by Bishop Ehrler, 1891
“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David” – (Luke 2 :10-11.)
At last, after the season of Advent – with all its hopes and desires – is past, we have reached the day which must awaken in every Christian heart the same rapturous emotions which filled the souls of the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem when the angel cried out to them: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.” Let us hasten, in spirit, with those pious shepherds, to the holy crib of the Divine Infant, and there prostrating ourselves in profound adoration, worship Him who has come into the world under such wonderful circumstances, and in whom are hidden the highest mysteries of faith. Whilst we consider, on the one hand, the glory of the Child as announced by the splendid apparition of the angels, and, on the other, His poverty, as shown in the misery and lowliness of His place of birth, let us endeavour to draw some practical lessons from the future career of the Holy Babe, or, in other words, let us meditate on this occasion upon the holy life of Christ. Perhaps you will say, that you have already read and heard much of this divine life: but is that enough? What will it profit you to know the whole history of Jesus, if you do not, at the same time, draw from it lessons for your own guidance? I will then, today, show
I. What Christians must believe of the life of Christ; and
II. What they must do in order to imitate it.
I. Dearly beloved Christians! if you wish to know what you must hold concerning the life of Jesus, you must, in the first place, consider why He wished to live upon earth under the form of a mortal man.
1. It was solely to honour His heavenly Father (as every individual man should seek to honour Him) through His life. Hence, He said: “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, that I may perfect His work ” (John 4 :34); and, in the consciousness that, during His earthly life, He had perfectly fulfilled His high vocation, He said, in His prayer to His heavenly Father at the Last Supper: “I have glorified Thee upon the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.” (John 17 :4.) But Jesus also wished, by His earthly life, to teach all men how they should live in order to love and serve the true God, and thus become worthy of eternal life. We have, in Jesus, a model and a pattern of what our conduct towards God and our neighbour should be. The life of Jesus should, therefore, be the rule by which we measure all our actions; wherefore, He Himself tells us: “Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Matt. 11: 29.) And, again, (as an example of fraternal charity), on the eve of His Passion, when He humbly and lovingly condescended to wash the feet of His disciples, lie said to them and to us: “I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.” (John 13 : 15.) If the whole aim of Jesus during His earthly career was to leave us an example, we are all, then, strictly obliged to imitate Him in His holy life.
2. Since we are Christians it is not enough that we serve God according to the common dictates of reason, we must serve Him according to the precepts, the spirit, and the example of Jesus. Christ expressly says: “I am the way.” (John 14 : 6.) What else could He mean by this expression than to say: He who would seek to find the right road to heaven, must tread the path which I tread; that is, he must practice the manner of life which I observe; he must model his life after my example – otherwise, he will never reach my heavenly kingdom. This agrees perfectly with what He said upon another occasion: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16: 24.) In order to gain the prize, we must imitate Jesus even in His labours and sufferings, as St. Peter writes: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow His steps.” (Pet. 2:21.) Finally, listen to the words of St. Paul to the Romans, concerning the necessity of imitating the holy life of Jesus: “Whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His son.” (Rom. 8: 29.) What is meant by being “conformable to the image of His Son”? It means that we should make Jesus our model in all our thoughts, words, and deeds, and thus, conform our lives to His holy life. This, my dear Christians, is what you must learn from the life of Jesus; now, listen to what you must do in order to imitate it.
II. What must we do in order to derive benefit from the life of Christ? We must, above all, follow the example of Jesus, as far as our state of life permits. It is true, that we cannot do all the marvels that He did; yet, this divine life embraces such an abundant variety of virtues that every one, the humblest as well as the most exalted, the poor as well as the rich, may draw from it all that is practicable for his condition. 1. Meditate assiduously and frequently upon the life of Jesus; place it before you as a mirror, in which you may see your defects and your manifold shortcomings. Or, still better, do like the artist who wishes to paint the portrait of a man; he looks steadfastly at the face and figure of his sitter; then, he paints awhile; then he compares his work with the original to see if his drawing is correct: if he finds any defects, he goes to work industriously to repair them; he looks again and again at his subject and his work, in order to detect what is wanting in the latter to a perfect copy; and he takes the greatest pains to faithfully represent the original. Place before you, in the same manner, the virtues of Jesus – his humility, patience, poverty, obedience, meekness, charity, zeal for the honour of God, and for the salvation of mankind. Recall His behaviour in persecutions and sufferings; compare your conduct with His; and you will soon discover what you must alter, and what you must add, if you would make your life a perfect reflection of that of Christ.
2. Then, follow Jesus openly, before everyone, without shame or fear. What! will you blush to imitate the life of Jesus? Is that divine life of a nature to draw down scorn upon you when you endeavour to copy it? Ah! there are many who thus regard it! But, it is of these that Jesus said: “He that shall deny me before men, shall be denied before the angels of God.” (Luke 12 : 9.) No, dearly beloved, the life of Christ is the holiest and most glorious of all exemplars; and every honour is as nothing in comparison with the honour of being a true follower of Jesus. Follow Him courageously and magnanimously, for, behold, if you take Him as a model for your imitation, there will not be wanting those who will mock and deride you, and endeavour to turn you aside from your holy purpose. Mark well what St. Paul writes to Timothy: “All who will live piously in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12.) We, Christians, then must expect to endure something from men; for Christ’s road leads through many tribulations, and, above all, through the scorn and mockery of the world. Pay no attention to the opinion of the majority. Zealous, pious Christians are always in the minority in this wicked world. “Many are called,” says Jesus, “but few chosen,” (Matt. 20:16); and in another place, He calls his own “a little flock.” (Luke 12 :32.) O, how mistaken are those who use the common excuses: “So and so do thus”; or, ” The majority do this”; or, ” I am not alone in this!” O, accursed delusions of the devil, by which multitudes permit themselves to be deceived! The thing that is agreeable to the many, is always suspicious; for it is only with the few that we find justice, virtue, and the kingdom of God. If we take sides with the majority, we may be almost sure that we are not in the right path. This doctrine was taught by Jesus, when He sorrowfully exclaimed: “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction; and many there are who enter by it. How narrow is the gate, and straight is the way which leadeth to life; and few there are who find it.” (Matt. 7 : 13-14.) Therefore, do not consider the many wicked, but the few just, and imitate the latter, saying: “These do not this, or that; if these can do this good work, I also will try to do it.” But, above all things, fix your attention upon that model of all justice – the sacred life of Christ, and do not turn aside one iota from Him; for as He is the Way, so also is He the Truth and the Life; the Way which leads in truth to an eternal Life of happiness.
Peroration: Having formed this resolution, return from the adoration of the Divine Infant in the crib to your homes and your occupations; and as this Child grew “in wisdom, and age, and grace, with God and men,” (Luke 2:52), so may you also daily and zealously increase in the knowledge and the imitation of the life of Jesus! May you, one day, have the happiness of following Jesus at His last Advent upon earth, when He shall come, not as a helpless infant lying on rough straw in a cold stable, but clothed with majesty and glory, and surrounded by all His Angels and Saints. In the ranks of those glorified spirits, may we be found, when the just Judge of the living and the dead shall pronounce sentence upon all mankind, in the day of General Judgment! Amen.