I like to read an Advent or Christmas devotional in December. I didn’t have any new ones on hand last year and didn’t want to reread an old one. But then I came across Good Tidings of Great Joy: A Collection of Christmas Sermons by Charles Spurgeon in my Kindle collection.
I thought I could read a bit at a time, like a devotional book. And I could—but I just wasn’t getting as much out of the sermons as I did when I read them one at a time in their entirety. The only days I could work in reading a whole sermon at once were Saturdays. So that’s why I am just now finishing a book of Christmas sermons.
Spurgeon was not a big fan of Christmas, according to these messages. He thought it was too often used as an excuse for excess. And he disliked a superstitious keeping of church holidays. But he did concede that hard-working people could use the time off and that the holidays provided a time to bring out particular truths related to Christ’s birth.
There are eight messages in all, each focused on a text connected to Jesus’ birth. I won’t go into an outline or summary of each message, but I’ll just share a few quotes.
I. The Birth of Christ, Isaiah 7:14-15: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.”
Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no! We can gather a lesson of comfort from His humble parentage and we can rejoice that not a queen, or an empress, but that a humble woman became the mother of the Lord of Glory!
And so, “let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Do not feast as if you wished to keep the festival of Bacchus! Do not live, tomorrow, as if you adored some heathen divinity. Feast, Christians, feast! You have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting tomorrow! Celebrate your Savior’s birth. Do not be ashamed to be glad—you have a right to be happy.
Remember that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but, in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem—let Him have a place in your hearts, give Him the glory
II. The Great Birthday, Luke 2:10: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
It is clear that if God condescends to be so intimately allied with manhood, He intends to deliver man and to bless him. Incarnation prophesies salvation. Oh, believing Soul, your God cannot mean to curse you.
If you know yourself lost by nature and lost by practice. If you feel sin like a plague at your heart. If evil wearies and worries you. If you have known the burden and the shame of iniquity, then will it be bliss to you even to hear of that Savior whom the Lord has provided!
God’s Omnipotence comes down to man’s feebleness and infinite Majesty stoops to man’s infirmity!
III. A Visit to Bethlehem: Luke 2:15b: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”
“Here,” says this faithful son of Abraham, “is the fulfillment of a thousand prophecies and promises! The hope, the expectation and the joy of my noble ancestry!”
Do you know, my children, that our comforts were purchased at the expense of His sufferings?
IV. Holy Work for Christmas, Luke 2:17-20
Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship.
That we may go again to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity and do our first works, enjoy our first loves and feast with Jesus as we did in the holy, happy, heavenly days of our espousals.
Let us go to Jesus with something of that youthful freshness and excessive delight which was so manifest in us when we looked to Him at first. Let Him be crowned anew by us.
We may well excuse ourselves from the ordinary ways of celebrating this season. And considering ourselves to be “holy work-folk,” we may keep it, after a different sort from other men, in holy contemplation and in blessed service of that gracious God whose unspeakable gift the new-born King is to us.
The mystery of God Incarnate, for our sake bleeding and dying—that we might neither bleed nor die! God Incarnate descending that we might ascend! Wrapped in swaddling cloths that we might be unwrapped of the grave clothes of corruption!
Learning need not be an impediment to grace and may be a fitting weapon in a gracious hand.
Let every man who truly hears the Gospel bid others come to drink of the water of life. This is all the warrant you require for preaching the Gospel according to your ability. It is not every man who has ability to preach the Word. And it is not every man that we should like to hear preach it in the great congregation, for if all were mouth, what a great vacuum the Church would be! Yet every Christian in some method should deliver the glad tidings. Our wise God takes care that liberty of prophesying shall not run to riot, for He does not give efficient pastoral and ministerial gifts to every man. Yet every man, according to his gifts, let him minister!
We set before you, now, another mode of keeping Christmas by holy wonder, admiration, and adoration.
Think not much of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. There is no trade which is not sanctified by the Gospel.
You have heard the faults of the preacher—let him mourn them. You have heard his Master’s message. Do you bless God for that? Scarcely will you ever hear a sermon which may not make you sing if you are in a right frame of mind.
V. The First Christmas Carol, Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
I wish everybody that keeps Christmas this year, would keep it as the angels kept it. There are many persons who, when they talk about keeping Christmas, mean by that the cutting of the bands of their religion for one day in the year, as if Christ were the Lord of misrule, as if the birth of Christ should be celebrated like the orgies of Bacchus. There are some very religious people, that on Christmas would never forget to go to church in the morning; they believe Christmas to be nearly as holy as Sunday, for they reverence the tradition of the elders. Yet their way of spending the rest of the day is very remarkable; for if they see their way straight up stairs to their bed at night, it must be by accident. They would not consider they had kept Christmas in a proper manner, if they did not verge on gluttony and drunkenness. They are many who think Christmas cannot possibly be kept, except there be a great shout of merriment and mirth in the house, and added to that the boisterousness of sin. Now, my brethren, although we, as successors of the Puritans, will not keep the day in any religious sense whatever, attaching nothing more to it than to any other day: believing that every day may be a Christmas for ought we know, and wishing to make every day Christmas, if we can, yet we must try to set an example to others how to behave on that day; and especially since the angels gave glory to God: let us do the same.
VI. The Incarnation and Birth of Christ, Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
VII. God Incarnate, the End of Fear, Luke 2:10a: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not”
Adam was afraid and hid himself from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Sin makes miserable cowards of us all!
Now may I come to God since God has come to me.
That holy, filial fear of God, which makes us dread sin and constrains us to be obedient to His command is to be cultivated.
VIII. A Christmas Question, Isaiah 9:6a: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”
Now, my hearer, have you a fear of God before your eyes—a filial fear, a fear which a child has lest it should grieve its parent? Say have you a child’s love to God? Do you trust to him as your father, your provider, and your friend? Have you in your breast “The spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father?”
My favorite of these was the fourth, which looks at how different people responded to the birth of Christ.
I wish whoever had compiled these messages had included the dates they were originally preached.
Spurgeon is always good for a thoughtful read and for bringing things out of passages I hadn’t seen or considered in quite as much depth. I disagreed with him in just a couple of places due to our differences on the implications of election and free will. But overall I enjoyed this and benefited from it very much.