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your souls in his transcendent glories; and then, as believers, your hearts will glow with his cheering rays, your eyes will meet with rapture the opening scenes of immortality, and your feet will press forward with vigour and delight toward the possession of your mansions in the heavens—the inheritance of the saints in light. God manifest in the flesh is the great mystery of godliness, which the angels desire and rejoice to look into.
A review of this subject might lead to many remarks for its improvement; but let it be concluded by considering the incarnation of Christ in three points of view :—as the ground of our deliverance, as the means of our holiness, and as the source of our joy.
1. The incarnation of the Saviour is the ground of our deliverance.
I mean here, deliverance from all our spiritual enemies; and this is the view in which it was contemplated by Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of the Redeemer; when his tongue was loosed, he "was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us." We are in the hands of enemies more cruel, tyrannous, and hateful, than were the Egyptians to the Israelites. We are by nature in bondage to sin, Satan, death, and hell. But Jesus is our Almighty Deliverer. By the power of his grace, the blood of his cross, and the omnipotence of his arm, he will deliver his people from all their powerful enemies. He liberates from the guilt and dominion of sin; he treads Satan under his feet; and destroys him that had the power of death, that is the devil; he redeems his people from death, and delivers them from the jaws of hell. Thus he is a horn of salvation—a mighty and irresistible Saviour, who will prostrate all his and our enemies. None can detain us longer in bondage, when he comes to our release. "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed!"
2. The incarnation of the Saviour is the means of our holiness.
This is another reflection made on the subject by Zacharias. The coming of Christ was the fulfilment of the promise that God would "grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life." This is one important branch of the salvation procured for us by Jesus Christ. Deliverance from the punishment of sin would not be complete unless we were restored also to a state of holiness, of which so long as we remain destitute, we must be strangers to happiness. Heaven itself would confer no felicity to an unrenewed soul. But Jesus came into the world that he might save his people from their sins. "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." By the sanctifying influence of his Holy Spirit he brings us into the family of God and gives us the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knowcth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."
3. Once more, the incarnation of Jesus is the source of our joy.
That is, it is a source of joy to all those who believe in him and receive him as their Saviour. Need I tell you, brethren, that it cannot be a ground of joy to others. Doubtless this event cannot produce such an effect in those who disregard the Redeemer, and reject the salvation offered them, through his mediation. When the Lord of glory visited the earth, there were then many in whom this wonderful and glorious occurrence excited neither interest nor joy. And are there not many now, who feel neither concern nor pleasure in the joyful tidings of the birth of Christ, nor in the good news of the gospel of salvation connected with it? The birth of Jesus Christ can be a subject of joy to those only who are true Christians. While therefore you are reflecting on the incarnation of the Son of God, as Jesus, the Saviour, allow me to ask, what evidence you have of a personal interest in his salvation? Have you seen your need of this Saviour? Have you felt yourselves to be in a helpless and hopeless state without him? And have you fled for refuge to him as your Saviour? If not, how can his birth profit you? Again, when you think of the incarnation of the only-begotten Son of God, as Christ, the Messiah, ought you not to consider whether or not you are the true disciples of Christ? You have the honourable title of Christians; but are you Christians in reality as well as by name and profession? Do you ask, what is it to be a Christian? A Christian is a child of God by faith in Christ. He draws near to God in the name of Christ. He is led and supported by the Spirit of Christ. In a word, Christ is the beginning and the end of his faith, love, and hope. If you are Christians, therefore, you will have a sufficient source of joy in the birth of Jesus Christ. Oh, what reason have you for gratitude, praise, and joy, when you reflect upon the glorious event which the church this day celebrates!
The Saviour's birth was proclaimed by the angel who announced it as tidings of great joy. It was so to the virgin who bare him. She manifested her joy by exclaiming, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." It was so to Simeon, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and who took up the child Jesus in his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." It was so to Anna, the prophetess, who looked on him when he was brought into the temple, exulted " and gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." And what shall I say more? Multitudes of others also rejoiced at the Saviour's birth. Shall not we then manifest our joy, who have seen so much more of his character, and have known so much more of his works, than these ancient believers, who were acquainted with the circumstances of his birth, and who beheld him in his infancy? Shall his incarnation then excite no emotions of pleasure in our hearts? O let us rejoice in the Lord and joy in the God of our salvation. Let us give ourselves up to his service, and invite others to come and partake of his grace. Let us unite in the songs of angels and saints :— "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people. Glory to God