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THE CONDESCENSION OF OUR LORD
"He humbled Himself."-PHILIPPIANS ii. 8.
CHRISTMAS is a time of rejoicing, and its rejoicing is like no other rejoicing in the year. We rejoice at Easter; but at Easter it is rejoicing in the presence, and under the awe, of death. But at Christmas we rejoice as children rejoice. All looks light, and we all feel gay we defy the storms and cold outside, and do not think of the shadows.
But still, that which is the foundation of all our rejoicing is an awful and overpowering fact,—as awful, as overpowering, as those facts which we have before us at Easter. "He humbled Himself." This most wonderful event in the course of God's dealings with His creatures, is at the bottom of all we say and think of now. It is the spring of Christmas joy as well as of Easter peace. It is sometimes almost disguised by things which appeal to our feelings as members of households and homes, which come to us with associations of all that is tender and sweet and beautiful, with thoughts of the mother and the little Child, of the angels singing in the midnight sky, and the worshipping shepherds, and
the wise men from the East offering their gifts ;of the Gloria in Excelsis, and the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis. But underneath all this lies this most solemn and austere of truths, "He humbled Himself." It is not out of place at Christmas to meditate for a few minutes on this truth.
"He humbled Himself." Being in the form of God," He "made Himself of no reputation,—He emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself." This is St. Paul's account of the Incarnation, of that which we commemorate to-day.
I. Now the first thing that I will ask you to contemplate is its reality. Don't think this an idle. suggestion. Don't think that because you believe it to be true, you therefore have hold of its reality. To know a thing, and "to know and imagine" it, are different things. We think so lightly and so little of the inexpressible wonders of the Apostles' Creed, because we rehearse them without thinking and imagining what they mean. It was not always So. In the ancient times of the Church, men took in the meaning of the Incarnation in all the fulness. of its overpowering wonder. If they did indeed believe it, it filled their thoughts and souls for a lifetime. It overshadowed every other interest. It was to them the paramount fact in the history of the world, and in the actual condition of themselves, and of all mankind. But they might realise
it too keenly, and too strongly for their faith. Its overwhelming wonderfulness might be too much for their possibilities of assent. They felt what it meant, and rejected it. One set of people saw clearly all that Jesus Christ was, as man. They understood that indeed He was One who shared their nature, and knew their thoughts, and sympathised with their pain and their trials. He was a real man, Very Man, having a history like theirs, subject to the laws and necessities and fate of their mortal nature. And they lifted up their minds to the idea of the Almighty, the Infinite, the Eternal God, and they could not accept the tremendous thought that He who was born in Bethlehem was also Very God. And another set, starting from the belief that "the Word was God," and "dwelt among us," found it just as hard, when they took in the thought, to believe that "the Word was made flesh;" that "God and man" were really one Christ." God was indeed with us, they thought, when the fulness of time came, but it was impossible that He could be so humbled; impossible that He should stoop to be born of one of His own creatures, impossible that He should be unrecognised by them, persecuted, buffeted by them, impossible that He should really be nailed to the Cross and die. It was all but in appearance and show, it was not real: it was but a moving phantom history, to touch our feelings and take captive our hearts. Or, if that was real, which men saw and handled, then it was God dwelling in,
overshadowing, prompting, animating a chosen man, -of higher mould it might be, but who still was one of ourselves. God was one in His own essence, and Jesus Christ was another. They were one in will, one in purpose, one in work; but they could not be united in one personality. One and the self-same person could not be at once really God and man.
These were the difficulties, these were the heresies, of the early days, when men really measured the true meaning of those words, "He humbled Himself." It is a thought as awful as it is full, as no other thought can be, of blessing and hope for the sons of men. But unless all that Christian faith rests on is altogether baseless, nothing short of it is the truth. We need not fear to face it in all its reality. Christianity never could have been what it is without that reality. The Christian Scriptures never could have been written on any other faith, or any other conceivable basis of facts. The history of Christian belief, the history of Christian life, never could have been what they have been, if He who was with us, was not indeed our Lord and our God, Master of our life, and quickener of the dead: if He who was the Highest and Holiest, did not indeed humble Himself, to be in truth, what men took Him to be, to share our birth and our death. They are amazing words, but they are the reality which invites our sober and reverent thought," When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man, Thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb."
2. All that was done was real; and what was done was, that "He humbled Himself." St. Paul exhausts his language in describing this humiliation : He emptied Himself, he says, He took on Him the form of a slave, there was no limit to it; it was carried on even to death, the death of the Cross. At the distance at which the creature must always and of necessity stand from the Creator, surely we cannot conceive of any interposition of God in this little corner of His dominion, which would not seem to us to involve the mystery of His condescension, the humbling Himself " to behold the things that are in heaven and earth." To look upon us, to have compassion on us, to visit us, to send us help and light, to love us and care seriously about us, all this from our point of view, comparing what we are with what He is, and must be, the Self-existent and the Selfsufficing,—is a humbling of Himself in His infinite and unsearchable goodness. We are so accustomed to take that goodness for granted that we do not wonder at any of its consequences; we almost assume them as our right.
But in that humbling which we are thinking of to-day, Almighty God has gone far beyond all this. Think of the fixed, necessary, familiar conditions of man's life in the flesh; think of all that is weak and poor and despicable in its beginnings. Think of its early helplessness, its long tracts of empty waiting, its slow lingering on the road to even the first steps of strength, the years that must elapse before it