The Christ Child
from a Christmas Day Sermon by Charles Kingsley.
In Good News of God. London, MacMillan, 1898 (first published 1863).
Mother and Child. -- Think of it, my friends, on Christmas day. What more beautiful sight is there in the world? What more beautiful sight, and what more wonderful sight? . . .
And yet it is the most common, every-day sight. That only shows once more what I so often try to show you, that the most common, every-day things are the most wonderful. It shows us how we are to despise nothing which God has made; above all, to despise nothing which belongs to human nature, which is the likeness and image of God.
Above all, upon this Christmas day it is not merely ignorant and foolish, but quite sinful and heretical, to despise anything which belongs to human nature. For on this day God appeared in human nature, and in the first and lowest shape of it -- in the form of a new-born babe, that by beginning at the beginning, he might end at the end; and being made in all things like as his brethren, might perfectly and utterly take the manhood into God.
This, then, we are to think of, at least on Christmas day -- God revealed, and shown to men, as a babe upon his mother's bosom.
Men had pictured God to themselves already in many shapes -- some foolish, foul, brutal -- God forgive them -- some noble and majestic. Sometimes they thought of him as a mighty Lawgiver, sitting upon his throne in the heavens, with solemn face and awful eyes, looking down upon earth, That fancy was not a false one. St. John saw the Lord so. . .
Sometimes, again, they thought of him as the terrible warrior, going forth to conquer and destroy all which opposed him; to kill wicked tyrants, and devils, and all who rebelled against him, and who hurt human beings.
And that was not a false fancy either. St. John saw the Lord so. . . But all these were only, as it were, fancies about one side of God's character. It was only in the Babe of Bethlehem that the whole of God's character shone forth, that men might not merely fear him and bow before him, but trust in him and love him, as one who could be touched with the feeling of their infirmities.
It was on Christmas day that God appeared among men as a child upon a mother's bosom. And why? Surely for this reason among a thousand more, that he might teach men to feel for him and with him, and to be sure that he felt for them and with them. To teach them to feel for him and with him, he took the shape of a little child, to draw out all their love, all their tenderness, and, if I may say so, all their pity.
A God in need! A God weak! A God fed by mortal woman! A God wrapt in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger! -- If that sight will not touch our hearts, what will?
And by that same sight he has taught men that he feels with them and for them. God has been through the pains of infancy. God has hungered. God has wept. God has been ignorant. God has grown, and increased in stature and wisdom, and in favour both with God and man.
Any why? That he might take on him our human nature. Not merely the nature of a great man, of a wise man, of a grown-up man only: but all human nature, from the nature of the babe on its mother's bosom, to the nature of the full-grown and full-souled man, fighting with all his powers against the evil of the world. All this is his, and he is all; that no human being, from the strongest to the weakest, from the eldest to the youngest, but may be able to say, 'What I am, Christ has been.'
In Sermons for the Times. New York, Daniel Dana, 1858.
'That ye walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.' Ephesians IV 17, 18
For God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke to the fathers by the prophets, at last spoke to all men by a Son, His only-begotten Son, the exact likeness of His Father, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person. He sent Him to be a man: very man of the substance of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the same time that He was Very God, of the substance of His Father, begotten before all worlds.
And so God, and the life of God, was manifested in the flesh and reasonable soul of a man; and from that time, there is no doubt what the life of God is; for the life of God is the life of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt now what God is like; for God is like Jesus Christ. No one can now say, 'I can not see God, how then can you expect me to be like God?' for he "who has seen Jesus Christ, as His character stands in the Gospels, has seen God the Father. No one can say now, 'How can a man be like God, and live a life like God's life?' for if any one of you say that, I can answer him: 'A man can be like God; you can be like God; for there was once a man on earth, Jesus, the Son of the Blessed Virgin, who was perfectly like God.' And if you answer, 'But He was like God, because He was God,' I can say, 'And that is the very reason why you can be like God also.' If Jesus Christ had been only a man, you could no more become like Him than you can become clever because another man is clever, or strong because another man is strong: bnt because He was God The Son of God, He can give you, to make you like God, the same Holy Spirit which made Him like God; for that Holy Spirit proceeds from Him, the Son, as well as from the Father, and the Father has committed all power to the Son; and therefore that same Man Christ Jesus has power to change your heart, and renew it, and shape it to be like Him, and like His Father, by the power of His Spirit, that you may be like God as He was like God, and live the life of God which he lived; so that the Lord Jesus Christ, because He was a man like God, showed that all men can become like God; and because He was God, Very God of Very God, He is able to make all who come to Him men like Himself, men like God, and raise them up body and soul to the everlasting life of God, that He may be the firstborn among many brethren.
Now what is this everlasting life of God, which the Lord Jesus Christ lived perfectly, and which He can and will make everyone of us live, in proportion as we give up our hearts and wills to Him, and ask Him to take charge of us, and shape us, and teach us? When we read that blessed story of Him who was born in a stable, and laid in a manger, who went about doing good, because God was with Him, who condescended of His own free-will to be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon, and crucified, that He might take away the sins of the whole world, who prayed for His murderers, and blest those who cursed Him -- what sort of life does this life of God, which He lived, seem to us? Is it not a life of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, patience, meekness? Surely it is; then that is the likeness of God. God is love. And the Lord Jesus' life was a life of love -- utter, perfect, untiring love. He did His Father's will perfectly, because He loved men perfectly, and to the death. He died for those who hated Him, and so He showed forth to man the name and glory of God; for God is love. The name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is love; for love is justice and righteousness, as it is written, 'Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.' And God is perfect love, because He is perfect righteousness, and perfect righteousness, because He is perfect love; for His love and His justice are not two different things, two different parts of God, as some say, who fancy that God's justice had to be satisfied in one way, and His love in another, and talk of God as if His justice fought against His love, and desired the death of a sinner, and then His love fought against His justice, and desired to save a sinner: no wonder that those who hold such doctrines go further still, and talk as if God the Father desired to destroy mankind, and would have done it if God the Son had not interposed, and suffered Himself instead; till they can fancy that they are Christians, and know God, while they use the hideous words of a certain hymn, which speaks of
'The streaming drops of Jesu's blood
Which calmed the Father's frowning face.'
May God deliver and preserve us and our children from all such blasphemous fables, which, like the fables of the old heathen, change the glory of the Incorruptible God into the likeness of a corruptible man; which deny the true faith, that God has neither parts nor passions, by talking of His love and His justice as two different things; which confound His persons by saying that the Son alone does what the Father and the Holy Spirit do also, while they divide His substance by making the will of the Son different from the will of the Father, and deny that such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost, all three one perfect Love, and one perfect Justice, because they are all three one God, and God is love, and love is righteousness.
Believe me, my friends, this is no mere question of words, which only has to do with scholars in their libraries: it is a question, the question of life and death for you, and me, and every living soul in this church, Do we know what the life of God is? are we living it? or are we alienated from it, careless about it, disliking it?
For, as I said at the beginning of my sermon, we are all ready enough to turn heathens again; and if we grow to forget or dislike the life of God, we shall be heathens at heart.. We may talk about Him with our lips, we may quarrel and curse each other about religious differences; but let us make as great a profession as we may, if we do not love the life of God, we shall be heathen at heart, and we shall, Sooner or later, fall into sin. The heathens fell into sin just in proportion as their hearts were turned away from the life of God, and so shall we. And how shall we know whether our hearts are turned away, or ,whether they are right with God? Thus. What are the fruits of God's Spirit? what sort of life does the Spirit of God make man live? For the Spirit of God is God, and therefore the life of God is the life which God's Spirit makes men live; and what is that? A life of love and righteousness.
The old heathens did not like such a life, therefore they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. They knew that man ought to be like God: and St. Paul says, they ought to have known what God was like; that He was Love; for St. Paul told them He left not Himself without witness, in that He sent them rain and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. That was, in St. Paul's eyes, God's plainest witness of Himself -- the sign that God was Love, making His sun shine on the just and on the unjust, and good to the unthankful and the evil -- in one word, perfect, because He is perfect Love. But they preferred to be selfish, covetous, envious, revengeful, delighting to indulge themselves in filthy pleasures, to oppress and defraud each other. Do you?
For you can, I can, every baptized man can take his choice between the selfish life of the heathens and the loving life of God: we may either keep to tile old pattern of man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; or we may put on the new pattern of man, which is after God's likeness, and founded upon righteousness and truthful holiness.
Every baptized man may choose. For he is not only bound to live the life of God, -- every man, as the old heathen philosophers knew, is bound to live it, -- but more. The baptized man can live it: that is the good news of his baptism. You can live the life of God, for you know what the life of God is -- it is the life of Jesus Christ. You can live the life of God; for the Spirit of God is with you, to cleanse your soul and life; day by day, till they are like the soul and life of Christ.
Then you will be, as the apostle says, 'a partaker of a divine nature.' Then -- and it is an awful thing to say -- a thing past hope, past belief, but I must say it -- for it is in the Bible, it is the word of the Blessed Lord Himself, and of His beloved apostle, St. John: 'If a man love Me, he will keep my commandments, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.' 'And this is His commandment,' says St. John, 'that we should love one another.' 'God is Love, and he who dwelleth in Love dwelleth in God, and God in him.'
God is Love. As I told you just now, the heathen of old might have known this, if they had chosen to open their eyes and see. But they would not see. They were dark, cruel, and unloving, and therefore they fancied that God was dark, cruel, and unloving also. They did not love Love; and therefore they did not love God, for God is Love. And therefore they did not love loving: they did not enjoy loving; and so they lost the Spirit of God, which is the Spirit of Love. And therefore they did not love each other, but lived in hatred and suspicion, and selfishness, and darkness. They were but heathen. But if even they ought to have known that God was Love, how much more we? For we know of a deed of God's love, such as those poor heathen never dreamed of. God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for it. Then God showed what His eternal life was -- a life of love: then God showed what our eternal life is -- to know Him who is Love, and Jesus Christ, whom He sent to show forth His love: then God showed that it is the duty and in the power of every man to live the life of God, the life of Love; for He sent forth into the world His Spirit, the Spirit of Love, to fill with love the heart of every man and woman who sees that Love is the image of God, and longs to be loving, and therefore longs to be like God; as it is written, 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled: for righteousness is keeping Christ's commandment, and Christ's commandment is, that we love one another. And to those who long to do that, God's Spirit will come to fill them with love; and where the Spirit of God is, there is also the Father, and there is also the Son; for God's substance cannot be divided, as the Athanasian creed tells us (and blessed and cheering words they are); and he who hath the Holy Spirit of Love with him hath both the Father and the Son, as it is written: 'If a man love me, my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.'
And then, if we have God abiding with us, and filling us with His Eternal Life, what more do we need for life, or death, or eternity, or eternities of eternities? For we shall live in and with and by God, who can never die or change, an everlasting life of love, whereof St. Paul says, that though prophecies shall fail, and tongues shall cease, and knowledge shall vanish away, because all that we know now is but in part, and all that we see now is through a glass darkly, yet Love shall never fail, but abide forever and ever.