ON THE PREPARATION FOR THE BIRTH OF CHRIST
Consider first, that when the time drew near in which the world was to be blessed with the birth of our Saviour, the blessed virgin, who bore him in her womb, and her chaste spouse St. Joseph, in obedience to the edict of the Emperor Augustus, took a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, there to be enrolled in the city of David, as they were both of them of the royal stock of David. The emperor, in giving out these orders, had no other view than the gratifying his vanity, or this avarice, by the tax imposed on that occasion. But God, who had ordained and foretold long before, by his prophet Micheas, that his son should be born in Bethlehem, was pleased to bring about his eternal decrees in this manner, and to prepare, by this occasion a place for his birth, suitable to the great designs for which he sent him into the world. For behold, after a long and wearisome winter’s journey, when the blessed mother, with the Son of God in her womb, was arrived at Bethlehem, the town was full; and none of the inhabitants, not even of their own kindred and family, would receive them into their houses, or give them any entertainment; the very inns would not lodge them; there was no room for them. O ye heavens! stand astonished to see the Son of God, the Lord and maker of heaven and earth, thus debase himself, form the very beginning, as not to allow himself, even in his very birth, any of the common conveniences of life; no not so much as a house to cover his head! O let him be so much the more dear to us, by how much he has made himself more mean and contemptible for the love of us.
Consider 2ndly, what kind of a place the king of heaven prepared on this occasion for the birth of his Son. St Joseph, after seeking in vain for a lodging in the town, found out at last an open stable, or stall for beast, exposed on all sides to the inclemency of the weather; which, for want of better accommodations, their poverty and humility were contended to take up with. and this was the palace the divine wisdom made choice of for the birth of our great king; the manger here, which had served for the ox and the ass, was the royal bed of state in which he was first laid upon his coming down amongst us. Oh, how has the Word incarnate here annihilated himself for us! Oh, how loudly has he condemned, from his very birth, our corrupt self-love in all its branches; with all the maxims of worldly pride, and the favourite inclinations of flesh and blood. Man fell originally from God, by proudly affecting a superior excellence which might make him like to God, by coveting to have what God did not allow him, and by seeking to gratify his sensual appetite with the forbidden fruit: therefore the Son of God begins his mortal life by the exercise of a most profound humility, to cure our pride – by embracing a voluntary poverty, even to the want of all things, in opposition to our covetousness and love of the mammon of the world, and by choosing for himself hardships and sufferings in opposition to our love of sensual and worldly pleasures. O let us study well these lessons, which this heavenly master begins to teach us by his great example, even from his first appearance amongst us.
Consider 3rdly, Christian souls, that the Son of God, who heretofore came down from heaven to be born into this world for you, earnestly desires at present to be spiritually born in you. See then, that you correspond on your part with this his earnest desire, by preparing your souls for him and giving them up to him. O be not like those unhappy Bethlehemites who refused him a place in their houses, and would not find any room for him! But then, if you are willing to admit him, take care to discharge from your inward house all such company as is disagreeable to him. For how great soever his desire is of coming and being spiritually born in your souls, he will not come thither as long as you wilfully entertain there his and your mortal enemies, the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life – those very enemies whom he came from heaven to fight against, and against whom he has declared an eternal war by the austerity, poverty, and humility of his birth, of his education, and of his whole life and death. Moreover, if you desire to have him to abide in you by virtue of a spiritual birth, you must allow him the chiefest place in your heart and soul, by driving far away from you all irregular affections to the world or to any creature whatsoever. For though he did not disdain the stable nor the crib, the ox nor the ass, he will not endure a heart divided or occupied by unclean affections, and which will not give him the whole, without a partner in love.
Conclude to let nothing be wanting on your part to insure to yourselves the happiness of having the Son of God spiritually born in your soul. O invite him thither with all possible affection; be ready to give up all things else that he may abide with you; and beg of him, who knows your poverty and misery, that he would prepare himself a place in you, and furnish your souls with all those ornaments of virtue and grace which are suitable to this his spiritual birth.