A Wonderful Night; An Interpretation Of Christmas – James H. Snowden

WE live in an age of wonders. Great discoveries and startling events crowd upon us so fast that we have scarcely recovered from the bewildering effects of one before another comes, and we are thus kept in a constant whirl of excitement. The heavens are full of shooting stars, and while watching one we are distracted by another. So frequent is this experience that our nerves almost refuse to respond to the shock of a new sensation. We are no longer surprised at surprises. The marvelous has become the commonplace, and the unexpected is what we now expect. Yet we are not to suppose that our age is the only one that has had its wonders. Other times had theirs also, only these old-time wonders have become familiar to us and ceased to be wonderful; but in their day they were marvelous, and some of them equalled if they did not surpass any wonders we have witnessed. The Great War was the most cataclysmic eruption that has ever convulsed the world, but it was not more revolutionary and sensational in the twentieth century than the French Revolution was in the eighteenth and the Reformation was in the sixteenth century. The discovery of America in the fifteenth century created immense excitement and was relatively a more colossal and startling occurrence than anything that has happened since. The telescope and the Copernican theory were as great achievements in their day as the spectroscope and the nebular hypothesis are in our day. The most useful inventions and the most marvelous products of the human brain are not the railway and telegraph after all. The art of printing, which infinitely multiplies thought and sows it in the very air and every morning photographs the world anew, is a more useful invention and in its day was a great wonder. Still farther back, hidden in the mists of antiquity, lies the invention of the alphabet that is even more useful and marvelous. It is when we get back to the oldest tools, the hammer and plough and loom, that we come to inventions of the greatest fundamental utility, and we could better afford to give up all our modern magic machines than to part with these.

The oldest literature is ever the ripest, richest and best, and Homer and Shakespeare overtop all our modern writers as the Alps overshadow the hills lying around their feet. What modern preacher can compare in eloquence and power with Paul and Isaiah? Nature is ever full of new wonders, and yet the grass was as green and the mountains as grand and the golden nets and silver fringes of the clouds were as resplendent in the days of Abraham as they are to-day. We are the heirs of the ages, but wonder and wisdom were not born with us, and with us they will not die. Where must we go to find the greatest wonder? Not to the scientist’s discoveries and the inventor’s cunning devices: the greatest marvel is not material but spiritual; and to find it we must not look into the present or future, but go back to the first Christmas morning. On that morning the Judean shepherds had a story to tell which all they that heard it wondered at and which is still the wonder and song of the world. The birth of Jesus is absolutely the greatest event of all time. Whatever view is taken of him he has become the Master of the world. Christ has created Christendom, silently lifting its moral level as mountains are heaved up against the sky from beneath. The coming of such a unique and powerful personality into the world is an infinitely greater wonder than the discovery of a new continent or the blazing out of a new star in the sky. II.

Preparation for the Event EAR events may have remote causes. The river that sweeps by us cannot be explained without going far back to hidden springs in distant hills. The huge wave that breaks upon the ocean shore may have had its origin in a submarine upheaval five thousand miles away. A wide circle of causes converged towards this birth; all the spokes of the ancient world ran into this hub. When Abraham started west as an emigrant out of Babylonia, “not knowing whither he went,” he was unconsciously traveling towards Bethlehem. Jewish history for centuries headed towards this culmination; this was the matchless blossom that bloomed out of all that growth from Abraham to Joseph and Mary. Priest and prophet, tabernacle and temple, gorgeous ritual and streaming altar, sacrifice and psalm, kingdom and captivity, triumph and tragedy were all so many roots to this tree. These were the education and discipline of the chosen people, preparing them as soil out of which the Messiah could spring. The great ideas of the unity and sovereignty, spirituality and righteousness of God, the sinfulness of sin and the need of an atonement were in flaming picture language emblazoned before the people and burnt into their conscience. Christ could do nothing until these ideas were rooted in the world.

Pagan achievements, also, “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” were roots to this same tree of preparation for the coming of Christ, though they knew it not. Greece with all the glories of its philosophy and art showed that the world never could be saved by its own wisdom; and all the laws and legions of Rome were equally impotent to lift it out of the ditch of sin. Neither a brilliant brain nor a mailed fist can save a lost world. Yet both Greece and Rome made positive contributions to the preparation for Christ. Greece fashioned a marvelous instrument for propagating the gospel in its highly flexible and expressive language, and Rome reduced the world to order and hushed it into peace and thus turned it into a vast amphitheater in which the gospel could be heard. Greece also contributed philosophy that threw light on the gospel, and Rome gave it a rich inheritance of law. God thus set this event in a mighty framework of preparation. He got the world ready for Christ before he brought Christ to the world. He was in no haste and took plenty of time before he struck the great hour. The harvest must lie out in the showers and sunshine for weeks and months before it can ripen into golden wheat, and the meteor must shoot through millions of invisible miles for one brief flash of splendor.

The centuries seemed slow-footed during that long and dreary stretch from Abraham to Mary, “but when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.”

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