Paths To Power - Overshadowing Power
( Originally Published 1905 )
"The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee." Luke i. 3j. (A Christmas Morning Narration and Meditation.)
WHAT an announcement, at what a moment, to what a soul, and from what a source! "The power of the Highest shall over-shadow thee." The voice is that for which the human heart always listens when life's issues suddenly become infinite; it is the voice discerned only when a silent abyss springs between the tiny energy one has and the mighty duty one is called to; it is the only voice that travels sweetly through human speechlessness; it is the voice of God. The listener is a Jewish maiden who now knows an instant of startling revelation of herself and her place in God's awful universe. Nothing but the promise of power may brace her up and comfort her in such an hour of mingled light and shadow. It must be a particular kind of power. That power must be the power of the Highest, for her trial and triumph will exhaust all else in moral quality. She is so loftily called upon that any low supports will fail; yes, the inspirations usually called high will fail; even what people call the higher motive-powers will fail; only the power of the Highest will help her to stand the strain.
Why? Her child is to be "the Son of the Highest." When He comes, angels will sing "Glory to God in the Highest." Mary's spiritual income must be up to the level of her spiritual expenditure. It must be an affair of the Highest, all the way through. But more than this, that power will be overshadowing power, beneath whose kindly hiding the Christ may be born of a virgin and live His life along with her own.
Now, it would be idle for us to review the life of the Virgin Mother, if we were to assume that the power which steadied and sustained her was dealing with a nature whose humanity we do not share. Let us honor the Mother of Jesus with all just reverence; but let us not lose the help of her victories over trials of apparently peculiar severity, because we lack true insight into our own spiritual experiences. We shall find the mighty fact of motherhood in every human soul. It is irreverence to discard our own soul-privileges and powers. Mary's experience is the analogue of each soul. Goodness, the ideal, truth God Himself is revealed by the human soul's mothering. "Born of a Virgin" it is not a profound science or a true philosophy which would take that out of our creed. "Conceived by the Holy Spirit; born of a Virgin" when that description of the advent of a new truth goes out of our account of it, we will have lost sight of one of the most revealing aspects of truth itself.
By and by, there will be a fuller statement of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Then we will acknowledge that a new truth, a new ideal, a new goodness of any kind comes without earthly fatherhood. The mind's new and redeeming impulse is, "conceived of the Holy Spirit." Let a poet truly sing of the manner of song:
"Who shall expound the mystery of the lyre?
Will we believe only this much as to the origin of all our best things? Yes; "the wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof; but thou dost not know whence it cometh or whither it goeth. " As the human soul attains its mature power, it experiences the soft, sweet whispering of unaccountable spiritual impulse or the unheralded presence of a new ideal of life within it; and it can give no history of the result save that God must have done it. The best things we find in our minds have no human parentage. They are spoken not to us, but in us, and by the Holy Spirit.
Now, I propose, with all reverence anti prayer, to claim for each soul the high privilege which comes from the soul's divine nature. I must believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul. I wish to speak some words to my soul and your soul, as we walk and live with Mary words that may help to sustain, comfort, guide, and illuminate any soul who would have the experience of bringing into this world a fresh vision of duty, a new power for righteousness, a higher ideal of life-any true energy of the Essential Christ.
We have already found this phrase, "The Power of the Highest, " to be a very illuminative one. Only in such an exhaustive experience as this which challenged the faith, obedience, and vision of Mary, may we understand it. Then we see that the highest power is the power of the Highest. That is the teaching we received from our study of Moses and his problem. Energy comes from the Divine Energizer. It is not the effect which Mary received from a belief that there is such a power, or from a belief in the power; it is nothing less than the presence and influence of the Highest as the power that makes Mary equal to her problem. God Himself, and He alone, can be powerful enough, and God alone can be powerful enough by His overshadowing. It is not primarily an inspiring, uplifting, commanding, or conquering power which this shrinking maiden needs —it is the overshadowing power; give her this and all else will come. Every soul must have it, in order to mother a fine hope and live along with the growing good that saves and the heroic ideal that leads the world to God.
Let us look sympathetically at Mary's experience that we may happily see what may be our own, by the grace of God in us. There is no such moment in a soul's life, as that when it secretly feels that something dear and sacred, a new truth, a new ideal, or a new vision is coming out of one's own life. Then when one realizes that this new and good thing is divinely originated, is more than we are, and that it will be the true Lord and Messiah of our life. No one may say that such an experience is impossible. Nay, rather, it is for each one of us. It is the birth of Christ in us. And true it is that
"Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born,
We must cling to this truth, if Christ is to be to us a living Christ.
. In such an hour, when the soul is startled and solemnized by the discovery of some higher ideal of life pulsing within its own life, what else but the over-shadowing of the Highest shall keep one steady? Let us look at Mary as she begins her journey to her cousin's house and to Elizabeth; and we ask at once, "Can even the power of the Highest overshadow this girl?" Can we not hear her sing to her heart, "He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle shall He hide me"? No maiden ever set out on a journey with a heart heavier with the reason for her going than did Mary of Nazareth, whose shy glances met the shadows in the deep valley out of which she was walking from Galilee toward the hill-country of Judea. Let us be reticent and true in speech! Mary, a home-keeping virgin, was coming upon an experience which she was right in supposing would give her an unenviable reputation. She was soon to become a mother. It would make her seem an impure girl in the eyes of men, and it might result in her being an outcast and a despised one among her people. The overshadowing power accomplishes the divine work of protection from one's self and from the scrutiny of others, gradually. True, an angelic message had to come to Mary. But they who may hold converse with the heavenly visitants may hear also the chatter of fiends. The soul of Mary could not have escaped, even in the warm radiance of that unforgotten memory recently made by the angel of the Annunciation, the invasion of those cruel doubts and fears which stole in upon the meditations of this intensely Jewish girl trembling with her high destiny. Do not expect your soul to escape the fear that the usual and customary morality will be violated, even though your new thought be a mental Messiah among your dry repetitions. A new and redeeming vision nobody can explain its advent to the Scribes and Pharisees of our life.
Mary traveled on, the whole landscape about her a memorial of the hours of light and leading in the story of her people. Circumstance and the light drifting afar from greater days these alone, how ever, could not hold her up. Glorious traditions or bright recollections never can hold your soul up to its finest loyalty, when the privilege of truth has come. Yonder towered a well-known height. Yes, it was Carmel. If she faltered, she was beyond the reach of the voice of the Puritan-prophet, Elijah, who had endured his anguish of soul in those thick mountain-forests. Like a monument of God's power to succor the despairing, the summit rose and burned with the sunset. It was very impressive and towering; but it was not as tall as her fear. Besides this, the rugged nature of Elijah had never felt the melody and stress of such an inbreathed hope as now dilated her life and then appeared too vast for her to entertain. Mary had to be overshadowed, both from the grandeur and the gloom of her condition. This gloom was upon her. She knew that no angel had known the awful cost to human faith which was made evident in those moments when a reaction followed the courageous belief which was hers. Then it was that she saw only the possible abyss of shame into which a girl of her lineage might fall. O the price which the soul pays for mothering a grand idea!
One hundred miles lay before Mary's timorous feet, ere she should reach Hebron amidst the hills the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Her heart was even yet vibrating with the chord struck by the angel in her imagination. But an imagination touched so divinely could not always make music dominant over the discords encountered in the new and wondrous path leading to the house of her kinswoman. She would doubtless arrive, but even then the doorway might have shadows upon it, like the trouble of her spirit, when the angel first told her that the Lord was with her in a marvelous and as yet unfulfilled experience. Any soul that can hear God's Gabriel say "Thou art highly favored" is a soul which must have moments in which it can hear only the cry of birds of prey like those which were then flying below the crest of snow-covered Hermon to which her eye often turned. More bold and clear than the height of Tabor, standing close to Hermon, was the fact which had impelled her to hasten to her kinswoman, Elizabeth. It must have become gloomy at times, as was the mountain at eventide. To whom else could she tell all her heart? Mary was strong in the citadel of her moral consciousness. She reigned over herself by right of whitest purity. But the shadows were deep, for they were those made by this lofty and intense light. God must often shade us from the glory of His own purpose. Then the darkness, too! Nazareth was a town with human beings in it, and Mary was human. These human beings were Jews who shrank with a divinely educated sensitiveness from the cold depths of public shame into which a Jewish maiden might be led to execration, and Mary was a Jewess not exempt from the effect of the opinions of her neighbors. O, to be over-shaded from their talk! She could tell people of the visit of the angel and of his great words, and that he had told her not to fear. But these recollections of hers might not assure them. She knew they would not believe those things in Nazareth. It was a lowly and narrow place —a spiritual Nazareth. Many there had forgotten the prophecy that the Messiah should be a virgin's babe. But the unforgetting God was with her. She would trust in His shadow, and she could sing the words of a psalm: "Thou shalt keep them secretly in thy pavilion, from the strife of tongues."
Something more than this quickened Mary's anxiety. At Nazareth was a Jew named Joseph; and if all the world went against her, it was just a woman's prayer that he would not flinch. She could endure it all, if he faltered not. She had promised to be his wife, by and by. Every one in Nazareth knew the village carpenter, and that she was betrothed to him. This was so nearly equal to marriage with Joseph, that a legal process would have to be gone through, even before the betrothal could be broken off. In him her property was vested, and he had vested his faith in her. His trustfulness and good reputation made her conscious of what he might suffer. Of him she was thinking, as her feet pressed the soil of the plain upon which the hosts of Israel had been valorous in victory and defeat. In his veins ran the finest blood in Israel. He was an heir to the kingdom, and his royal lineage had not vanished from his or her thought, though he was a workingman. God's effort to dignify labor, however, might now break Joseph's heart. O how often has a soul which has just been made certain that it is to nourish a fine, high, unpopular ideal into life-how often has that soul feared for some dear companion-soul who has also to pay the price of revelation!
The mountain-walls stood up near the sky, but the horizon of her trouble reached beyond them and to the ends of the world. It was a world-pain she felt; indeed, her unborn child was being educated in sorrow big with a world's blessing. Darker than the shadows on Carmel, which had deepened from purple into common midnight, must have been the doubts that beset her as she tried to sleep, and dreamed of Nazareth, finding then that she had not left her questionings and problems behind. Possibly, the next morning, as Mary hurried on, a little home peeped from out the vaguely descried landscape dotted with hedges and palms and gardens, and the girl's heart was near to breaking when she mused upon the possibility that Joseph, whose espoused one was taking such a journey as this, might refuse, for what would appear to men the best of reasons, to keep his troth. Then the Power of the Highest overshadowed her.
While months had intervened between the betrothal of Joseph and Mary and the marriage, to which she, as one chosen for a bride, looked forward, these same months had brought their culture and development to the twain in the hill-country. They had given their bliss and hope especially to Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias. When Mary started out, Elizabeth was only a hundred miles away from Mary; but she seemed an infinite distance away, when Mary thought of the contrast in their cases. Of much concerning Elizabeth the angel had told Mary, and she reflected that her good cousin was a married woman a priest's wife and that her husband had been praying with her for years for the child who was soon to be born in that home joyous already with perfectly proper welcome. In these hours Mary drew for strength and comfort upon the experience which she had known with the same angel, Gabriel, who had spoken to Elizabeth, and the vast and rich hope it inspired that now could not fade. It all came back to her assuringly. The Shadowing Power was there.
It is likely that, when Mary dwelt with the inspiring fancy of being the mother of the Messiah, it wandered radiantly over her soul, after she was betrothed to her beloved Joseph, who had a legal title by descent to the throne of King David. The angel had saluted her, and said to her tremulous spirit: "Hail, highly favored one, the Lord is with thee; blessed among women art thou." The simple-hearted Jewish girl was not less alarmed, and she was yet too fair-souled and too true to all the proprieties of her home, not to be troubled. But soon the noble power of her nature to entertain divine purposes and the plans of the Infinite asserted itself. Yet she considered. No fantastic conception of this lovely Hebrew maiden will ever be able to take away the beauty of the human portrait we have in her, when she "cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be." The angel had exceedingly honored her; he had said "Hail," as if in obeisance. It is refreshing and soothing to those less favored who still must question God's angels, to think of this virgin of our humanity pausing here and seeking light. This is the way the path to the power which overshadows. She had not the larger expectancy of being the mother of the Messiah of humanity. High indeed was the power which had led her so far in faith. But only the power of the Highest could lead her on to the mightiest outlook upon destiny. "And the angel said unto her, 'Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David; and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there shall be no end.' "
It has been an interesting fancy of the Greek Church that the angel discovered and accosted Mary at the village fountain, where the young people thronged. The Church of the Annunciation has therefore been builded over this fountain with as much pious devotion as inspired those who, on the other hand, believed that she was found by the angel in the grotto in which now two pillars rise to mark the spots on which the maiden and the messenger are said to have stood. Faith does not indulge a passionate exactitude as to time or place. God has hidden these spots and blurred these days oftentimes, for a spiritual kingdom might be hindered from convincing men by spiritual powers, if the minds of devotees had visible or accurately defined memorials to fondle. No; we do not know when or how or where our best things come. Here we have the attesting sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Deeper than the foundation-stones of those pillars, and greater than the beautiful church, are the permanent emotions and thoughts in our human nature which compel us to follow Mary beyond the valley in which nestled the little city of Nazareth. We go with her, evermore, as she walks on toward the hill-country. Every soul that mothers any redeeming truth, love, or goodness for this needy world, has Mary's experience.
She was now traveling with her secret, as a poor girl might travel, on foot. She was going to see one who would be open-minded — Elizabeth. Perhaps the situation of Elizabeth might make her more deeply sympathetic than other friends and relatives. Did not your soul seek just such companionship when you were to utter an unfamiliar, fresh, and high truth? Mary longed to be hidden in the embrace of her cousin. There are no recorded words to indicate that Mary the Virgin was less than a self-poised and high-minded daughter of Israel, who thought little of the cares and limitations made by her poverty. She evidently thought much of her God and His grace. The devotional atmosphere of her home had been shot through and through with the glowing expectation of Israel, of course. The time was ripe for the event toward which every Israelite of the house of David had looked with a peculiar interest and abounding hope. She was full enough of eternity to measure up to her time. And so, the intellectual and spiritual greatness of Mary the Virgin Mother is seen in the manner in which, despite all possible doubts and fears, she followed the path pointed out by the angel. But let us never forget the origin and source of that greatness. It was the greatness which comes, as we shall see, from being overshadowed, and because nothing else than God can cover the human soul it comes from being overshadowed by the power of the Highest.
At length Mary is welcomed by Elizabeth. It is not strange that these daughters of the Orient, one in her virginal youth, the other radiant with a renascent youth and spring-time undismayed by the snows of age, found their psalm-like utterances allying their hearts with the deepest and sweetest melodies of Hebrew song, and unifying their expressions at last into the first great hymn of Christendom The Magnificat. It was a noble hymn, yet the four majestic strophes of her song are thoroughly Jewish. What long paths of painful growth are before her! One of the sorrows of her Son must be this: that the Virgin Mother will not always comprehend Him or grasp the significance of His act, or even discover the real nature of His kingdom. This melody of hers had little of broadly human outlook. Perhaps Mary was never to arrive at her Son's point of view. From even this, the power of the Highest must overshadow her.
In this tragedy, life-long and deep, we will see the fine process of the overshadowing of the Highest. Nothing less can shade. her from the awful light that falls from heaven upon us all who do not understand, but love. One fact alone steadies her, and may steady you. She tells the whole secret and her spiritual valor in her words, "He that is mighty bath done to me great things." Let my soul know that God has done it, and I can endure the fact that I do not understand my own best gift. The great God had made her mentally and spiritually great. The human and the divine elements mingled in her experience, when, on entering the house of Elizabeth, Mary heard a human voice speaking to her the same tidings which had come from the angel of God. Here is the truth of incarnation God in and working through humanity with divine things. God overshadows us most often by giving us a good friend. It is not less divine for its human side.
We return with Mary, as we went with her to the hill-country. She is stronger now. She will be able, in the power of the Spirit of God to meet those who love her, to meet even the sharp, piercing sneer of the neighbors yea, she can now meet even Joseph, her lover and her betrothed.
Here the power of the Highest overshadows the dear woman. Who would tell Joseph? God Him-self had to tell Joseph the news. He had felt a strain on his heart-strings. Reasons for many unwelcome suspicions had multiplied. Perhaps gossip had reached him. He had at length concluded to put Mary away, by a writing of divorcement. But now the angel of God stood before him, and emphasizing the idea that the Messiah would save His people, thus touching the patriotic chord in the heart of Joseph, the Jew, the Divine Messenger commanded his inmost soul. Joseph was no ordinary man. The angel scattered the haunting doubts in the breast of the carpenter, and they were those doubts which would have clung tenaciously and successfully to the very life of a less divinely inspired and heroic human being. Mary was not to be forsaken. Soon she was in her own home, and with Joseph her husband. So and only so will the Highest overshadow the lowliest, when any soul yours or mine is called upon to mother a kindly truth or goodness into this world.
And now we come to the time of His , birth. Bring this process of God's grace with you as we advance. Look into your soul's history. Has your soul never known a Bethlehem? Every true heart has to go to Bethlehem before any fresh and redeeming truth or ideal can be born out of it. We pause at Mary's Bethlehem. It was crowded; the census was being taken; many were being enrolled; and the gathered crowds noisily moved through the moonlight which bathed the terraces and made clear the roadway to the caravansary of the town. The khan which they approached was filled with people, and the guests who had come earlier were perhaps not even asked to give up their accommodations to the travelers from Galilee. "There was no room for them in the inn." Dear soul, has this never happened to you that life had no hospitality for your finest idea? It was awkward to have your noblest conviction born just then.
There never is room anywhere save in God's over-shadowing. O how sweet and gracious is the mystery of it all thank God for the shadow! It conceals the birth-hour of our best and noblest purpose; but it reveals God behind; for where there is a shadow, the Sun is attested. O how we need this experience as to the coming of truth! We expect the Messiah of man to come into our life by the regular ecclesiastical or political roadway, and we have not learned that every divine thing is conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin soul, and comes humbly and has to make its way usually in spite of brutal emissaries of power, haughty priests, and stupid idlers who fill up the inns of life. It was a great opportunity for humanity to welcome, divinity. This is the only true welcome for divinity, for Mary comes with her mother-pain, and the appeal of that which is to save us is made through human need. God gives us a human being to be kind to, in order that we may love Him. But we are not kind, and yet the true Christ is born.
What was human nature then is human nature now. Doubtless the little cave in the limestone hill has been greatly transformed. Ardent devotees have deepened it, and the less fundamental faith which always clings to circumstance and the locality of a thing, and not to the thing itself, has created and enlarged more grottoes than that in which the Babe was laid. It was not strange that such an emperor as was Justinian and such an empress as was Helena should erect an ecclesiastical memorial over the spot, and that matins and vespers should be sung by monks who worshiped and prayed and fasted and preached in the immediate vicinity of what was the first Christian edifice in human history. The silver star which now marks the birthplace may vanish; the burning lamps which illuminate the altar may go out; and it may be proven that the marble manger given by Pope Sixtus V. does not occupy the exact place of the rude one in which Jesus was actually born. All this makes little difference. The human soul abides and repeats the history of Mary. The heart of every Christian man experiences the spiritual realities of which all these things are but symbols. The Christ is always born in the life of a man, at the lowliest point, in order that He may be divinest in His power to save. The goodness or the truth which redeems by coming into the world in and through us, comes in its babyhood. It throws its all pathetically upon our love. There is usually much question about its real genesis, but the crowded inn of life cannot pre-vent the birth of it. It is a little child at the first, and it can easily be killed; Herod shall not find it, nor harm it; inhospitality cannot deter, jealous anger cannot strangle, divinity. Its apparently true parent-age is always made up of the Joseph-elements and the Mary-elements in the sincere and obedient soul. Yet it is conceived of the Holy Spirit. Watch for the sign of the appearance of some good thing in your soul. In the khan of worldly life, there is no room for Jesus to be born. He must come, if He comes at all, where human need is greatest.
But O, how all that has been good in us bows before the new goodness just born! Out on the fringe of this Bethlehem of the soul are groups of sincere and goodly thoughts and expectancies; the heavens grow divinely lustrous over them, and out from the mysterious light of the mind, some message-bearer of the Infinite comes, illuminating the dark earth and making fear impossible. The herald-angel yet sings. He is followed by other angels in multitudes. What are the names of these messengers from above us we know not. Every soul which has lived an obedient life has heard that birth-song. We know only that they make us believe that the best yearnings of earth are felt in heaven and that the purposes of heaven touch the earth, if we are simple and true. They always sing a prelude to what our expectancies are to behold in our Bethlehem. When these expectancies arrive in the Bethlehem of the soul, they find a Saviour, who has been wrapped in swaddling-clothes by His mother, because there was no one else to do it. Then Bethlehem and the shepherds have a gospel. Then these shepherds become the first evangelists.
Is all this mystical? If it were not true in the soul of every true man to-day, it would not matter whether it were true or untrue outside the soul of man, in that far-off yesterday. Any man that lives in the Spirit knows that it' is true. "A babe, wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger" this was, this is, this shall be ever the "sign" that something divine has come into human life. If you are looking for the new Christ for our world, look for a manger, not a throne, and search for a tiny, help-less baby, instead of a crowned thing. Only God's overshadowing will so shut out the proud glare that you and I will believe it.
What is the continuation of the history of every soul's spiritual motherhood? As if to distinguish her mental and spiritual attitude toward the events, and the future which they presaged, Luke says, "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." Once again, years after, when Jesus had indicated His relationship to His Father and His Father's business, and they had gone down to Nazareth, Mary's old home, Luke says, "His mother kept all these sayings in her heart." It is evident, there-fore, that Mary, the mother, only began to exercise the tender and profound prerogatives of motherhood at the moment when the angel and the shepherds were most voluble concerning these marvelous occurrences. Motherhood has its holy of holies, not in the brain, rationalistic and disputatious, but in the heart, simple and receptive of revelations which the head may not entertain. And only a mother's heart may keep such things as these; only a mother's heart's experience may disentangle these things from all other things; only a mother's heart may ponder upon them ceaselessly and find their meaning finally. The heart is the only secure repository for divine things. Jesus Himself was to ask a place for His throne in the affections of man. "Blessed are the pure in heart," He said, "for they shall see God." "With the heart," we are told, "man believeth." And if Mary had sought to keep these things and to ponder them elsewhere than in her heart, she would have forfeited the insight and revealing power which is given not only to the heart, but to motherhood. O what a problem to the soul that bears it is any new-born ideal! Keep it in the affections, if you would rear it well.
Mary had enough to ponder about. Any mother with a baby at her breast feels that he belongs to her, and, if she is gifted with that large mental outlook as was Mary, she knows that he belongs also to God. She had to learn her Christianity from her child, and she did not know that He belonged to humanity as well as to God and His mother. Here was a mother with a child whom she had been nurturing through many months for enterprises of such pith and moment as took Him at once out of the range of her heart-beat. The glory which fell upon Him and which had wakened the shepherds from their sleep marked Him as One who was her own babe, and yet He was the divinely bestowed Messiah of Israel, beyond whose tiny feet paths were stretching out far away, she knew not whither. How these shepherds must have been borne in upon by a glory which, to her faith, was as unforeseen as it was awe-inspiring! The brain of the mother was dizzy. She could ponder these things only "in her heart." Doubtless her pondering included, at that time, a more searching and yearning wonder than that of the shepherds a wonder which must afterward be enlarged as her boy reaches man-hood and begins to be about His Father's business in redeeming a world to righteousness. Jesus, the loftiest, enters, as Jesus ever must, at the lowliest point. This fact is evidenced in the truth that even His mother did not know Him in all the grandeur and beauty of His divinity when He came. He had not even that height to stand upon such was His humiliation. God overshadows, when the intellect has yielded to the heart. Is not this the history of that new truth born of your soul? It is yours, but it is all the world's truth, God's truth. You will be led, O how far; and you will see, O how much by its light! Trust and be not afraid!
Sixty days had gone, and Mary was still pondering in her heart, when the intensity and fullness of her spiritual life was again relieved by an external circumstance. She must go to the Temple. Soon the spiritual reality which the act of circumcision symbolized had been performed. The lower life had been excised for the higher life. The law had been fulfilled. Even the rabbis would not be able to discount any of the future utterances of this child on this score. The first drop of blood He had given to the world had been shed in the repealing of the law, by His obeying it, and in the inauguration of a kingdom in which love was to be the fulfilling of all law. This was of the customary and must have composed Mary's strained mind. But the abnormal and wonderful come again to her.
Mary's Babe was being lifted out of her arms, as it seemed, by influences which her devoutness must gratefully honor, and which, nevertheless, left her simple mother-heart not wholly acquiescent. For the human mother can never quite let her child be any-thing else except her own babe. It was in the midst of tangled emotions, when the world of men was claiming Him and Mary was clinging to Him with more of mother-love, that aged Simeon, after blessing both of the parents, said to the mother, in whose heart alone these utterances could be left wisely and tenderly, "Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against (yea a sword shall pierce through thine own soul, also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." What was that he said about the sword and her heart? There must have been a sudden and loving pressure of the mother's arms about her little one, when this strain of mingled major and minor tones opened to her mind a future which mercifully vanished before the inevitable Calvary came in sight. But Mary's Calvary is only part of the cost of the soul's mothering a new and true ideal. It belongs to you, to God, and to humanity, but your best ideal will reign only after being crucified.
And the wise men had come. In the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, five silver lamps illumine the painting of the Adoration of the Shepherds. The light streams across the little space, to what is called the Altar of the Magi. It is deeply suggestive to the Christian. But it is all true in the soul. In the same radiance of the spiritual life, there are memorials in every Christian experience whose outer symbols are found only in the visit of the simple and penniless shepherds and the visit of the learned and gift-bearing wise men of the East. The world which Jesus came to save must always contain worshipers as diverse in taste, environment, and manners as were these. The human soul has its simple, houseless sentiments, and its honored and sage ideas. Their true Christ is the same, and Him they all worship. It was in the hour in which the outside world the vast realm of human beings which the Jew called Gentile first saw in the face of the Hebrew Messiah the world's Redeemer. It was a moment when science, still held in a cocoon of superstition, moved its wings in an air pledged to furnish it ultimately with inspiration and freedom. All that the hoary past had reaped in its rich harvest-field was presented, in that little home in Bethlehem, to One whose kingdom is of eternity. Earth's wisdom looked to truth in divine babyhood. The true star in the East the intimation in the human soul that something which brings a better day is already here is noticed, first by those intellectual and spiritual forces in our life which are usually outside the usual and conservative pale of our belief and thinking. Our fellow-religionists do not observe its light. It must always be strange to Mary to see the persons who follow the star.
Is there anything known of the star which they had followed? Whether it was a new star or an old one, a meteor or a constellation; whether it was seen only at night or even in the daytime, we know not; but we know that the heavens above Occident and Orient have been different for nineteen centuries. All this is a metaphor of the real world of the spirit. A new star crystallized in the space of the ideal to which men still look up. Out of the heart of human hopelessness the vague and glowing expectation hardened and throbbed and was planet-like; and typically Eastern wisdom has ever brought its gifts as it has followed that conviction to the very place in human thought and culture where the infantine Truth has been discerned. This is simple fact. This always occurs when the soul bears a new ideal for an old and worn world or for an unredeemed life. Then the soul's dear new ideal must flee from some Herod to its Egypt. All this is repeatable and so it is really. sacred history. The Gospel story lives because it is rehearsed in human experience. More of the story of Christ will be believed as man advances, because man at hi§ best relives it. What was Egypt? Egypt had looked on the problem of life and destiny with unsurpassed faculty and steady ardor, until she abandoned it, despairing of its solution. Her gloomy agnosticism was embodied in the sphinx. And here was the sleuth-hunted child whose triumph in solving life's mystery would be as great as was the defeat of her philosophy. Of course the Herod in us cannot abide Christ. The soul knows how to flee with its infant ideal. But how were these persons, so limited in purse, enabled to take such a journey and to remain in Egypt for even a brief time? Let the beneficent and costly worship of the wise Persian visitors answer. These latter wee now homeward bound on their four months' journey, but they had not only refused to help Herod to discover and destroy the kindly Child, they had, perhaps unwittingly, provided for His days and nights of safety in Egypt, through the gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh left behind. It is so always; the old pays the expenses of the new; and every new truth is Herod-hunted to Egypt. Yet it comes back safely.
But let our narration conclude here this morning, and let us meditate. The fact is, that each and all of us have called this ancient history, only because we have not confided in the truth that the Holy Spirit lives, broods, and reveals in and through the human soul. We have been blind to the way in which we may expect any goodness or truth or righteous impulse or high idea to come from us and to live in our world. My brother, is it not true that this Christmas morning would mark the beginning of a blessed era in your life, if you would believe in the Holy Spirit, if you would but take this biography of Mary and let Him make it a real contemporaneous account of your own soul? The most emptying poverty of life comes from your not believing that this Christmas story is a symbolic account, first of the power of each human soul to receive something sacred and holy in the way of a new idea, or a fresh inspiration, from the Holy Spirit; secondly, of the power to bring it forth as a redeeming Christly energy into the world of human beings; thirdly, of the power to nourish and guard that new and fine and infant "Holy Thing which is born of thee," to nurse it while you obey it, to watch it and protect it while it exalts you and leads you out, as the little Christ led Mary, into unexpected and almost unmeasured realms of wonder, hope, and grand self sacrifice. Is it not something we cannot afford to lose out of our lives I mean this faith that the best that is in our hearts is God-begotten, and that what-ever our new and inspiring conception of life and the power to live it must cost, the soul must obey it and cling to it, whether it understands its glorious child or not, until it shall have passed into the world's blood and nerve, and entered redemptively into all humanity? Let us begin to live this life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let each one say with me to-day: O my soul, when thou art troubled because some voice from afar tells thee that thou shalt mother some fair goodness which will be not only thy baby, but also thy God manifested unto thee, be not afraid. When other human beings around about thee look critically upon thee as thou comest nearer to that silent time when the truth or the goodness, or the new ideal is yet hidden in the sweet mystery before any eye may see what thou hast of beauty and loveliness to give to an unbeautiful and unlovely world, stay thou thyself upon Mary's God. When the birth-hour has come, and thou hast rapturous visions of thy new truth, or new goodness, or fresh impulse of nobility which has come to redeem the world, do not be discouraged that others have no room for you in the usual places where men and women tarry for a little while; the stable is all right, and the manger, too. Christ always first appears at that doorway of life near the ground where the Highest gets into the soul at its lowliest; be thou expectant and agree with God in this—that the sign of any Christ-appearance will be "a babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and in a manger." Don't look for a royal garment and a pearl necklace as the mark of a new truth. It wears these only when it gets old, if at all. Expect and be ready for awful contrasts when the living Christ in thee comes forth and thou hast seen the rude manger in the stable, for the star will be guiding wise men from the Orient, and the air will be vibrant with angel wings and song, and the East will pour glittering treasures at the feet of the new-born, and yet the stable and the manger, rough and cheerless, will still be there. O soul, it will take breadth, length, depth, and width of faith and vision for thee to take in these contrasts and to keep that confidence which is peace, when so many opposing and apparently contradictory things shall occur at the birth-time of any new and sublime thing. This also will be thy trial with thy new truth, that the Herod in thy nature will try to kill it. Nothing will prove to thee that thou hast a Christ-thing born of thee so much as the fact that everything bad in thee will be restless and eagerly on the path to slay the little one. Have courage and confidence, O my soul, for new thought will flee into the old, and it will be safe; your little one will have his Egypt, and you will be over shadowed as was Mary. These be expectations of thine when thou bearest any living and spirit engendered thing to the world to be renewed and redeemed. O soul, thou wilt be first tried, not because the bad Herod in thy life will seek to kill the little Christ in thy world, but, long before that, thou wilt not have utter confidence in God's power with thyself. Dost thou know that God yet touches the mind of a human being, and that the best comes not from human parentage in us, but is "conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary?" O my soul, thou wilt be always seeking for some man-generated thought of goodness or a human ideal of life; but when it comes forth it will not save. Nothing but that which is of the immaculate conception can command and exalt thee into communion with thy Creator.
O my soul, be ready and willing, when any precious and new vision comes from thy divinely touched life be instantly obedient to it, and do not resist when thy heart has to be enlarged, and thy head grows dizzy with the feeling that while it is thine, it escapes thy tutelage. It belongs to all humanity, and it must get to all humanity; and it belongs to God, and it must sweep out from thee at an awful cost, into the wider life of God in His world. When some old Simeon and Anna, good people they are who have waited long, and who are suddenly cheered by thy new truth, when they take it up and thou seest it winged with a destiny which will carry it away from thee, do not be disheartened; for it is the cost thou art paying for having had great things done unto thee by the High-est. And, O last of all, when it is said unto thee with perfect, yet severe, truth, that "a sword shall pierce thine heart," and thou dost first receive the intimation that every great thing and noble thing which has redeeming power must have its Calvary for its crucifixion, O my soul, then have a mighty trust, for this is the beginning of a continuous trial, and that trial comes along with the privilege which thou hast enjoyed of mothering a sublime thing. That trial will not cease, until thou seest the dearest and the best that thou hast ever known nailed to the cross but "the power of the Highest shall over-shadow thee, "—O my soul, even at Calvary.