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The Angels' Song

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The birth of an heir to the throne is usually accompanied by circumstances befitting so great an event. No place is deemed worthy of it but a royal palace; and there, at the approach of the expected hour, high nobles and the great officers of state assemble, while the whole country, big with hope, waits to welcome a successor to its long line of kings. Cannons announce the event; seaward, landward, guns flash and roar from floating batteries and rocky battlements; bonfires blaze on hill-tops; steeples ring out the news in merry peals; the nation holds holiday, giving itself up to banqueting and enjoyments, while public prayers and thanksgivings rise to Him by whom kings reign and princes decree justice. With such pomp and parade do the heirs of earthly thrones enter on the stage of life! So came not He who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. On the eve of His birth the world went on its usual round. None were moved for His coming; nor was there any preparation for the event—a chamber, or anything else. No fruit of unhallowed love, no houseless beggar’s child enters life more obscurely than the Son of God. The very tokens by which the shepherds were taught to recognise Him were not the majesty but the extreme meanness of his condition: “This shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” In fact, the Lord of heaven was to be recognised by his humiliation, as its heirs are by their humility. Yet, as we have seen a black and lowering cloud have its edges touched with living gold by the sun behind it, so all the darkest scenes of our Lord’s life appear more or less irradiated with the splendours of a strange glory. Take that night on Galilee when a storm roared over land and lake, enough to wake all but the dead. The boat with Jesus and His disciples tears through the waves, now whirling on their foaming crests, now plunging into their yawning hollows; the winds rave in His ear; the spray falls in cold showers on His naked face; but He sleeps. I have read of a soldier boy who was found buried in sleep beneath his gun, amid the cries and carnage of the battle; and the powers of nature in our Lord seem to be equally exhausted. His strength is spent with toil; and with wan face and wasted form He lies stretched out on some rude boards—the picture of one whose candle is burning away all too fast, and whom excess of zeal is hurrying into premature old age and an untimely grave. Was the sight such as to suggest the question, Where is now thy God?—how soon it changed into a scene of magnificence and omnipotent power! He wakes—as a mother, whom louder sounds would not stir, to her infant’s feeblest wail, He wakes to the cry of His alarmed disciples; and standing up, with the lightning flash illumining His calm, divine face, He looks out on the terrific war of elements. He speaks; and all is hushed. Obedient to His will, the winds fold their wings, the waves sink to rest; and there is a great calm. “Glory to God in the highest!” How may His people catch up and continue the strain which falls from angels’ lips? In disciples plucked from the very jaws of death, and pulling their boat shoreward with strong hands and happy hearts over a moonlit glassy sea, Jesus shows us how He will make good these sayings, “Fear not, for I am with thee; be not afraid, for I am thy God”—“I have given unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

The divine glory of that scene is not peculiar to it. For as an eagle, so soon as she has stooped from her realm to the ground, mounts aloft again, soaring into the blue skies of her native heavens, our Lord never descends into the abasement of His meanest circumstances without some act which bespeaks divinity, and bears Him up before our eyes into the regions of Godhead. The grave, where He weeps like a woman, gives up its prisoner at His word....