Even from amid the obscurity in which Christ chose to be born, there could not flash out upon the world, of which He was the master, some gleam to light up the birth of the Infant Savior, and to show that, Child though He was, with all the touching helplessness of infancy, yet He was something different from any child of Adam, that God had ever given into the arms of a human mother. He came weak and helpless, an infant and a pauper – not even sheltered from the blasts of winter – but, nevertheless, He was the Son of God, and His birth was the greatest event that ever happened, or that ever can happen, in the history of the world; and, accordingly, it is in no way wonderful that many a strange movement and unwonted stir should take place around His very cradle.
Christ, the long-expected, had come at last, and, as might naturally have been expected, heaven and earth were moved. The power of God broke loose, as it were, from the limitation of the ordinary laws by which He is usually pleased to restrict its manifestations. God’s power, as it were, burst forth irrepressibly, and flooded that holy eastern land with wonders and with signs. Heaven and earth seemed to be brought closer together when they had ever been since that brief bright day, when God walked with Adam and Eve through the fresh flowers of Paradise. Angels left the calm beatitude of heaven to busy themselves, at God’s behest, about the affairs of men. There had been a song of jubilee, that made the moonlit stillness of the shepherd’s night-watch, tremble with the melodies of angelic choirs. An angel had stood by Zachary I the Holy Place, and Elizabeth in her old age had borne a son, whose one business in life it was to go before Jesus, and give testimony of Him.
But all these signs have this in common, that, like most of God’s direct dealing with men for some thousands of years, they took place in the bosom of one nation, and with special reference to the Jewish people. Hitherto God had been as a stranger in the greater part of His own world. Sin had encroached on His dominion; it gradually drove Him away from nation after nation, and at length seemed as if it would push Him utterly – His name and His law, His reverence and His love – from the world itself. And then God had been forced, as if in self-defense, to draw closer the limits of His kingdom. He would, as it were, let the faithless world wander away into whatever paths of ignorance and error its folly pointed out; and He would form for Himself one small nation of chosen people, to be, as it were, the salt of the corrupted earth; and He would hedge it round with jealous ordinances from the Gentile races of the world; and He would speak directly to it, and would give it leaders and kings and prophets; and in due time would find the blossom of the race in Mary, and would make her the mother of His Son.
Hence, up to this, the Jews were God’s chosen people, and amongst them the Savior was born.
Amongst them, but not for them alone. The mercy of God was wider than the world, however sinful the world was. Though men had forgotten God, God had not forgotten them: and this Jewish Child who was born to be a Savior, was to be the Savior, not of Jew alone, but of Gentile, of every race, and tribe, and tongue, under the broad canopy of the merciful heaven.
And in the Gospel I have read for you, and in the mystery which we celebrate to-day, God begins to give an indication of His gracious purpose towards the Gentile races of the earth. He begins to send His voice far along the distant paths on which the world had strayed away – begins to flash the light of His mercy and His love through the darkness in which their wickedness had cast them. He begins to call the Gentiles to the feet of Jesus.
And the way of it was this. There appeared like some strange vision in the streets of Jerusalem three men, whose garb and bearing betokened that they came from some far eastern land. They bore upon them the marks of long travel, but there was something in their bearing that, travel-stained and toil-worn though they were, proclaimed them chiefs of men – and the Scripture gives them the name of kings – and they told a wonderful tale: that, in the bosom of their people, had lain for many a century a tradition that One would be born a Savior, and that a star would rise in heaven to announce His coming. And at length the hand of God sent the long-looked for star flashing in their eastern skies; and at once, drawn by the inspiring grace of God, they left their homes, and journeyed through many a wild waste place; and the star went before them always till it led them to Jerusalem; and there the one question they had to ask was this: “Where is He that is born.” And the news was brought to Herod; and Herod was troubled in mind. He was King of the Jews, and here was rumor of some Child he knew not, Who would stretch the scepter from his hand, and leave him crownless. And from his trouble sprang a wicked and crafty; design. He would find out this Child; and, having found Him, he would, without pity, cut off the young life that threatened to destroy his power. The chief priests and scribes were called together, and the sacred books were opened, and with certain voice they proclaimed that Bethlehem was the place to seek the newly-born King. The words of indication were plain: “And thou, Bethlehem . . . ”
And so, the three wise kings hastened forward to Bethlehem, and fund the Child; and their eyes, lit by faith, pierced beneath the surface, and recognized in Him the King who was to rule, the God Who was to be adored, and the Man Who was in the after time, to suffer and to die. For this is the meaning of their gifts – gold, to acknowledge His kingship; frankincense, to recognize His divinity; and myrrh, used in embalming bodies, to betoken His suffering humanity.
Now, my brethren, these kings on this occasion represented us, for we, too, are of Gentile race; they made the offerings in our name eighteen hundred years ago, anticipating the time when we could make for ourselves, the offerings of which their offerings were but a figure. The time has come. We, born in the Catholic church, find Jesus from our very infancy. A few days ago we celebrated with joy the birthday of the Incarnate Lord. The kings have gone to their rest many a long year: we are in their place to-day. And shall we let the occasion pass without making to the Infant Jesus the offerings for which He stretches out His hands?
Gold – shall we give gold? Ah! Gold is perishable, and Jesus his chosen to be poor; earthly god He does not need nor care for. But there is gold He wants. He wants the gold of our heart’s best love. This is a treasure that God has put into every human heart. And the noblest heart that ever beat in human breast, has nothing greater to give to man or God that the priceless gold of its affection. This is the first gift Jesus asks of you – the gift of your love. And what incense shall we offer to Him Who is our god? What, think you, is the most grateful incense that goes up from this earth to the throne of God? It is the incense of the prayers of the hearts that love Him. Offer His this = the prayer of adoration, by which we acknowledge Him as our god, the prayer of petition, by which to supply our wants, the prayer of thanksgiving, by which we show our gratitude for the countless favors He has lavished upon us.
These two gifts shall be offered to God by His elect, both for time and eternity. Love and Prayer will be the eternal business of the saints of God.
But here on this earth another gift is needed to make us saints; for, we have not only a soul but a body, and a body that, with its depraved senses, makes war against the soul; the body that first corrupts itself, and then extends its corruption to the soul. That body we must save from corruption by the third offering of myrrh, the myrrh of mortification; denying ourselves first what is unlawful, and even in many things denying ourselves what is lawful, that we may keep a firmer hold upon the passions which, unless kept in check, would over-run and lay waste our whole spiritual life.