foretold him,) by a long course of sufferings; and by being at length sentenced to death by the tyrant Domitian, and cast into a vessel of boiling oil, from whence he was delivered by an evident miracle. In fine, he was a prophet, to whom our Lord revealed an infinity of heavenly secrets and mysteries relating to latter times, which we find recorded in his Apocalypse, written during his banishment in the isle of Patmos. See then, my soul how many titles this great saint has to our veneration. But remember, at the same time, that the veneration which will please him best, will be a love and imitation of his virtues.
Consider 3rdly, that the writings of St. John recommend nothing so much as charity and verity, love and truth, These they continually inculcate: charity, because God is charity; he is all love, he has died for love; 'Let us therefore love God,' saith he, 'because God first hath loved us.' 'But then this,' saith he, 'is the love of God, this is the Charity we owe him, to keep his commandments. and this commandment we have from God, (the favourite commandment indeed of the Son of God,) that we should love one another.' This love for one another all his epistles are full of; they all breathe this sweet odour; with this they join verity or truth; loving in truth, walking in truth, for the sake of truth, which abideth in us, and shall be with us for ever. And what is this truth, and the life? Such was always the doctrine of St. John: this he perpetually preached, both by word and writing: such was the spirit of this disciple of love.
Conclude to embrace, with all thy soul, this charity and verity, this love and truth so much recommended by St. John, or rather by the spirit of God, through him. Keep close to this charity and verity here, and it will abide with thee for ever hereafter, and will make thee happy for endless ages.
Consider first, that the Son of God, who was born into this world to be the Saviour of the world, was no sooner born, but he began to be persecuted by the children of this world. The wicked king Herod, to secure to himself and his family the temporal kingdom of Judea, seeks the life of this new-born king - of whose birth he had been informed by the sages of the East - and in order to compass his impious design, employs both craft, and (when this was eluded) open violence, by the barbarous massacre of the innocents. But all to no other purpose than to show how vain are the designs and efforts of men against the decrees of God; according to that of the wise man, Prov. xxi. 30, 'There is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no counsel against the Lord.' Our new-born Saviour, by divine admonition, was carried away to Egypt, out of the reach of the tyrant, and all his barbarity only served to render the birth of the Messias more illustrious, by spreading the fame of it through all the world, and to crown at the same time so many innocent martyrs; whilst, for his own part, it brought a perpetual odium upon his infamous memory, which no length of tie can ever efface, and drew down most terrible judgments (within the compass of a year) upon his head; and as to his numerous family, for which he was so solicitous, they quickly lost the kingdom, and were in a short time totally extirpated. O see, Christians, how sad a thing it is wilfully to fight against our Saviour by known sin, and how dismal the consequences are of all such undertakings.
Consider 2ndly, that we read, Matt. ii. 16. &c., 'Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry, and sending, killed all the male children that were in Bethlehem and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under.' These, my soul, are the Holy Innocents, whose feast we celebrate this day as happy martyrs, bearing testimony, not by their words but by their blood, to the birth of the Son of God. These are the first victims, immolated as so many lambs, to illustrate the coming of our Lamb of God, born into this world to take away the sins of the world. These are the first flowers of the martyrs, cropt in the very bud by the impious persecutor of Christ; these the first-fruits produced by the coming of our Lord, and presented by him to his Father, to be followed afterwards by that abundant harvest out of all nations of innumerable glorious champions of Christ, who should maintain his cause by the testimony of their blood. To these the church applies in the lesson of this day that of Apoc. xiv. 4, 5, 'These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb: and in their mouth there was found no lie; for they are without spot before the throne of God.' O let us honour these first martyrs of the Son of God.
Consider 3rdly, that purity, innocence, and temporal sufferings are by divine appointment the way to eternal happiness. By this road the Holy Innocents arrived thither. O how happy are all they that are walking in this road! See then, Christians, how greatly you are deceived in flying so much from sufferings, since these are to bring you to your God. There was lamentations and great mourning in Bethlehem of the mothers of the Holy Innocents: they were not to be comforted because they had lost their children. In the meantime there was a great joy in heaven for their happy transmigration to a region of endless bliss. Thus, when the world is sorrowful, heaven rejoices; because the sufferings of this short time produce for the sufferers an eternal weight of glory in that blessed kingdom, whereas they that are without sufferings are in danger of never coming thither.
Conclude to embrace whatsoever share may be appointed for thee in the sufferings of this life, as designed by divine Providence to help thee to heaven. Assure thyself that thy God knows what is best for thee, and that he sends thee what he knows to be the best. Had not the Innocents been brought to God by the means of their sufferings they might have lived to have crucified their Lord, and instead of being eternally happy, might have been eternally miserable.
Consider first, that the Son of God, by his incarnation and birth, did not only come amongst us to be our Father and to be our head - our king, our priest, and our sacrifice; our bother and our friend our physician and our advocate: - but also recommends himself to us in this gospel under the amiable quality of the good shepherd and pastor of our souls. 'I am the good shepherd,' saith he, verse 11: 'the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and runneth away, and the wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep: but the hireling runneth away, because he is a hireling; and he hath no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me. As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep,' &c. O, Christians, how happy are we in such a shepherd - so good, so loving, so careful of our true welfare! O he is the good shepherd indeed, that came down form heaven to seek the poor sheep that was lost, and when he had found it took it upon his own shoulders, to carry it home with joy to his heavenly fold, Luke xv. O how dearly have his sheep cost him! O how truly has he made good in himself that sentence, that 'the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep!' O let us ever embrace and love, follow and obey this true shepherd of our souls!
Consider 2ndly, in how many ways this heavenly shepherd is daily providing for all the necessities of his sheep, and the tender affection he perpetually shows them. 'The Lord ruleth me,' (or as it is in the original, is my shepherd,) saith the Psalmist, Ps xxi., 'and I shall want nothing: he hath set me in a place of pasture.' Yes, Christians, he has placed our souls here in the midst of rich pastures of his divine word and sacraments, in the communion of his church. He hath brought us up by the streams of the living waters of his grace, which are ever flowing to refresh and nourish us. He conducts us to the paths of justice, he converts our souls, he is with us even when we are walking in the midst of the shadow of death; his rod and his staff still comfort and support us. But O give ear, my soul, to what follows in the same Psalm: 'Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil, and thy chalice, which inebriated me, how goodly is it!' Here are benefits indeed of this divine pastor of our souls: he has prepared a table for us, in which he feeds his sheep with his own most sacred body and blood; he anoints our heads with the divine oil of his holy Spirit, and he inebriates us with the goodly chalice of his passion, continually offered up on our altars, to be a plentiful source to us of all heavenly grace. and in consequence of all these favours already bestowed on us he encourages us to conclude with the royal prophet, 'that his mercy will follow us all the days of our life, and that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days even to a happy eternity.'
Consider 3rdly, what we owe, in quality of the sheep of Christ, to this divine shepherd. He tells us, John x. 3, 4, 5, 'That his sheep hear the voice of their shepherd; that he calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out; that he goeth before them; and that the sheep follow him, because they know his voice; but a stranger they follow not, but fly from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.' And again, verses 27, 28, 'My sheep hear my voice; and I know them; and they follow me. and I give them eternal life; and they shall not perish for ever; and no man shall snatch them out of my hand.' Christians, do we keep close to this heavenly shepherd? Do we follow him both by our faith, and by our life? Do we know him and hear his voice? Do we fly from strangers, the world, the flesh, and the devil? If so, we are his sheep indeed; and if we persevere, he will bring us in spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the pastures of eternal life. But if we run away from our shepherd, to follow these strangers, we must expect to fall a prey to the wolves.
Conclude to embrace your divine Saviour, under this amiable character of the pastor and shepherd of your souls; and as nothing has been wanting on his side to fulfil, to the utmost perfection, even beyond all expression and imagination, every part of the character of the good shepherd; see nothing be wanting on your side to fulfil, by a perpetual correspondence with his grace, every part of the character of good sheep.
Consider first, that the year is now come to a conclusion: it is just upon the point of expiring: all these twelve months that are now past, have flown away into the golf of eternity; they are now no more; they shall return to us no more. all our years pass in this manner, they all hasten away one after another and hurry us along with them, till they bring us also into an endless and unchangeable eternity. Our years will all be soon over; we shall find ourselves at the end of our lives much sooner than we imagine. O let us not then set our hearts upon any of these transitory things. Let us despise all that pass away with this short life, and learn to adhere to God alone, who never passes away, because he is eternal. Let us always be prepared for our departure hence.
Consider 2ndly, that as the year is now past and gone, so are all the pleasures of it: all our diversions, all our amusements, in which we have spent our time this year, are now no more: the remembrance of them is but like that of a dream. O, such is the condition of all things that pass with time! Why then do we set our esteem or affection upon any of them? Why are we not practically and feelingly convinced of the emptiness and vanity of them all; and that nothing deserves our love or attention but God and eternity? And as the pleasures of the year are all past, so are all the displeasures and uneasinesses, pains and mortifications of it: they are also now no more than like a dream: and so will all temporal evils appear to us a little while hence when we shall see ourselves upon the brink of eternity. Let us learn, then, only to fear those evils which will have no end, and the evil of sin, which leads to these never-ending evils.
Consider 3rdly, how you have spent your time this year. It was all given you by your creator, in order to bring you forward to him, and to a happy eternity. O how many favours and blessings have you received from him every day of the year! How many graces and invitations to good! And what use have you made of these favours? What virtue have you acquired this year? What vice have you rooted out? What passions have you overcome? Have you made any improvement at all in virtue, since the beginning of the year? Instead of going forward to God, have you not rather gone backward? Alas! what an account will you have to give one day for all this precious time, and for all these graces and blessings, spiritual or corporal, which you have so ungratefully abused and perverted during the course of this year. Then as to your sins, whether of omission or commission against God, your neighbours, or yourselves - which you have been guilty of this year, either by thought, word, or deed - what a dreadful scene will open itself to your eyes upon a little examination! And little have you done during the course of this year to cancel them by penance. O, how melancholy would your case be, if your eternal lot were to be determined by your performances of the past year!
Conclude by giving thanks to God for all his blessings of this year; and especially for his patience and forbearance with you in your sins. Return now at least to him with your whole heart; begging mercy and pardon of all the sins of the year, and for all the sins of your life. And resolve, with God's grace, if he is pleased to give you another year, to spend it in such a manner as to secure to your souls the never-ending year of a happy eternity.
Consider first, those words of our Lord to his disciples, and in them, to all Christians; 'let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands; and be you like to men who wait for their Lord, when he shall return from the wedding: that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching.' This girding of our loins, and having lamps burning in our hands, are to be taken in a spiritual sense, as containing great and necessary lessons for every part of our lives. As we know not the hour when our Lord will come to us, and knock at our door by death, we must keep ourselves always awake, and in a proper posture and readiness to open to him without delay, and to welcome him. Now, this proper posture and readiness to welcome our Lord whensoever he shall come and knock, chiefly consists in those two things, in having our loins always girt by a constant restraint of our irregular inclinations and lusts; and having lamps always burning in our hand, by the constant exercise of Christian virtues; which may shine forth to the glory of God and the edification of our neighbours. And those servants are happy indeed, who are always waiting for the coming of their Lord, with their loins girt in this manner, and holding such lamps as these always burning in their hands.
Consider 2ndly, what follows in the same gospel, with regard to the immense reward of these faithful servants. 'Amen, I say to you, that their Lord will gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and passing will minister to them.' Christians, what an honour, what a happiness is here promised us, if our Lord, at his coming, shall find us watching! He will gird himself to be ready to wait upon us; and he will make us sit down to table; and he will pass and minister to us. O, what incomprehensible joys are here signified by our Lord's ministering to us, by us making himself, as it were, over to us, to be perpetually enjoyed by us! O, what a table is this, at which we shall be invited to sit down, to be eternally entertained by him with all the delights of heaven,; with the sweet fruits of the tree of life, and the delicious waters of the fountain of life! And lest we should be discouraged by the apprehension of our being excluded from this eternal banquet, because we have already passed a good part of our lives without being in that readiness which our Lord expects of us at the time of his coming, he adds for our comfort, that 'if he shall come in the second watch; or if he shall come in the third watch, and shall then find us watching,' we shall still be happy. 'Blessed', said he, 'are those servants.' So that, if we have hitherto been careless; if we have let the first, or even the second watch pass, without being upon our guard, and he has been so good as not to come and surprise us; let us now at least awake, let us gird our loins now, and have our lamps, for the future, burning in our hands, and we may still be blessed.
Consider 3rdly, the remaining words of this gospel: 'But this know ye,' saith our Lord, 'that if the householder did know at what hour the thief would come, he would surely watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open. Be ye also ready; for at what hour you think not, the Son of Man will come.' This is that great lesson of always watching, which our Saviour perpetually inculcates as our only security against the dreadful evil of an unprovided death; and all those endless evils, which are the unhappy consequence of an unprovided death. O let us lay up this lesson in our hearts; let us meditate daily upon it; let us conform ourselves to it in the practice of our lives. O, let us always watch! Our Lord, who has borne with us all this year, has in the meantime knocked at the door of thousands of others, who this day twelvemonth were as likely to live as ourselves. Their bodies are now corrupting in their graves; but O! where are their souls? And where shall our bodies, where shall be our souls be, a twelvemonth hence? Let us then be always ready; because we know not the day, nor the hour, when our Lord shall come.
Conclude to observe well these evangelical prescriptions, of girding your loins, of having your lamps ever burning in your hands, and of being always ready to open the door to him; and you shall not fail of being of the number of those happy servants that shall enter into the eternal joy of their Lord.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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