(For those who could not help themselves but scan their social media, here is a beautiful message on Christmas by a great orator. Enjoy, then get back to your family and friends.)
Luke 2:12, 13: “Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host.”
At midnight from one of the galleries of the sky a chant broke out. To an ordinary observer there was no reason for such a celestial demonstration. A poor man and wife—travelers, Joseph and Mary by name—had lodged in an outhouse of an unimportant village. The supreme hour of solemnity had passed, and upon the pallid forehead and cheek of Mary God had set the dignity, the grandeur, the tenderness, the everlasting and divine significance of motherhood. But such scenes had often occurred in Bethlehem, yet never before had a star been unfixed, or had a baton of light marshaled over the hills winged orchestra. If there had been such brilliant and mighty recognition at an advent in the house of Pharaoh, or at an advent in the house of Cæsar, or the house of Hapsburg, or the house of Stuart, we would not so much have wondered; but a barn seems too poor a centre for such delicate and archangelic circumference. The stage seems too small for so great an act, the music too grand for such unappreciable auditors, the window of the stable too rude to be serenaded by other worlds.
No, sir. No, madame. It is my joy this morning to tell you what was born that night in the village barn; and as I want to make my discourse accumulative and climacteric, I begin, in the first place, by telling you that that night in the Bethlehem manger was born encouragement for all the poorly started. He had only two friends—they his parents. No satin-lined cradle, no delicate attentions, but straw, and the cattle, and the coarse joke and banter of the camel drivers. No wonder the mediæval painters represent the oxen as kneeling before the infant Jesus, for there were no men there at that time to worship. From the depths of what poverty he rose until to-day he is honored in all Christendom, and sits on the imperial throne in heaven.
What name is mightiest to-day in Christendom? Jesus. Who has more friends on earth than any other being? Jesus. Before whom do the most thousands kneel in chapel and church and cathedral this hour? Jesus. For whom could one hundred million souls be marshaled, ready to fight or die? Jesus. From what depths of poverty to what height of renown! And so let all those who are poorly started remember that they cannot be more poorly born, or more disadvantageously, than this Christ. Let them look up to his example while they have time and eternity to imitate it.
Do you know that the vast majority of the world’s deliverers had barn-like birthplaces? Luther, the emancipator of religion, born among the mines. Shakespeare, the emancipator of literature, born in an humble home at Stratford-on-Avon. Columbus, the discoverer of a world, born in poverty at Genoa. Hogarth, the discoverer of how to make art accumulative and administrative of virtue, born in an humble home in Westmoreland. Kitto and Prideaux, whose keys unlocked new apartments in the Holy Scriptures which had never been entered, born in want. Yea, I have to tell you that nine out of ten of the world’s deliverers, nine out of ten of the world’s messiahs—the messiahs of science, the messiahs of law, the messiahs of medicine, the messiahs of poverty, the messiahs of grand benevolence—were born in want. I suppose that when Herschel, the great astronomer, was born in the home of a poor musician, not only one star, but all the stars he afterward discovered, pointed down to his manger. I suppose when Haydn, the German composer, was born in the humble home of a poor wheelwright, that all the angels of music chanted over the manger. Oh, what encouragement for those who are poorly started! Ye who think yourselves far down, aspire to go high up. I stir your holy ambitions to-day, and I want to tell you, although the whole world may be opposed to you, and inside and outside of your occupations or professions there may be those who would hinder your ascent, on your side and enlisted in your behalf are the sympathetic heart and the almighty arm of One who one Christmas night about eighteen hundred and eighty years ago was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Oh, what magnificent encouragement for the poorly started!
Again, I have to tell you that in that village barn that night was born good-will to men, whether you call it kindness, or forbearance, or forgiveness, or geniality, or affection, or love. It was no sport of high heaven to send its favorite to that humiliation. It was sacrifice for a rebellious world. After the calamity in Paradise, not only did the ox begin to gore, and the adder to sting, and the elephant to smite with his tusk, and the lion to put to bad use tooth and paw, but under the very tree from which the forbidden fruit was plucked were hatched out war and revenge and malice and envy and jealousy, and the whole brood of cockatrices.
But against that scene I set the Bethlehem manger, which says: “Bless rather than curse, endure rather than assault,” and that Christmas night puts out vindictiveness. It says: “Sheathe your sword, dismount your guns, dismantle your batteries, turn the warship Constellation, that carried shot and shell, into a grain-ship to take food to famishing Ireland; hook your cavalry horses to the plow, use your deadly gunpowder in blasting rocks and in patriotic celebration, stop your lawsuits, quit writing anonymous letters, extract the sting from your sarcasm, let your wit coruscate but never burn, drop all the harsh words out of your vocabulary—’ Good-will to men.’ ”
“Oh!” you say, “I can’t exercise it; I won’t exercise it until they apologize; I won’t forgive them until they ask me to forgive them.” You are no Christian then—I say you are no Christian, or you are a very inconsistent Christian. If you forgive not men their trespasses, how can you expect your Heavenly Father to forgive you? Forgive them if they ask your forgiveness, and forgive them anyhow. Shake hands all around. “Good-will to men.”
Oh! my Lord Jesus, drop that spirit into all our hearts this Christmas hour. I tell you what the world wants more than anything else—more helping hands, more sympathetic hearts, more kind words that never die, more disposition to give other people a ride, and to carry the heavy end of the load and give other people the light end, and to ascribe good motives instead of bad, and to find our happiness in making others happy. Out of that Bethlehem crib let the bear and lion eat straw like an ox. “Good-will to men.” That principle will yet settle all controversies, and under it the world will keep on improving until there will be only two antagonists in all the earth, and they will side by side take the jubilant sleigh-ride predicted by the prophet when he said: “Holiness shall be on the bells of the horses.”
Again, I remark that born that Christmas night in the village barn was sympathetic union with other worlds. The only skepticism I have ever had about Christianity was an astronomical skepticism which said: “Why would God out of the heavens and amid the Jupiters and Saturns of the universe have chosen our little bit of a world for the achievements of his only begotten Son when he might have had a vaster scale and vaster worlds?” But my skepticism is all gone as I come to the manger and watch its surroundings. Now I see all the worlds are sisters, and that when one weeps they all weep, and when one sings they all sing. From that supernatural grouping of the cloud banks over Bethlehem, and from the special trains that ran down to the scene I find that our world is beautifully and gloriously and magnificently surrounded. The meteors are with us, for one of them ran to point down to the birthplace. The heavens are with us, because at the thought of our redemption they roll hosannas out of the midnight sky.
Oh! yes; I do not know but our world may be better surrounded than we have sometimes imagined; and when a child is born angels fetch it, and when it dies angels take it, and when an old man bends under the weight of years angels uphold him, and when a heart breaks angels soothe it. Angels in the hospital to take care of the sick. Angels in the cemetery to watch our dead. Angels in church ready to fly heavenward with the news of repentant souls. Angels above the world. Angels under the world. Angels all around the world. Rub the dust of human imperfection out of your eyes, and look into the heavens and see angels of pity, angels of mercy, angels of pardon, angels of help, angels crowned, angels charioted. The world defended by angels, girdled by angels, cohorted by angels—clouds of angels. Hear David cry out, “The chariots of God are twenty thousand. Even thousands of angels.” But the mightiest angel stood not that night in the clouds over Bethlehem; the mightiest angel that night lay among the cattle—the Angel of the new covenant. As the clean white linen sent in by some motherly villager was being wrapped around the little form of that Child Emperor, not a cherub, not a seraph, not an angel, not a world but wept and thrilled and shouted. Oh! yes, our world has plenty of sympathizers. Our world is only a silver rung of a great ladder at the top of which is our Father’s house. No more stellar solitariness for our world, no friendless planet spun out into space to freeze, but a world in the bosom of divine maternity. A star harnessed to a manger.
Again, I remark that that night born in that village barn was the offender’s hope. Some sermonizers may say I ought to have projected this thought at the beginning of the sermon. Oh! no. I wanted you to rise toward it. I wanted you to examine the cornelians and the jaspers and the emeralds and the sapphires before I showed you the Kohinoor—the crown jewel of the ages. That jewel had a very poor setting. The cub of bear is born amid the grand old pillars of the forest, the whelp of lion takes its first step in the jungle of luxuriant leaf and wild flower, the kid of goat is born in cavern chandeliered with stalactite and pillared with stalagmite. But Christ was born in a bare barn. Yet that nativity was the offender’s hope. Over the door of heaven are written these words: “None but the sinless may enter here.” “Oh, horror,” you say, “that shuts us all out.” No. Christ came to the world in one door, and he departed through another door. He came through the door of the manger, and he departed through the door of the sepulchre, and his one business was so to wash away our sin that one second after we are dead there will be no more sin about us than about the eternal God. I know that is putting it strongly, but that is what I understand by full remission. All erased, all washed away, all scoured out, all gone. That undergirding and overarching and irradiating and imparadising possibility for you, and for me, and for the whole race was given that Christmas night.
Do you wonder we bring flowers to-day to celebrate such an event? Do you wonder that we take organ and cornet and queenly soloist to celebrate it? Do you wonder that Raphael and Rubens and Titian and Giotto and Ghirlandajo, and all the old Italian and German painters gave the mightiest stroke of the painters to sketch the Madonna, Mary and her boy. Oh! now I see what the manger was. Not so high the gilded and jeweled and embroidered cradle of the Henrys of England, or the Louis of France, or the Fredericks of Prussia. Now I find out of that Bethlehem crib fed not so much the oxen of the stall as the white horses of Apocalyptic vision. Now I find the swaddling clothes enlarging and emblazoning into an imperial robe for a conqueror. Now I find that the star of that Christmas night was only the diamonded sandal of him who hath the moon under his feet. Now I come to understand that the music of that night was not a completed song, but only the stringing of the instruments for a great chorus of two worlds, the bass to be carried by earthly nations saved, and the soprano by kingdoms of glory won. What a glorious heaven! I shall meet you there. After all our imperfections are gone I shall meet you there. I look out to-day, through the mists of years, through the fog that rises from the cold Jordan, through the wide open door of solid pearl to that reunion. I expect to see you there as certainly as I see you here. What a time we shall have in high converse, talking over sins pardoned, and sorrows comforted, and battles triumphant!
I am going in. I am going to take all my family with me. I am going to take all my church with me. I am going to take all my friends and neighbors with me. I have so much faith in manger and cross I feel sure of it. I am going to coax you in. I am going to push you in. By holy stratagem I am going to surprise you in. Yea, with all the concentrated energy of my nature—physical, mental, spiritual and immortal—I am going to compel you to go in. I like your companionship so well I want to spend eternity with you! Some of your children have already gone. Day before yesterday I buried one of them, and though people passing along the street and seeing white crape on the door-bell may have said: “It is only a child,” yet when the brokenhearted father came to solicit my service he said: “Come around and comfort us, for though she was only fifteen months old we loved her so much.” Ah! it does not take long for a child to get its arms around the parent’s whole nature.
What a Christmas morning it will make when those with whom you used to keep the holidays are all around you in heaven! Silver-haired old father young again, and mother who had so many aches and pains and decrepitudes well again, and all your brothers and sisters and the little ones. How glad they will be to see you! They have been waiting. The last time they saw your face it was covered with tears and distress, and pallid from long watching, and one of them I can imagine to-day, with one hand holding fast the shining gate, and the other hand swung out toward you, saying:
Steer This Way, Father, Steer Straight for Me;
Here Safe in Heaven I Am Waiting for Thee.
Oh! those Bethlehem angels, when they went back after the concert that night over the hills, forgot to shut the door. All the secret is out. No more use of trying to hide from us the glories to come. It is too late to shut the gate. It is blocked wide open with hosannas marching this way, and hallelujahs marching that way. In the splendor of the anticipation I feel as if I were dying—not physically, for I never was more well—but in the transport of the Christmas transfiguration. Oh! heaven, blissful heaven, heaven where our loved ones are, heaven where Christ is—heaven, heaven! What almost unmans me is the thought that it is provided for such sinners as you and I have been. If it had been provided only for those who had always thought right, and spoken right, and acted right, you and I would have had no interest in it, had no share in it; you and I would have stuck to the raft midocean, and let the ship sail by, carrying perfect passengers from a perfect life on earth to a perfect life in heaven. But I have heard the commander of that ship is the same great and glorious and sympathetic One who hushed the tempest around the boat on Galilee, and I have heard that all the passengers on the ship are sinners saved by grace. And so we hail the ship, and it bears down this way, and we come by the side of it, and ask the captain two questions: “Who art Thou? and whence?” and he says, “I am Captain of Salvation, and I am from the manger.” Oh! bright Christmas morning of my soul’s delight. Chime all the bells. Wreathe all the garlands. Rouse all the anthems. Shake hands in all the congratulations. Merry Christmas! Merry with the thought of sins forgiven, merry with the idea of sorrows comforted, merry with the raptures to come. Oh! lift that Christ from the manger and lay him down in all our hearts. We may not bring to him as costly a present as the Magi brought, but we bring to his feet and to the manger to-day the frankincense of our joy, the pearls of our tears, the kiss of our love, the prostration of our worship. Down at his feet, all churches, all ages, all earth, all heaven. Down at his feet the four-and-twenty elders on their faces. Down the “great multitude that no man can number.” Down Michael, the archangel! Down all worlds at his feet and worship. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men!”
T. De Witt Talmage