As we continue to celebrate Christmas, let us aspire after a fresh birth of the Saviour in our hearts—that as He is already “formed in us the hope of glory” (Col 1:27), we may be “renewed in the spirit of our minds” (Eph 4:23)—that we may be resolved to serve Him with greater zeal in the new year.
Let us get some inspiration from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 17-20. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
The text seems to indicate four ways of serving God. Each of the verses sets before us a different way of sacred service. Some told others what they had seen and heard. Some wondered with a holy marveling and astonishment; Mary pondered, meditated, thought upon these things; and others glorified God and gave Him praise. Which of these four did God the best service? I think if we could combine all these mental emotions and outward exercises, we should be sure to praise God after a most godly and acceptable fashion.
The shepherds had something to tell, and that something had in it the inimitable blending which is the secret sign and royal march of Divine authorship; a peerless marrying of sublimity and simplicity; angels singing—singing to shepherds! Heaven bright with glory! Bright at midnight! God! A Babe!! The Infinite! An infant of a span long!! The Ancient of Days! Born of a woman!! What more simple than the inn, the manger, a carpenter, a carpenter’s wife, a child? What more sublime than a “multitude of the heavenly host” waking the midnight with their joyous song, and God Himself in human flesh made manifest? A child is but an ordinary sight; but what a marvel to see that word which was, “In the beginning with God, tabernacling among us that we might behold His glory”—the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth? We have a tale to tell, as simple as sublime. What simpler? — “Believe and live.” What more sublime?—“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself!” A system of salvation, so wonderful, that angelic minds cannot but adore as they meditate upon it; and yet, so simple that the children in the temple may fitly hymn its virtues as they sing, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” What a splendid combining of the sublime and the simple have we in the great atonement offered by the incarnate Saviour! Oh make known to all men this saving truth of God!
But though the shepherds told what they heard from heaven, remember that they spoke of what they had seen below. They had, by observation, made those truths of God most surely their own which had first been spoken to them by revelation. No man can speak of the things of God with any success until the doctrine which he finds in the Bible, he finds also in his heart. We must bring down the mystery and make it plain, by knowing, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, its practical power on the heart and conscience. The gospel which we preach is most surely revealed to us by the Lord; but, moreover, our hearts have tried and proved, have grasped, have felt, and have realized its truth and power. If we have not been able to understand its heights and depths, yet we have felt its mystic power upon our heart and spirit. It has plainly revealed sin to us; it has revealed to us our pardon. It has killed the reigning power of sin; it has given us Christ to reign over us, and the Holy Spirit to dwell within our bodies as in a temple. Now we must speak.
Every man who hears the gospel is authorized to tell it to others! “Let him who hears say, Come” (Rev 22:17)—that is, let every man who truly hears the gospel bid others come to drink of the water of life. This is all the warrant we require for preaching the gospel according to our ability. Our wise God takes care that liberty of prophesying shall not run to riot, for He does not give efficient pastoral and ministerial gifts to very many; yet every man, according to his gifts, let him minister.
I am inclined to think that the astonishment which sometimes seizes upon the human intellect at the remembrance of God’s greatness and goodness is, perhaps, the purest form of adoration which ever rises from mortal men to the throne of the Most High. This kind of wonder I recommend to those of you who, from the quietness and solitariness of your lives, are scarcely able to imitate the shepherds in telling out the tale to others—you can fill up the circle of worshippers before the throne by wondering at what God has done!
What should you and I say, if David, sitting in his house, could only say, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me up to now” (2 Sam 7:18)? Had we been the most meritorious of individuals, and had unceasingly kept the Lord’s commands, we could not have deserved such a priceless gift as Incarnation! But, sinners, offenders who revolted and went from God further and further, what shall we say of this incarnate God dying for us, but, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us” (1 John 4:10). Let your soul lose itself in wonder, for wonder, dear friends, is in this way a very practical emotion. Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship; being astonished at what God has done, you will pour out your soul with astonishment at the foot of the golden throne with the song, “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and majesty, and power, and dominion, and might be unto Him who sits on the throne, and does these great things for me.” Filled with this wonder, it will cause you a godly watchfulness; you will be afraid to sin against such love as this! Feeling the presence of the mighty God in the gift of His dear Son, you will take off your shoes, because the place where you stand is holy ground. You will be moved at the same time to a glorious hope. If Jesus has given Himself to you, if He has done this marvelous thing on your behalf, you will feel that heaven itself is not too great for your expectation, and that the rivers of pleasure at God’s right hand, are not too sweet or too deep for you to drink. Who can be astonished at anything when he has once been astonished at the manger and the cross?
One at least, and let us hope there were others, or at any rate, let us ourselves be the others—one kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. She wondered—she did more—she pondered. You will observe there was an exercise on the part of this blessed woman, of the three great parts of her being; her memory—she kept all these things; her affections—she kept them in her heart; her intellect— she pondered them, considered them, weighed them, turned them over; so that memory, affection, and understanding, were all exercised about these things. We delight to see this in Mary, but we are not at all surprised when we recollect that she was, in some sense, the most concerned of all on earth—for it was of her that Jesus Christ had been born. Those who come nearest to Jesus, and enter the most closely into fellowship with Him, will be sure to be the most engrossed with Him. Certain persons are best esteemed at a distance, but not the Saviour; when you shall have known Him to the very fullest, then shall you love Him with the love which passes knowledge; you shall comprehend the heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths of His love. And when you shall do so, then your own love shall swell beyond all length and breadth, all height and depth. The birth most concerned Mary, and therefore, she was the most impressed with it. Note the way in which her concern was shown; she was a woman, and the divine grace which shines best in the female is not boldness—that belongs to the masculine mind; but affectionate modesty is a feminine beauty, and therefore, we do not read so much of her telling abroad as pondering within. No doubt she had her circle and her word to speak in it; but for the most part she, like another Mary, sat still in the house. She worked, but her work was most directly for Him, her heart’s joy and delight.
Some people get the notion into their heads that the only way in which they can live for God, is by becoming priests, ministers, or missionaries. Alas, how many of us would be shut out from any opportunity of magnifying the Most High if this were the case. The shepherds went back to the sheep pens, glorifying and praising God. It is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is divine grace, which will enable us to glorify God. God is glorified by our abiding in our vocation. Take care you do not fall out of the path of duty, by leaving your calling, and take care you do not dishonor your profession while in it; think not much of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. There is no trade which is not sanctified by the gospel. The shepherds glorified God though they went to their trade.
The way in which these shepherds honored God is worth noticing. They did it by praising Him. Let us think more of sacred song than we sometimes do. When the song is bursting in full chorus from the congregation, it is but a noise in the ear of some men; but inasmuch as many true hearts, touched with the love of Jesus, are keeping pace with their tongues, it is not a mere noise in God’s esteem, there is a sweet music in it that makes glad His ear. What is the great ultimatum of all Christian effort? To glorify God. Even the saving of sinners is sought by the rightminded as the means to that end. If in psalm and hymn singing we do really glorify God, we are doing more than in the preaching; because we are not then in the means, we are close upon the great end itself. If we praise God with heart and tongue, we glorify Him in the surest possible manner. “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me” (Psalm 50:23), says the Lord. Sing, then, my brothers and sisters! Sing not only when you are together, but sing alone! Cheer your labour with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Make glad the family with sacred music! The revival of religion has always been attended with the revival of Christian psalmody. We need more singing. Sing more and murmur less, sing more and slander less, sing more and quibble less, sing more and mourn less. God grant us today, as these shepherds did, to glorify God by praising Him!
Let us praise God with the song “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness”: