Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Meditation - The Shepherds

What a brave assembly of Visitants of all conditions, resorted this day to this place, which then might rightly be called the Randevous of the Saints? Would you see those who are above men, but below Him who is borne? Behold the Angels singing His Birth. Do you desire to behold the Married? Here you have Zachary and Elizabeth. The Unmarried? Here you have Symeon. Widdows? Here you have Anna. Priests? Here againe you have Zachary. Wise men? Here you have them from the East. Ideots? You have here the Shepheards. But here is to be noted, that these keepers of beasts heare the voyce of the Angels before any of the other, first receive the Gospell, and first divulge it. And in this they were more happie than Augustus himselfe, who (though he had made a firme Peace by Sea and Land, and had now the third time shut up the Temple of Ianus) yet was he ignorant of the Blessed Peace concluded on betwixt God and Man.
O how much sometimes Ignorance avails in Divine Matters! Kings, Potentates, the Rulers of the Earth, and the Wise of this world are asleepe while Christ is borne. These most simple of Mortals, and innocent as the creatures they tend, watch all night; and therefore are first made partakers of these joyfull news. As their owne wooll, not yet dipt in any dye, readily drinks in any colour they please to bestow on it: so their minds voyd of all humane Wisedome, greedily suckt in the Divine; Faith is the Compendium of Salvation; and humane knowledge of times, the obstacle of Faith. Aristotle having confined to Heaven, the Maker, and Moover of it, would never have beleeved His Birth here below. Plato would have derided this Miraculous relation, who the more he attributed to God, the lesse would he have expected His so humble comming into the world. Neither would the Stoicks who held God to be a Fire; nor Hipocrates, who thought Him to be a Warm’th, ever have look’t for Him clad in Flesh and Bloud. Wherefore they are here elected Witnesses of this strange Truth, whose Science was of ability strongly to beleeve, not wittily to dispute. O what proficients in Faith did these rusticall Swaines prove in a moment! What a profound secret is imparted to them? Let us examine the verity of this by that infallible Touch-stone, the text.

[S. Luke ii. 8.] And there were in the same Country, Shepheards abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night, because of their flocke, and loe the Angell of the Lord came upon them, and the Glory of the Lord shone about them, and they were sore afraid. Then the Angell said unto them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold I bring you tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: That is, that unto you is borne this day a Saviour, Which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a Signe unto you; you shall finde the Childe swadled and layd in a Cratch. And straight way there was with the Angell a multitude of heavenly Souldiers, praysing God, and saying; Glory be to God in the high Heaven, and Peace on Earth, and towards men good will. And it came to passe that when the Angels were gone away from thence into Heaven, that the Shepheards said one to another; ‘Let us goe then unto Bethlem, and see this thing that is come to passe, which the Lord hath shewed unto us; so they came with haste, and found both Mary and Ioseph with the Babe layd in the Cratch. And when they had seene it, they publisht abroad the thing that was told them of that Childe.”

Here three things especially are remarkable:
First, their forwardnesse in believing:
Secondly, the speed they made to see what they had believed, and
Thirdly, to publish what they had seene.

That they quickly believed, appeares by the haste they made to see. They no sooner saw Him, but they found Him to be the King of Israell indeed, yet withall to be a Shepheard. They instantly discerne this to be the Shepheard, Who was to lay downe His Life for His Flocke. The Prince of all Shepheards Whose sheepe-fold is the world; the Shepheard that was to seperate the Goates from the Sheepe. They discover’d this to be the immaculate Lambe that was to take away the sinnes of the world. They disclos’d this Lamb to be the greatest Lyon of the Tribe of Iudah. Whom now they looke on in the Cratch, Saint Iohn shall hereafter behold on His Throne. These men, in whom there was no guile, as they could not deceive others, so they could not in this be deceived. They needed not suspect any fallacy, and therefore might safely relate this Divine Wonder to all they met.

— Anthony Stafford, The Femall Glory: or, the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1635), “Her Delivery”, pages 103-7.

No comments: