St. Luke ii:12-14
And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the Babe wrapped
in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with
the Angel a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory
to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men.
Et hoc erit vobis signum: invenietis Infantem pannis involutum, et
positum in praesepio.
Et subito facta est cum angelo multitudomilitiae caelestis laudantium
Deum, et dicentiam:
Gloria in altissimis Deo, et in terra pax hominbus bonae voluntatis.
Of these three verses the points be two; 1. the Shepherds' sign, and
2. the Angels' song. The sign is a remain of Angelus ad pastores, ‘the
Angel's speech to the shepherds.’ We called it, as the Angel himself called
it, a sermopn; evangelizo, the word he useth is to ‘preach.’
Of which sermon these are two parties; 1. His birth the verse before,
2. His finding in this. For this is a double feast; not only the feast
of His Nativity, but the feast of His Invention also. Therefore the Angel
makes not an end with ‘unto you is born,’ [196/197] but tells them further;
it is not enough Christ is born, but to take benefit by His birth we are
to find Him. Natus est His part, Invenietis ours.
Of natus est somewhat hath formerly been said. Invenietis now follows
and follows well. For what is natus est without invenietis? Such a one
there ‘is born.’ What shall we be the better, of we ‘find’ Him not? As
good not born, as not known—to us all one. Nobis nascitur, cum a nobis
noscitur. Born He may be before; but nobis natus ‘to us He is born when
to us He is known,’ when we find Him; and not before. Christus inventus
is more than Christus natus. Set down invenietis then first.
Invenietis leads us to Hoc erit signum for how will they find Him without
a sign? So come we from Christus natus to Christus signatus. Natus ‘born,’
to be found Signatus, ‘signed or marked,’ that He may be found. Born He
is, that they know: and when. they know; hodie. And where, they know—in
Bethlehem. To Bethlehem they will; but when they come there, how then?
In such resort, the town so full of strangers, as ‘no room in the inns,’
whither should they turn them? What could they wish, but O quod erit signum!
Natus est; O that He were signatus! O that we had a sign to find Him by!
Their wish is honest and good, and pity any that seeks Christ should
want a sign to find Him by. The angel will not suffer that, but before
he end his speech he takes order for their sign, and this it is. When you
come to Bethlehem, never search in any house or chamber; in a stable there
you will find a ‘Babe swaddled and laid in a manger;’ you would little
think it, but that is He. And so signo dato, ‘this sign given,’ the sermon
ends. For to find Christ is all, all in all.
A sermon would have an anthem of course; it hath so. And one suitable,
if it might be. An Angel preached it, and no man; it would be a choir of
Angels, and not of men, to sing it. So it is; Gloria in excelsis, all the
Fathers call it hymnum Angelicum, ‘the Angels' hymn or anthem.’
This is set down in the two latter verses. The 1. choir that sing it,
in the former; the 2. song itself, the ditty of it so, in the latter. 1.The
choir: in it five. 1. Who? That [197/198] there were certain Heavenly personages
first. 2. In what habit? that in the habit of soldiers to see to. 3. What
number? that a great multitude of them. 4. What they did? that they took
up this hymn and fell on praising God. 5. And fifthly, when? that they
did it instantly upon the speech ended.
 The song: that consists of three strains. There are in it 1. God,
2. earth, and 3. men; these three first. And then to these three; 1. glory
to God; 2. peace to the earth; 3. to men a good-will. Each sorted to other;
1. glory to God; 2. peace to the earth; 3. to men a good-will.
So have you the sign and the song, the one to balance or counterpoise
the other; the song to sing away the sign, to make amends for the manger.
The sign very poor and mean, the song exceeding high and heavenly. Paupertas
in imis the sign, ‘poverty at the lowest;’ Gloria in excelsis the song,
‘glory at the highest.’ That well might Leo ask, ‘What Child is this so
little, and so great withal?’ Tam parvus ut in præsepi jaceat, tam
magnus ut Ei concinant Angeli; ‘so little as He lies in a cratch, so great
though as He has angels to sing to Him;’ the whole choir of Heaven to make
Him melody. It is a course this, the Holy Ghost began it here at His birth,
and after observed it all along, Sociare ima summis, et insolita solitis
temperare; ‘to couple low and high together, and to temper things men and
usual with others as strange every way.’
3. Out of these we shall learn, 1. First, what our duty is, to find
Christ. The Angel presupposes this, that being born we shall not leave
till we have found Him; till we can say (it was the first word of the first
Apostle) Eør»kamen, ‘We have found’—found the Messias. Invenietis;
by all means ‘to find’ Christ. 2. Then how to find Him, at what sign. 3.
And last, when we have found Him how to salute Him, with what words to
praise God for Him. For Him; both for His birth, and for His invention.
All considered, His invention to us no less behooful than His Nativity.
And this day to be no less solemnized, for invenietis His ‘finding,’ than
for natus est, ‘His very birth itself.’ It is more often found in the first
Fathers by the name of Theophania, ‘His appearance’ or being found, than
by the name Genethlia, ‘of being born [198/199] into the world.’ The Angels'
evangelizo reacheth to both; their gloria in excelsis is sung for both.
The work of the day is invenietis, to ‘find’ Christ. We shall not be
better for natus est, if we find Him not. Find Him we cannot, if first
we find not a sign to find Him by. ‘A sign ye shall have’ and ‘this will
be it,’ saith the Angel, ‘ye shall find Him swaddled and laid in a manger.’
Sign never come amiss, but are then so necessary, as we cannot miss
them, when we should miss without them; when no sign, no invenietis, as
here. For if a sign, if this sign had not been given, ni invenietis; Christ
had not been found. Not been found, for never had been sought in such a
place. Had not the Angel thither directed the shepherds, had not the star
pointed the Magi, neither the one nor the other would ever there have sought
Him. A non est inventus had been returned by both.
And reason; for some kind of proportion there would be between signum
and signatum, and of the sign be a place as here, between locus and locatus.
A chief Person in a chief place, a Lord and Saviour something Lord and
Saviour like. To Bethlehem they will. Set the sign by, let them alone,
say nothing to them. When they came hither, they would never go to an inn,
or ostrie, but to the very best house in the town. Or if to an inn, to
the fairest chamber in it; or to a chamber at least; never to the stable,
there to look in the manger for Christus Dominus. To the stable we go to
look for a horse, to the crib for bos cognovit et asinus—for one of them;
never thither to seek for the Saviour of the world.
Nay, if in their search passing by, by hap they had lighted upon such
a birth—a Child so lying; it may be they would have pitied the poor Babe
and the mother, but have gone on their way and sought farther. Never, I
dare say, taken Him for the Christ the Lord. And if one should have bid
them, ‘Stay, for this is the Child the Angel spake of,’ they would have
shaken him off and said with as great scorn as they, 1Sam. 10. Nunquid
poterit iste salvare nos, ‘What shall this be our Saviour trow?’ For invenietis
is not all, to ‘find’ Him; but finding Him, to apply the Angels' words
unto Him; to believe of this Child thus there lying, that He should be
Christ the Saviour, [199/200] gaudium omni populo, ‘the joy of the whole
earth.' It goes hard, this.
We said when time was, this message was so high as no man meet to bring
it but an Angel of Heaven. We say now ex alio capite, this sign was so
unlikely, no man was meet to give it but an Angel only. And it was well
it was an Angel. If it had been any else, His birth would have seemed,
as His Resurrection, did lÁroj, ‘a feigned tale;’ no man's affidavit
would have been taken for it.
What were shepherds like to think of this? Sure, thank Him for natus
est, the new of His ‘birth,’ but not for His sign. Erit signum they like
well, but not hoc erit. If He had given them no sign, it would have troubled
them. Now the sign given troubles them worse. For this sign they know not
what to make of it; it is so poor a one, it is enough to make them half
in the mind to give over their journey, as not caring for invenietis, whether
they find Him or no. If His sign be no better, as good lost as found. Always
this is out of the evangelizo vobis,—no part of it; for no good new thus
to find Him.
And we, if we admit a conference with flesh and blood, when we lay together
the sign, and of Whom it is the sign; we find to our thinking a great disparagement,
and I not how thoughts arise in our hearts, as if some better sign would
have done better. The meaning is, we would find Christ fain, but we would
find Him in some better place. Half Jews we are in this point; we would
have a Messias in state. Hoc erit, ‘this it shall be,’ saith the Angel.
‘Shall be;’ but should it be this? No: how should it be? Let us see. Why,
this shall be the sign; ye shall find the Child, not in these clouts or
cratch, but in crimson mantle, in a cradle of ivory. That, lo, were somewhat
Saviour-like; hoc erit signum.
But in vain, take we upon us to teach the Angel; we would have we know
not what. We forget St. Augustine's distinque tempora; as the time is the
Angel is right, and a fitter sign could not be assigned. Would we have
had Him come in power and great glory? and so He will come, but not now.
He that cometh here in clouts, He will come in the clouds one day. But
now His coming was for another end, and so be in another manner. His coming
now was, as we say in the [200/201] Collect, ‘to visit us in great humility;’
and so, His sign to be according.
Nay then I say, first go to the nature of a sign: if Christ had come
in His excellency, that had been no sign, no more than the sun in the firmament
shining in his full strength; hoc non erit signum. Contrary to the course
of nature it would be, else it is no sign. The sun eclipsed, the sun is
sackcloth; that is signum in sole, ‘the sign indeed.’ And that is the sign
here: ‘the Sun of Rightousness’ entering into His eclipse begins to be
darkened in His first point, the point of His Nativity. This is the sign
say I, and that had been none.
I say again; it is not only signum, that is not all, it is signum vobis.
We shall do well to look to vobis. There is a matter in that, for whom
this sign was given;—not the persons so much, as the condition. For if
He had been so gloriously born, such as these should never have been suffered
to come near Him. But this is a sign for you, you who keep sheep, and such
other poor people; you have a Saviour too. He is not the Saviour of great
states only, but even of poor shepherds. The poorest of the earth may repair
to Him, being no other place but this, and by this sign to find Him, and
so hoc erit signum vobis.
I say thirdly, Vobis, and take in ourselves too. So hoc erit signum.
For what praise or thanks had it been for us to have believed in Him, born
in all glorious manner? But being thus born with this sign, if now we do
it, toàto c£rij kaˆ klšoj to speak in St. Peter's phrase,
‘this hath thanks and praise with God,’ and so hoc erit signum.
Fourthly, without regard of them or of us, I say that even in regard
of Himself hoc erit signum. Would there be a proportion between the sign
and the signatum? There is so. This holds good proportion with the ensuing
course of His life and death. And all considered, it is even signum adæquatum.
We may well begin with Christ in the cratch; we must end with Christ on
the cross. The cratch is a sign of the cross. They that write de re rusticâ,
describe the form of making a cratch cross-wise. The scandal of the cratch
is a good preparative to the scandal of the Cross. To be swaddled thus
as a child, does that offend? What then, when ye shall see [201/202] Him
pinioned and bound as a malefactor? To lie in a manger, is that so much?
How then, when you will see Him hang on the cross? But so,—primo ... ne
discrepet imum; ‘that the beginning and His end may suit well and not disagree,
sic oportuit Christum nasci, thus ought Christ to be born,’ and this behoved
to be His sign.
But then to remove this scandal, I say fifthly: that the less glorious
His sign, the more glorious He. And even in this respect of His glory,
He was to be born under this sign. Had He come in the power and glory we
spake of, what great matter had it been for Him then to have done things
powerful and glorious? But coming in this sort, these same panni and præsepe
were an evident sign of the power of His might, in nothing so manifest
as in this, that from so poor a beginning He was able to advance so glorious
a work. It was much from a babe floating in the flags of Nilus in a basket
of bulrushes, Moses, to gather himself a people, even the nation and kingdom
of the Jews, and to deliver his law. It was infinitely much more from this
Babe here lying in the cratch, to work the bringing in of the Gentiles,
and the turning about of the whole world, and to publish His Gospel, ‘the
power of God to salvation.’ Herein is power, from His cratch to do this.
There to lay Him, and there lying to make so many nations come and adore
Him, as since He hath. That if ever ‘in His humility His judgment were
exalted,’ if His ‘power were ever made perfect in weakness,’ if ever He
shewed that infirmum Dei fortius est hominibus, ‘God at the weakest is
stronger than men in all their strength;’ hoc erit signum, ‘in this sign
A sign, cum externa rejicit, quod sibi sufficit, ‘in that He casts from
Him all outward signs and means, that He is of Himself all sufficient;’
et nullo indiget nisi se, ‘and needs no power but His own.’ His cratch
and He will bring this work to pass. His gloria in excelsis will be hoc
ipso excelsior, ‘His glory on high, so much the higher for this.’ Ever,
but now more than ever; and in all His signs, but in this more glorious
than in any, nay than in all them. And so hoc erit signum, ‘this shall
be the sign.’ shall be, and should be both.
But I waive all these, and say sixthly. Make of the sign [202/203] what
ye will; it skills not what it is, never so mean. In the nature of a sign
there is nothing but it may be such; all is in the thing signified. So
it carry us to a rich signatum and worth the finding, what makes it a matter
how mean the sign be. We are sent to a crib, not to an empty crib; Christ
is in it. Be the sign never so simple, the signatum it carries us to makes
amends. Any sign with such a signatum.
And I know not the man so squeamish but if, in his stable and under
his manger, there were a treasure his and he were sure of it, but thither
he would, and pluck up the planks, and dig and rake for it, and never be
a whit offended with the homeliness of the place. If then Christ be a treasure,
as in Him are ‘all the treasures of the wisdom and bounty of God’ what
skills it what be His sign? With this, with any other, Christ is worth
the finding. Though the cratch be not worth the going to, Christ is worth
the going for. He is not worthy of Christ who will not go any whither to
Lastly, I would fain know why should the shepherds, why should any be
ashamed of this sign? the Angels are not. Non erubescit quis quod prædicat
‘no man proclaims or preaches of that, makes a hymn of that he is ashamed
of.’ And indeed, why should the Angels be ashamed to report it, seeing
Christus non est confusus, ‘Christ is not ashamed’ to wear it? And if He
be not so to be found, never let us be so to find Him.
I conclude then. They that will have a Saviour without such a sign,
best stay for the Jews' Messias, or get them for their sign to somebody
else. The Angel hath none, the Gospel knows none but this, We must take
Christ as we find Him, cratch and all. The invention of the cratch, and
the invention of Christ fall both upon one feast—this day both: no severing
of them. All which I trust by this shew plainly, the sign was well assigned
by the Angel. And so I hope we shall not let the shepherds go alone, but
go along with them too for company, to find Christ, in hoc signo, ‘by this
But the cratch is gone many years ago. What is our sign now? Why, what
was this sign of? There needs no straining at all—of humility clear; signum
humile, signum humilis. Not always so, not with us where the highest minds
will use the lowest signs; but with Christ, with such [203/204] in whom
is the mind of Christ there is no odds at all. Ye may strike a tally between
the sign and the signatum. Humility then: we shall find Him by that sign,
where we find humility, and not fail; and where that is not, be sure we
shall never find Him. This day it is not possible to keep off of this theme;
we cannot but we must fall upon it; it is so woven into every text there
is avoiding upon it. But of all, into the sign, most of all. Such a sign
of such humility as never was.
Sign are taken for wonders. ‘Master, we would fain see a sign,’ that
is a miracle. And in this sense it is a sign to wonder at. Indeed, every
word here is a wonder. TÕ bršfoj, an infant; Verbum infans, the
Word without a word; the eternal Word not able to speak a word; 1. a wonder
sure. 2. And the sparganismoj, swaddled; and that a wonder too. ‘He,’ that
(as in the thirty-eighth of Job he saith) ‘taketh the vast body of the
main sea, turns it to and fro, as a little child, and rolls it about with
the swaddling bands of darkness;’—He to come thus into clouts, Himself!
3. But yet, all this is well; all children are so. But in præsepi,
that is it, there is the wonder. Children lie not there; He doth. There
lieth He, the Lord of glory without glory. Instead of a palace, a poor
stable, of a cradle of state, a beast's cratch; no pillow but a lock of
hay; no hangings but dust and cobwebs; no attendants, but in medio animalium,
as the Fathers read the third of Habakkuk. For if the inn were full, the
stable was not empty we may be sure. A sign this, nay three in one, able
to amaze any.
And ‘is it true?’ saith Solomon, and makes a wonder of it: ‘Will God
accept a place in earth to receive Him?’ when He had built Him a stately
Temple, and meant it by that. And is that a wonder, if in such a Temple?
What is it then, if in a corner, in a cratch there? Will He accept of that
trow? If He will, hoc erit signum indeed. ‘O Lord, O Lord,’ saith King
David, his father, rapt with admiration, ‘how wonderful!’ What? why minorasti
Eum ab Angelis, Thou madest Him lower than the Angels'—for to Christ doth
the Apostle apply that verse Hebrews 2. ‘lower than the Angels.’ Nay, lower
yet, saith Esay in his fifty-third, Novissimus virorum, ‘The lowest of
men.’ Nay, lower yet, saith the Angel [204/205] here, lower than the lowest
of men. For a stable, a cratch is a place for beasts, not for men. So low.
Well may this be said a sign, in this sense, to wonder at. If it be well
looked into, it is able to strike any man into an ecstasy.
But if we stand but gazing and wondering at this sign, the Angel will
blame us at the Nativity, as they did the Apostles for the like at His
Ascension. What learn we by it?
For loquitor signis, ‘signs have their speech,’ and this is no dumb
sign. What saith it then to us? Christ, though as yet He cannot speak as
a new born babe, yet by it He speaks, and out of His crib, as a pulpit,
this day preaches to us; and His theme is, Discite a Me, ‘Learn of Me,
for I a humble,’ humble in My birth you all see. This is the præcipe
of the præepe, as I may call it, the lesson of Christ's cratch.
A sign it is, but not a sign at large indefinitely, nothing but hoc
erit signum. But signum vobis, ‘for you,’ limited to some, not to all.
For not to come some others, but ‘to you’ and such as you are a sign it
is; a sign it is how to find Him. A sign for whom He was born That thus
was born; to whom He, to whom His birth belongs. Sure, humilis nascitur
humilibus, ‘so He was born, and for them that are so He was born.’ Such
He was found, and of such He will be found, and of none but such.
But then, as St. Augustine saith well, Signum vobis, si signum in vobis,
‘A sign for you, if a sign in you.’ For in this sense also it is a sign
to sign us with, a signature to make a mark on us. Theirs, in the ninth
of Ezekiel, that were saved, they were ‘marked with the sign of Tau in
their foreheads.’ That is this very sign, the mark of humility, as being
the last and lowest letter of the whole alphabet.
‘And this shall follow them that believe,’ and by this mark will He
know them. By the sign we find Him, by the same will He find us, invenietis
and inveniemini, by one and the same sign both. For nunquam erit aliud
Servatoris signum, aluid servatti; ‘Never He that saves one sign, they
that saved another.’ At least not a quite contrary, but the same sign both.
Bt the same that Christ found, by the same a Christian: or to speak more
clearly to the day, by the same that Christ's birth, by the same the Christian's
new birth. For as faith is the virtue appropriate to His conception—by
[205/206] faith He was conceived, Beata quæ credidit—so is humility
as proper to His Nativity; in great humility this day was He born and brought
into the world. Then, if the sign of Christ's birth be the proper sign
of a Christian's new birth, ‘wherein Christ is fashioned in us anew;’ hoc
erit signum, that they who to faith have not joined humility, are not yet
come so far as to be babes in Christ; not yet, as St. Basil speaks, come
to their sp£rgana swthr…aj, ‘their swaddling clouts in the state
of salvation.’ And what time, trow ye, will these be come to ‘the measure
of the full age in Christ’ that yet are no farther forward? Many a megan»pioj
are there among us, if this sign hold.
But then if it be signum volis to some, it is for some others signum
contra vos; and that is proud. For the word of God has two edges; and if
it go one way thus for humility, it cuts as deep the contrary against pride.
And withal, under one leads us to the cause straight, and shows us the
malignity of the disease of pride, for the cure whereof this so profound
humility was requisite in Christ. There was one when time was took the
disease of eros similis Altissimo, and he breathed upon our first parents
with his eritis sicut dii, and infected them with it. To make themselves
equal with God is plain robbery, saith the Apostle. For that robbery of
theirs was the Son of God robbed, as I may say, and quite spoiled of his
glory. For their puffing up, ™kšnwse, ‘He was made empty;’ for their lifting
up, ™tape…uwse, ‘was He brought thus low;’ for their comparing with God,
came He to be ‘compared to the beasts that perish’—lay in the manger, we
Never blame the angel for giving this sign; he had no other to give.
As Christ was born, so was He to tender Him. Ask Christ why He would be
so born. Of any child this could not be asked; they are born they neither
know where nor how. Of Christ it may; He knew both. For as oblatus est
quia, so natus est, ‘He was so born’ because He would so be. And why would
He so be His ‘coming' was to recover man. Man was to be recovered by the
contrary of that by which he perished. By pride he perished, that is confessed.
Then, by humility to be recovered, according to the rule, Contraria curantur
contrariis. So He to come in humility. The pride was high, eritis sicut
dii; [206/207] the contrary as low, factus est sicut jumenta, ‘as low as
they,’ lie in their cratch.
It is strange this point of Christ in the cratch, how tedious, how harsh
it is to be stood on. Harsh, but to none more, may none so much as to the
proud; and they of all other have least cause to be offended with it, it
is they that were the cause of it. They should not, one would think, be
offended with their own doing; it is long of them all this. If there they
find Him, it is they and none but they who laid Him. If He be otherwise
than He should, their pride is to blame for it. But for it we had found
Him in a better place. And fie upon pride, say I, if it were but for this
only; enough to make us loathe this vice that laid this so great a disgrace
as we count it upon the Son of God.
But marvel not if this be signum contra to them , a ‘sign against them;’
they are against it. Well said Bernard, In signum positum est præepe
Tuum Domine, sed in signum cui a multis contradicitur; ‘Thy cratch, O Lord,
is set for a sign, but for a sign which of many is spoken against’—done
against I am sure—alluding to that of Simeon at the 34th verse after, that
Christ ‘should be a sign (and if Christ, His cratch sure) to be spoken
against’ by many ‘whose pride,’ saith the Prophet, ‘testifies to their
faces.’ You may take up the edges of their garments and shew it them, year
that even this day come hither to make a show of it, as it were to affront
this sign and the Angel that gave it, come to celebrate the feast of humility
in excess of pride. Should the Angel ever have persuaded one of these to
have gone into the stable, and have them; you would think they had some
other Saviour by themselves that lay in an ivory cradle, and never looked
to be saved by him That this day lay in a manger.
Sure it is no good to be ad oppositum to this sign. If signum vobis
to the one, signum contra vos to the other. For if humility be the sign
of finding Christ, pride must needs be the sign of losing Him; and whoso
loses Him, is himself even the child of perdition; and therefore look to
this sign well.
But humility is not all we find in this sign. The philosopher saith,
signs are either indicant or co-indicant. Indicant it [207/208] is of humility;
co-indicant of that which in Him and on His part, as pride on ours, was
the cause that made Him stoop to this humility, and that was His love.
He left gloriam in excelsis for eÙdok…a ™n ¢nqrèpoij,
‘His glory on high,’ for ‘His good-will towards men.’ It was a sign of
love too this. A sign, nay an ensign, His very colours, as in the second
of Cant. He terms it, ‘love His banner or ensign over us.’ Signal love
indeed, that for our sakes refused not first our nature, our mortality—that
alone had been love enough—but not the basest estate of our nature, not
poverty; poverty, and such poverty as the like was never heard of, usque
ad squalorem et factorem stabuli to be found where He was found, there
‘Thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb,’ so we may sing. Thou didst
not abhor the beasts' manger, so we may sing too; and is not this hoc erit
signum, a very ‘ensign of love?’
Two ways take we measure of love. 1. Of quanti fecit nos, first, by
quanta fecit pro nobis, ‘how much He made of us,’ by ‘how much He did for
us,’—the ordinary way of the world's measuring.
2. But there is another, and that is quanti fecit nosa, by quantillus
factus est pro nobis, ‘how much He made of us,’ by ‘how little He was for
us.’ This latter we hold to be the more, by how much it is easier for Him
many times to make great than once to be made little.
3. But then, will ye take in the text, nobis, to make a third ‘for us?’
‘Us’ who even at that time when He shewed so great love to us showed so
little to Him, that if the beasts had not been better to Him than we, He
had found no place to be born in? ‘For us’ He came, and we thrust Him out
from us and from all place with us, into the place of beasts. And if He
had not borrowed their stable, caruisset tecto, ‘He had no roof to cover
Him;’ if He had not borrowed their crib, caruisset lecto, ‘He had lain
on the cold ground’ at this time of the year. Nobis sure is somewhat.
And now to quanta fecit pro nobis. For all this was not so much to shew
the love in Himself, as to work in God eÙdok…a ™n ¢nqrèpoij,
‘good-will toward men,’ the foot of the Angels' song; to regain His Father's
love, to make Him well-pleased towards men by His humility with whom for
their pride He was justly displeased. Thus unlovely He became [208/ 209]
to make us beloved, thus poor to make us rich in the grace and favour of
God, more worth when the time comes than all the riches of the world.
This lo, is the co-indicant sign of love, these colours of it. The cratch
is the cradle of His love, no less than of His humility, and able to provoke
our love again. The less He made for us, the more we to make of Him; and
that, not so much for that He was made, as for the love by which He was
made it. And these two signatures made in us, this sign erit signum nobis,
and nobis signum in bonum; ‘a sign it shall be, and to us, and to us for
our good.’ And this for the sign.
Will ye now to this inglorious sign hear a glorious song? to this cratch
of humility a hymn of celestial harmony? If the sign mislike you, ye cannot
but like the song, and the choir that sing it. The song I shall not be
able to reach to; will ye but see the choir? and that shall serve for this
time; for by all means before I end I would deal with somewhat that might
balance this sign of His low estate.
This the Evangelists never fail to do, even they look to this point
carefully; if they mention ought that may offend, to wipe it away straight
and the scandal of it by some other high regard. See you a sort of poor
shepherds? Stay, and ye shall see a troop of God's Angels. Hear ye one
say, ‘laid in the cratch’ below? Abide, and ye shall hear many sing ‘Glory
on high,’ in honour of Him that lieth in it.
Vidisti vilia, saith St. Ambrose, audi mirifica, ‘were the things mean
you have seen? Wonderful shall they be ye now shall hear and see both.’
Vilescit præsepe, et ecce Angelicis cantibus honoratur; ‘is the cratch
mean? Mean as it is, it is honoured with the music of Angels;’ it hath
the whole choir of Heaven to sing about it. This also will prove a sign
if it be well looked into, a counter-sign to the other; that of His humility,
this of glory.
Surely, seeing the other three Evangelists omitted this sign, one would
wonder why St. Luke did not so too. In discretion small credit there was
in it, better have concealed it, one would think; he would never have mentioned
the sign, but sure he was when he had laid Him so low he was able to up
with Him again, and sing away all the disgrace of [209/210] the sign with
a strange carol, and as strange a choir sent from Heaven to sing it
To the choir then Who were they? Where the first I pitch on, is the
word ‘Heavenly.’ For thence they came, and thither they went again. Quid
præsepi et Caeli? ‘What hath heaven or heavenly personages to do
here with the cratch? ‘ It should seem, some celestial thing there is in
it; as low as it seems it reacheth high, as high as Heaven; Heavenly things,
and Heavenly personages both. About it, here comes divers from Heaven;
for it, there goes glory up to Heaven. So that the sign is also, signum
de Caelo sursum, ‘from on high,’ by reason of the choir; as well as ‘a
sign from the earth beneath,’ in respect of the cratch here.
How appear they? These personages were Angels. It is said expressly
ver.15, yet are they here said to be soldiers. What, shall we have war
then? for they are in the habit of war. True, of war, not that now is or
hereafter should be, but of war that had been before even to the day of
this birth, but now to cease.- witness pax in terris. There had been no
peace with Heaven, but plain hostility between earth and it, no ‘good-will
towards men,’ but filii iræ, ‘children of wrath all.’ Ever since
the Cherubim first drew upon Adam, and with a shaken sword kept the entry
of paradise, ever since in arms till this very day. Their habit shews what
was before, their song what now should be. By virtue of Christ's Nativity,
‘peace to earth’ from heaven, ‘good-will to men’ from God. So now upon
His birth they were to disarm; but before they put their armour off, .yet
being in it they would have a pæan, and sing of the new world that
was now to ensue. A sign this and a strange one, this conjunction, species
præliantium, and voces cantantium, ‘the habit of war’ and ‘the song
of peace.’ Soldiers make a camp, come to fight; these make a choir, come
to sing. They are not in the habit of choir-men, yet they sing; they are
in the habit of men of war, yet sing of peace.
What number? A multitude there was of them. First, for the more authority,
that in the mouths of many this truth might be established—many to witness
it. 2. Then for the better music; if a full choir, many to sound it out.
It was a matter of great weight, so divers to testify it; it was a matter
[210/211] of high praise, divers therefore to celebrate and set it forth.
When we hear of a multitude, we fear a confusion. But you will observe,
this multitude was multitudo militiæ; no confused rout. No; but acies
ordinata, ‘a well-ordered army.’ There is order in an army, there is order
in a choir, there is order among Angels; coordinate among themselves, subordinate
to their Head and Leader. So a multitude without confusion.
And yet there is a farther matter in this same multitude. For that there
were not some few of them but a great many, that was a sign it was no petty
Saviour that was born. To have Angels come by one and by two as at the
birth of Samson, or Isaac, and others; but the grand Saviour of all by
His troops of them, the Lord of Hosts Himself as attended by the whole
For at His birth was fulfilled that the Apostle speaks of' Hebrews 1.6
‘When He brings His only-begotten Son into the world He saith, Let all
the Angels of God worship Him;’ let the whole host of Heaven do Him honour,
as honour Him here they do. For they ‘that offer Him praise, honour Him;’
and praise they offer Him, the next word is laudantium. And even now they
do it, even here is this honour done, even to Him in His cratch is it done,
and Heaven itself for awhile left empty that it may be done. All which
is but a sign to shew what a show He could have made if He had listed;
that He might have had the ‘legions’ He speaks of at His death, That had
them in such a multitude to-day at His birth. A sign He was not weak, whatever
He seemed, That had these military forces, if He would, to take arms for
Him. That He was not to be despised, however He appeared, That had these
concerts of Angels to sing about His cratch, and to praise God for Him.
What did they? ‘praised God.’ For angels to praise God is no new thing.
From the beginning it was their occupation so to do. But to praise Him
for a Child in a cratch, that lo, is new, a new thing, a new song, and
if you will a new sign too. For never the like seen before. Before, in
Job, their praise was for the creating, they had that only then to praise
Him for; now for restoring of all things. For the birth of the world then;
for the new birth of it now by the [211/212] birth of Him by Whom the world
at first was made, and now ne perderet quod condidit, made Him again, created
anew, and many a new creature in it. To Him sitting in the throne sing
they their Sanctus. For to Christ was the Sanctus sung, saith St. John
directly in his twelfth and forty-first. Now to Him here lying in the manger,
which is great odds, but indeed to both; in imis Puero, in excelsis Deo,
for He was both. And His being both was an Ecce signum, if ever there were
any upon earth.
And lastly all ™xa…fnhj, that ‘instantly’—no pause between, between
Amen and Hallelujah. No sooner the speech ended but straight, as it the
word cratch had been their rest, immediately took they up the hymn and
begin it. A plain song sign that one of these did depend on the other.
This the anthem, that properly belongs to that sermon; and back again this
the sermon’ that requireth this anthem, and both to the Child in the manger.
The ditty meant by Him, and none but Him. For Him this glory, by Him this
peace, through Him this good-will. Glory, peace, and good will, from Him
all three. And mark that the word ‘cratch’ is the last word in the sermon,
and the word ‘glory’ the first in the song; and nothing comes between to
part these two. Nothing to part humility below from glory on high. Even
as He drew ‘light out of darkness,’ so doth He glory on high from humility
below by a sequence. Which when we hear, and hear it from the mouths of
Angels, sure we are all that before seemed to tend to His disgrace were
but the Auspicia of His glory; all that beneath appear in ignominia in
imis is pronounced gloria in excelsis, and for such celebrated by the whole
choir of Heaven. And this for the choir, and for this time.
But I ask, do the Angels praise God for this birth? Ut quid illis concio,
vel cantio, ‘what do they preaching of Him, or praising God for Him?’ For
them all this is not; they put it not in the first, but in the second person,
Vobis. Here is now Vobis the third time.1.Evangelizo Vobis, saith the Angel
firstl 2. Natus est obis, saith he second: and now Erit Vobis signum, third.1.
Vobis, the news: 2. Vobis, the birth: 3. and Vobis, the sign: all three.
And who are these Vobis? In the song it is expressly set down, in hominibus,
‘for men.’ [212/213] What mean the Angels then to make this ado with laudantium
, and dicentium, and it concerns not them at all? What then? the blessed
Angels, they rejoice and sing at the good of others, ‘at the conversion
but of one poor sinner:’ Hoc Angelicum est. As on the other side the devil's
manner is to howl and to grieve at others' good; if Christ come to save
men, to cry, He is to come to torment them: Hoc est diabolicum. <o:p
But well; from this yet that the Angels thus sing whom in their own
particular it concerns not, I rise to make this inference; that they whom
it concerns are to do it with far greater reason, and that is ourselves,
to whom solely and wholly this birth and the benefit of this birth redounds.
Shall they for us and not we for us, for ourselves? Shall we be in at the
other three, 1. at the news, 2. at the birth, and 3. at the sign, and be
out at this of laudatium Deum? No, I trust. The choir of heaven did it,
but to set us in; we to bear a part, and it should be a chief part, since
the best part of it is ours. They but took it up; we to keep it up, and
never to let it go down or die on our hands, but from year to year as we
have occasion still to renew it. The Angels began here; the shepherds they
follow and praise God, ‘for that they had heard and seen.’ We to come in
at our turn, and to do the like.
The Sacrament we shall have besides, and of the Sacrament we may well
say, Hoc erit signum. For a sign it is, and by it invenietis Puerum, ‘ye
will find this Child.’ For finding His flesh and blood, ye cannot miss
but find Him too. And a sign, not much from this here. For Christ in the
Sacrament is not altogether unlike Christ in the cratch. To the cratch
we may well like the husk or outward symbols of it. Outwardly it seems
little worth but it is rich of contents, as was the crib this day with
Christ in it. For what are they, but infirma et egena elementa, ‘weak and
poor elements’ of themselves? yet in them find we Christ. Even as they
did this day in the beasts' crib the food of Angels; which very food our
signs both represent, and present unto us. [213/214]
Let me say this farther; it is the last word in the Sacrament, ‘this
is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,’ and the whole text resolves
into laudatium Deum, and not to praise Him alone, but to praise Him with
this hymn of Angels. Now being to praise Him with the Angels' hymn, it
behoves to be in or as near the state of Angels as we can; of very congruity
to be in our very best state, when they and we to make but one choir. And
when are we so? If at any time, at that time when we have newly taken the
holy Sacrament of His blessed Body and most precious Blood—when we come
fresh from it. And as if there were some near alliance between this song
of the Angels and these signs, to show that the signs or Sacrament have
a special interest in this hymn; therefore is it, that even then upon the
administration of it has the Church ordered this very hymn ever to be sung
or said, whatever day it fall in the whole year. For then sure of all other
times are we on earth most near to Angelic perfection, then meetest to
give glory unto God, then at peace with the whole earth, then a good-will
and purpose in us if ever.
But as the time falleth out we have more inducements than one. The day
itself is one most proper, for it is the very day this hymn was first sung
on. And the celebration of the Sacrament, that is another; but the Sacrament
now falling on the day, a double. Either of these if itself apart, but
together much more. For the Sacrament, that comes at other times; the day,
but once a year. On this day they both meet, and never but on this; not
to slip it then, but then when it is most proper, most kindly, then to
do it. I would to God we were as meet to do it as the Sacrament is to do
it at, and as the time is to do it on. But as we may, let us endeavour
to do it. So inuring ourselves to record it as often as we may, especially
when most meetly we may, here ‘on earth’ among men, that in His good time
we may be counted worthy to do it ‘on high’ with the Angels in the bliss