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Christ’s Cradle glows with a Heavenly Light

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

LET us for a little while withdraw our minds from temporal things, and contemplate the mystery of our Lord’s birth. The Son of God came down from heaven, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal. iv. 5). God became man, that man might become a partaker of divine grace and of the divine nature (2 Pet. i. 4). Christ chose to be born into the world in the evening of the world’s life, to signify that the benefits of His incarnation pertain not to this present life, but to eternal life. He chose to be born in the time of the peaceful Augustus, because He was the blessed peacemaker between man and God. He chose to be both in the time of Israel’s servitude, because He is the true liberator and defender of His people. He chose to be born under the reign of a foreign prince, seeing that His kingdom is not of this world (John xviii. 36). He is born of a virgin to signify that He is born in the hearts of spiritual virgins only (2 Cor. xi. 2), that is, in those who are not joined to the world or to the devil, but to God by one Spirit. He is born pure and holy, that He might sanctify our impure and defiled birth. He is born of a virgin espoused to a man, that He might set forth the honor of marriage as a divine institution. He was born in the darkness of the night, who came as the true light to illumine the darkness of the world. He who is the true food of our souls is laid in a manger. He is born among the beasts of the stall, that He might restore to their former dignity and honor sinful men, who thought their sins had made themselves little better than the beasts. He is born in Bethlehem, the house of bread, who brought with Himself from heaven the bread of life for our souls. He is the first and only-begotten of His mother here on earth, who according to His divine nature is the first and only-begotten of His Father in heaven. He is born poor and needy (2 Cor. viii. 9), that He might prepare the riches of heaven for us. He is born in a mean stable, that He might lead us back to the royal palace of His Father in heaven. He is sent from heaven as the messenger of redemptive grace, because no one on earth knew its exceeding greatness. It is with good reason that He, a heavenly messenger, should bring us the tidings of those heavenly blessings that are reserved for us at His right hand above. The angelic hosts rejoice at the birth of Christ because, through the incarnation of the Son of God, they can have us poor mortals as the companions of their blessedness. This great wonder is first announced to shepherds, because as the true Shepherd of souls He had come at that time to bring back His lost sheep into His fold. The glad tidings of great joy are proclaimed to the despised and lowly, because no one can become a sharer of that joy, who is not lightly esteemed in his own eyes. The nativity is announced to those watching their flocks by night because only those can become partakers of this great gift to man whose hearts are watchful toward God, and not those who are fast asleep in sin. And now the multitude of the heavenly host, who had so sorely grieved over the sin of our first parent, shout aloud for joy. The splendor of our Lord and King appears in the heavens, whose lowliness upon the earth looked so mean in the eyes of men. The angel bids the shepherds “Fear not,” because of the birth of Him who should remove from us every cause of fear. Good tidings of great joy are announced, because the author and giver of all joy was born into the world. They are bidden rejoice, because the enmity between God and man, the real cause of all our sorrow, was removed. “Glory to God in the highest”, they sang, because by the willful transgression of His command our first parent sought to rob God of His glory. The birth of Christ brought true peace to men, who before this were the enemies of God, were at war with their own consciences, and at variance among themselves. True peace was thus restored to earth, because he was overcome who had led us captive at his will.

Let us now go with the shepherds to the manger of Christ, that is, His church, and as He lay in that manger in swaddling clothes, so in the sacred scriptures, we shall find our Saviour. Let us also with a lively recollection of the words of this mystery, like Mary, the blessed mother of our Lord, keep pondering them continually in our hearts (Luke ii. 19). Let us with glad voices join in the angels’ song, and render unto the Lord the thanks due unto His name for His marvelous benefits to us. Let us rejoice and shout for joy with the whole multitude of the heavenly host. For if the angels rejoiced so greatly on our account, how much more ought we rejoice, to whom this Child is born, to whom this Son is given (Is. ix. 6). If the Israelites lifted up their voices in jubilant shouts when the Ark of the Covenant was brought back to them (2 Sam. vi. 16), which was a type and a shadow of the incarnation of our dear Lord, how much more ought we rejoice, since our Lord Himself hath come down to us, in the assumption of our human nature. If Abraham rejoiced to see the day of the Lord (John viii. 56), when the Lord assuming at that time bodily shape, appeared to him, what ought we to do, seeing that our Lord hath taken our nature into a perpetual and indissoluble union with Himself? O let us admire the marvelous goodness of our God, who, when we could not ascend to Him, hesitated not to descend to us. Let us stand in wonder at the marvelous power of our God, who was able to unite in one two natures so diverse as the divine and human, so that one and the same Person is now both God and man. Let us admire the marvelous wisdom of our God, who could devise a scheme for our redemption, which neither angels nor men could have devised. Infinite good was offended; an infinite satisfaction was required. Man had offended God, from man the satisfaction for sin must be required. But finite man could not possibly render an infinite satisfaction, nor could divine justice be satisfied but on the payment of an infinite ransom. For this reason God became man that, for man who had sinned, He might render a perfect satisfaction for sin, and as God who was infinite He might pay an infinite price for our redemption. Well may we wonder at this stupendous reconciliation of divine justice and mercy, which no one, before God was manifest in the flesh, could have devised, nor after He was so manifested, could fully comprehend. Let us stand in wonder at this mystery, but let us not too curiously pry into it. Let us desire reverently to study it, although we cannot fully understand it. Rather let us confess our ignorance than deny the power of God.

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