And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
1. Let us consider that the nativity doth import the completion of many ancient promises, predictions, and prefigurations concerning it; that whereas all former dispensations of favour and mercy were as preludes or preambles to this; the old law did aim to represent it in its mysterious pomps; the chief of providential occurrences did intimate it; the prophets often in their mystical raptures did allude to it, and often in clear terms did express it; the gracious designs of God, and the longing expectations of mankind being so variously implied in regard thereto; now all is come to be fulfilled, and perfected in most clear, most effectual, most substantial accomplishment. Now what can be more delightful, or satisfactory to our mind, than to reflect on this sweet harmony of things, this goodly correspondence between the old and new world; wherein so pregnant evidences of God's chief attributes (of His goodness, of His wisdom, of His fidelity and constancy), all conspiring to our benefit, do shine? Is it not pleasant to contemplate how provident God hath ever been for our welfare? what trains from the world's beginning, or ever since our unhappy fall, He hath been laying to repair and restore us? how wisely He hath ordered all dispensations with a convenient reference and tendency to this masterpiece of grace? how steady He hath been in prosecuting His designs, and how faithful in accomplishing His promises concerning it? If the "holy patriarchs did see this day, and were glad"; if a glimpse thereof did cause their hearts to leap within them; if its very dawn had on the spirits of the prophets so vigorous an influence, what comfort and complacence should we feel in this its real presence, and bright aspect on us!
2. Let us consider what alteration our Lord's coming did induce, by comparing the state of things before it with that which followed it. The old world then consisting of two parts, severed by a strong wall of partition, made up of difference in opinion, in practice, in affection, together with a strict prohibition to one of holding intercourse with the other. Such was the state of the world in its parts; and jointly of the whole it may be said that it was "shut up under sin" and guilt, under darkness and weakness, under death and corruption, under sorrow and woe: that no full declaration of God's pleasure, no clear overture of mercy, no express grant of spiritual aid, no certain redemption from the filth or the force of sin, from the stroke of death, from due punishment hereafter; no encouragements suitable to high devotion, or strict virtue, were anywise in a solemn way exhibited or dispensed before our Lord's appearance: so that well might all men be then represented as Cimmerians, "sitting in darkness, in the region and shadow of death." Now the Spirit of God (the Spirit of direction, of succour, of comfort spiritual) is poured on all flesh. "Now the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men." Now Jew and Gentile are reunited and compacted in one body; walking in the same light, and under obligation to the same laws. But farther, that we may yet more nearly touch the point —
3. Let us consider that the nativity of our Lord is a grand instance, a pregnant evidence, a rich earnest of Almighty God's very great affection and benignity toward mankind; for, "In this," saith St. John, "the love of God was manifested, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world:" and, "Through the tender mercies of our God," sang old Zachariah, "the Day-spring from on high did visit us:" this indeed is the peculiar experiment, wherein that most Divine attribute did show and signalize itself. And what greater reason of joy can there be, than such an assurance of His love, on whose love all our good dependeth, in whose love all our felicity consisteth? What can be more delightful than to view the face of our Almighty Lord so graciously smiling on us? Should we not be extremely glad, should we not be proud, if our earthly prince by any signal mark would express himself kindly affected to us? How much more should we resent such a testimony of God's favour t how worthily may our souls be transported with a sense of such affection!
4. We may consider our Lord's nativity, as not only expressing simple good-will, but implying a perfect reconciliation, a firm peace, a steady friendship established between God and us or that it did not only proceed from love, but did also produce love to us. Now, then, what can be more worthy of joy than such a blessed turn of affairs? How can we otherwise than with exceeding gladness solemnize such a peace?
5. Our Lord's nativity doth infer a great honour, and a high preferment to us: nowise indeed could mankind be so dignified, or our nature so advanced as hereby: no wisdom can devise a way beyond this, whereby God should honour His most special favourites, or promote them to a nearness unto Himself. This is a peculiar honour, to which the highest angels cannot pretend; "for He took not the nature of angels, but He took the seed of Abraham." And is it not good matter of joy to be thus highly graced? When are men better pleased than when they are preferred; than especially, when "from the meanest state, from the dunghill, or from the dust, they are raised to be set among princes, and made to inherit the throne of glory"?
6. Finally, if we survey all principal causes of joy and special exultation, we shall find them all concurring in this event. Is a messenger of good news embraced with joy? Behold the great Evangelist is come, with His mouth full of news, most admirable, most acceptable: He, who doth acquaint us that God is well pleased, that man is restored, that "the adversary is cast down," that paradise is set open, and immortality retrieved; that truth and righteousness, peace and joy, salvation and happiness are descended, and come to dwell on earth. Is the birth of a prince by honest subjects to be commemorated with joyous festivity? Behold a Prince born to all the world! a Prince undertaking to rule mankind with sweetest clemency and exact justice. May victory worthily beget exultation? See the invincible warrior doth issue forth into the field, "conquering and to conquer": He that shall baffle and rifle the strong one, our formidable adversary; that shall rout all the forces of hell, and triumph over the powers of darkness. Is a proclamation of peace, after rueful wars, to be solemnized with alacrity? Behold then everlasting peace between heaven and earth, a general peace among men. Is satisfaction of desire and hope very pleasant? Behold the "desire of all nations, the expectation of Israel," He for whom the whole creation groaned, is come. Is recovery of liberty delectable to poor slaves and captives? Behold the "Redeemer is come out of Sion"; the precious ransom, sufficient to purchase the freedom of many worlds, is laid down. Is an overture of health acceptable to sick and languishing persons? Behold the great Physician, endued with admirable skill, and furnished with infallible remedies, is come, to cure us of our maladies, and ease us of our pains. Is mirth seasonable on the day of marriage? Behold the greatest wedding that ever was is this day solemnised; heaven and earth are contracted; divinity is espoused to humanity; a sacred, an indissoluble knot is tied between God and man. Is the access of a good friend to be received with cheerful gratulation? Behold the dearest and best Friend of all mankind. Is opportune relief grateful to persons in a forlorn condition, pinched with extreme want, or plunged in any hard distress? Behold a merciful, a bountiful, a mighty Saviour and succourer. Is the sun-rising comfortable after a tedious, darksome, and cold night? See, "the Sun of Righteousness is risen with healing in His wings," dispensing all about His pleasant rays and kindly influences.
(J. Barrow, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.