(Sunday before Christmas.)
Phil. iv.4. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
This is a glorious text, and one fit to be the key-note of Christmas-day. If we will take it to heart, it will tell us how to keep Christmas-day. St. Paul has been speaking of two good women, who seem to have had some difference; and he beseeches them to make up their difference, and be of the same mind in the Lord. And then he goes on to tell them, and all Christian people, why they should make up their differences.
And for that reason, I suppose, the Church has chosen it for the epistle before Christmas-day, on which all men are to make friends with each other, and rejoice in the Lord. Let your moderation, he says, be known to all men. The Greek word signifies forbearance, reasonable dealing, consideration for one another, readiness to give way, not standing too severely on one's own rights. Now this is just the temper in which we ought to meet our friends at Christmas -- forbearance. They may not have always behaved well to us. Be it so. No more have we to them. Let us, once in the year at least, forget old grudges. Let us do as we would be done by; give and forgive; live and let live; bury our past quarrels, and shake hands over their graves.
For the Lord is at hand. Close to all of us: watching all we do, and setting the right value on it. He cannot mistake. He sees both sides of a matter, and all sides -- a thousand sides which we cannot see. He can judge better than we. Let him judge. Why do I say, Let him judge? He has judged already, weeks, months ago, as soon as each quarrel happened: and, perhaps, he found us in the wrong as well as our neighbours; and, if so, the least said the soonest mended. Let us forgive and forget, lest we be neither forgotten nor forgiven.
And, because the Lord is at hand, be anxious about nothing. The word here is the same as in the Sermon on the Mount. It means do not fret; do not terrify yourselves; for the Lord is at hand; he knows what you want: and will he not give it? Is not Christmas-day a sign that he will give it -- a pledge of his love? What did he do on the first Christmas-day? What did he shew himself to be on the first Christmas-day? Now, here is the root of the whole matter, and a deep root it is; as deep as the beginning of all things which are, or ever were, or ever will be. And yet if we will believe our Bibles, it is a root which we all may find. What did the angels say the first Christmas night? Peace on earth, and goodwill to men. That is what God proclaimed. That is what he said that he had, and would give.
Now, says the apostle, if you will believe the latter half of this same Christmas message, then the first half of it will come true to you. If you will believe that God's will is a good will to you, then you will have peace on earth. For believe in Christmas-day; believe that the Lord is at hand; that he has been made man for ever and ever; and that to the Man Christ Jesus all power is given in heaven and earth: and then, if you want aught, instead of grudging or grinding your neighbours, ask him. In everything let your requests be made known unto God: and then the peace of God will keep your hearts through Christ Jesus.
You will feel at peace with God through Christ Jesus, because you have found out that God is at peace with you; that God is not against you, but for you; that God does not hate you, but love you; and if God is at peace with you, what cause have you to be at war with him? And so the message of Christmas-day will bring you peace.
You will be at peace with your neighbours, through Christ Jesus. When you see God stooping to make peace with sinful men, you will be ashamed to be quarrelling with them. When you see God full of love, you will be ashamed to keep up peevishness, grudging, and spite. When you see God's heaven full of light, you will be ashamed to be dark yourselves; your hearts will go out freely to your fellow- creatures; you will long to be friends with every one you meet; and you will find in that the highest pleasure which you ever felt in life. But mind one thing -- what sort of a peace this peace of God is. It passes all understanding; the very loftiest understanding. The cleverest and most learned men that ever lived could not have found it -- we know they did not find it -- by their own cleverness and learning. No more will you find God's peace, if you seek for it with your understanding. Thinking will not bring you peace, think as shrewdly as you may. Reading will not bring it, read as deeply as you may. Some people think otherwise; that they can get the peace of God by understanding. If they could but understand more, their minds would be at rest. So they weary themselves with reading, and thinking, and arguing, perhaps trying to understand predestination, election, assurance; perhaps trying to understand which is the true Church. What do they get thereby? Certainly not the peace of God. They certainly do not set their minds at rest. They cannot. Books cannot give a live soul rest. Understanding cannot. Nothing can give you or me rest, save God himself. The peace is God's; and he must give it himself, with his own hand, or we shall never get it. Go then to God himself. Thou art his child, as Christmas-day declares: be not afraid to go unto thy Father. Pray to him; tell him what thou wantest: say, Father, I am not moderate, reasonable, forbearing. I fear I cannot keep Christmas- day aright, for I have not a peaceful Christmas spirit in me; and I know that I shall never get it by thinking, and reading, and understanding; for it passes all that, and lies far away beyond it, does peace, in the very essence of thine undivided, unmoved, absolute, eternal Godhead, which no change nor decay of this created world, nor sin or folly of men or devils, can ever alter; but which abideth for ever what it is, in perfect rest, and perfect power, and perfect love. O Father, give me thy peace. Soothe this restless, greedy, fretful soul of mine, as a mother soothes a sick and feverish child. How thou wilt do it I do not know. It passes all understanding. But though the sick child cannot reach the mother, the mother is at hand, and can reach it. Though the eagle, by flying, cannot reach the sun, yet the sun is at hand, and can reach all the earth, and pour its light and warmth over all things. And thou art more than a mother: thou art the everlasting Father. Pour thy love over me, that I may love as thou lovest. Thou art more than the sun: thou art the light and the life of all things. Pour thy light and thy life over me, that I may see as thou seest, and live as thou livest, and be at peace with myself and all the world, as thou art at peace with thyself and all the world. Again, I say, I know not how; for it passes all understanding: but I hope that thou wilt do it for me. I trust that thou wilt do it for me, for I believe the good news of Christmas-day. I believe that thou art love, and that thy mercy is over all thy works. I believe the message of Christmas-day: that thou so lovest the world, that thou hast sent thy Son to save the world, and me. I know not how; for that, too, passes understanding: but I believe that thou wilt do it; for I believe that thou art love; and that thy mercy is over all thy works, even over me. I believe the message of Christmas-day, that thy will is peace on earth, even peace to me, restless and unquiet as I am; and goodwill to men, even to me, the chief of sinners.