Melville Scott, The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, Second Edition, 1903. Public Domain.
BUT not the Sunday after Christmas, for, until the Circumcision, the great Christmas truth is still before us, though already the point of view has begun to vary. On the Day of the Nativity our thoughts are concentrated upon the Deity of Christ; to-day we think rather of His humanity. Having learned whence He came, we are now taught whither He came, even “to us men,” and why He came, even “for our salvation.” Having considered the Incarnate, we now learn the meaning of the Incarnation, and pass from the God-ward to ‘the man-ward view of the chief mystery of our faith. This is, therefore, the Sunday of the Incarnation.
THE EPISTLE – Galatians 4:1-7 – THE DOCTRINE
The truth of the Incarnation is here set forth by S. Paul with almost the precision of a creed, especially as it affects our relation to God.
A. Man’s Position before the Incarnation.
The human race was then in its minority. This was the case even with the chosen people, who, though the heirs of God, were still treated as children, and expected to obey as servants, who “know not what their Lord doeth.” Their position was preparatory, “until the time appointed.” They were not as yet capable of freedom, but were under “tutors and governors.” They were learning elementary lessons, and lessons pertaining to life in this world— “the elements of the world” —and lessons very hard and burdensome, for they were “in bondage.”
B. The Time of the Incarnation.
Christ’s coming took place at the time fixed and appointed in God’s eternal decrees, and at the time determined in ancient prophecy, when the kingly power had passed from Judah, and while the Second Temple was still standing. It took place at the time most suitable, when the world had learned that it was hopeless to think of improving the human race by means of any of the religions or philosophies then existing; when all was ready for the diffusion of a world creed, and the Empire by its arms and laws had paved the road for the messengers of the King of Kings.
C. The Truth of the Incarnation.
“God sent forth His Son”—here is His preexistence, for He was before He was sent; and His divinity, for He was with God before He was sent from God.
“Born of a woman” —here is His humanity, for He was born of woman as men are born of women. No reference seems here intended to Our Saviour’s supernatural conception, but only to His birth as man.
“Born under law” —here is His acceptance of the position of those He came to save. He came not only to share our humanity, but our inferiority. He accepted as man the relation in which He found men standing towards God, even though this relation had been caused by sin. God’s children had become merely servants so Christ took upon Himself the form of a servant. Though void of sin, He accepted the low estate to which sin had brought us, and was born “under law.”
D. The Purpose and Result of the Incarnation.
Christ acquiesced in our condition and assumed our relation towards God, but only in order that He might alter this relation by “redeeming them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons.” This new relationship to God came by the Incarnation of “our brother man, the Lord from heaven,” through brotherhood with whom we receive the adoption. Nor is this change merely nominal, for with our position is given the power to gain a new disposition, with our new relation the power to acquire a new feeling of kinship with God. “Because we are sons God hath sent forth the spirit of His Son into our hearts,” to enable us to realize and act out our adoption. It is not because we are spiritual that we are made sons, but because we are sons that we receive the assistance of the Spirit, and “as many as are led by the Spirit” become sons of God in the fullest meaning of the word, and shall in due time, as “heirs of God,” enter into perfect communion with God. This is the final goal of the Incarnation.
THE GOSPEL – S. Matthew 1:18-25 – THE FACT
The Incarnation of Christ is first a fact, then a doctrine; and the doctrine of the Incarnation is just so much of the meaning of that fact as God has enabled the Church to see. In the Gospel of to-day we have this mighty fact attested by three witnesses.
A. The Witness of Joseph.
There could be no better witness than this holy and just man, to whom at first it brought such terrible sorrow and anxiety that God Himself interposed to comfort and reassure him. Hence-forward he became the first believer of the good news, and shielded the Blessed Virgin with tender and reverent care, and became the holy guardian of the infant Saviour. If Mary was blessed among women, surely Joseph was among all men, so great in his unselfishness of love, and so faithful to his trust. The blessedness of Joseph is theirs who for Christ’s sake are the guardians of His Church and of His little ones.
B. The Witness of the Angel.
There could be no better witness to the truth of the Incarnation than that of one who came from Heaven. To him there would be no difficulty of nature in the Incarnation, for angels are not subject to our laws. To him the mystery would lie in God’s love and man’s sin. Thus he came to herald the Name that saves from sin, from sin in the temper or the tongue, in the action and habit, as well as from sin’s guilt and consequence. If we can realize, like the angel, God’s love and man’s sin, we shall find it easy to accept the Incarnation.
C. The Witness of the Evangelist.
Yet one more witness who could testify that the life of Jesus was worthy of, and was only to be explained by, such a birth.
S. Matthew had left all that earth could give for the sake of Him Who came from Heaven. No longer the grasping publican, he loves his race, and sees in the Incarnation the past hopes of his nation realized. Here was the true child Emmanuel, the pledge of Divine assistance against every enemy; for, if God be with us, who can be against us?
This is the great Incarnation prayer founded upon the belief that He Who planned the Incarnation must desire that all the purposes of the Incarnation may be fulfilled in us.
A. The Purpose of the Incarnation.
This was the purpose of the Father, and the purpose of the Son as coming to do the will of the Father. He sent His only-begotten Son, not merely to live among men, but to live as man, and to be a man, taking our nature upon Him, though not the corruption of our nature, through His birth of a pure virgin.
B. The Prayer of the Incarnation.
We pray that the great object of the Incarnation may be realized in us, and that we who, by baptism, have received a new position (adoption), and a new nature (regeneration), may have the assistance of the Spirit to perfect in our daily life the renewal begun by grace. Because we are sons we are taught to pray for the spirit of God’s sons.