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Explanation of matters connected with the First
Topic, viz. the Seasons of the Christian Year.
The Seasons of the Christian Year, taken in the order in which they follow in the Book of Common Prayer, are as follows :Advent.
The word “ ADVENT" is derived from the Latin, and signifies “ Coming,” and the season of Advent is a period of one month before Christmas, beginning always on the Sunday nearest to the 29th of November (St. Andrew's Day), whether before or after, and embracing the four Sundays next before Christmas Day; which are called respectively, the first, second, third, and fourth Sundays in Advent. With this season the Christian year commences, or, in other words, the Church of Christ enters again upon her annual round of services; and the Name of this season is derived from the Event to which it has reference, and
for which it is designed to prepare us: viz. the Coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ into our world, when, “ in the time of this mortal life,” He deigned “ to visit us in His great humility.” That Event itself we commemorate on Christmas Day; but, as at His first coming the Saviour was preceded by a messenger, sent to prepare His way, by preaching “ repentance for the remission of sins," so the Church of Christ has thought good that each annual commemoration of that event should be preceded by a season devoted to special self-examination and preparation of heart; that we may not only enter aright upon those services, with which His first coming is commemorated, but also be prepared for that second coming of which the Scriptures inform us; when He shall appear “ in the clouds of Heaven, with power and great glory,” by Whom all are to be judged, and all nations shall be summoned before Him to give account at His bar.
Christmas Day, or, as it is styled in our Prayer
books, “ the Nativity of our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ, commonly called Christmas Day."
The name “ CHRISTMAS” is probably a contraction of the two words “ Christ's mass,” or the mass of Christ. The word “ mass” was for
merly used (as it is still in the Romish Church) to express the public service of the Church; and the service of this day having a special reference to Christ, it was called “ Christ's mass ;” and thence, by contraction, we have Christmas, the name by which this day is now universally known. The Event commemorated on this day is, as has been stated above, the Coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ into the world, when, “for us men and for our salvation, he came down from Heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.” The reason for an annual commemoration of this event is at once seen in the nature and importance of the event itself; for, if we celebrate with appropriate ceremonial the annual return of the birthdays of our Kings and Queens, or of the Heirs to a mere earthly kingdom, it surely behoves us to pay no less honour to the day which ushered into being the Heir to the throne of the world ; and suitably to commemorate the Birth of the Heaven-born Prince of Peace, whose coming angels announced beforehand, and whose actual appearance was hailed with rejoicing strains by a heavenly choir. And did we admit the possibility, or even the probability, of an error as to the uctual day, it would be a matter of no moment; the end designed is sufficiently accomplished by having one day set apart for this purpose ; " for thereby we dedicate and sanctify to God the memory of His benefits, lestunthankful forgetfulness thereof should creep upon us in course of time,” as an old writer has very justly observed. When keeping this feast of the Church, the Object for which Christ came into the world should be present in our minds; and whilst gladness fills our hearts, so also should gratitude our mouths ; and, above all, should we seek that daily renewal of the Spirit which is needed to produce in us a conformity to His will, Who came “ to redeem us from all iniquity,” and “ to purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
The Circumcision OF CHRIST.
This Name requires no explanation, nor does the Event to which it refers require to be pointed out. The Saviour is here seen, whilst yet a little child, beginning His career of Suffering. Being born “under the Law,” He was obedient to that Law in all things, as was necessary in order to have a perfect righteousness when tried by its standard. And as His obedience to the Law forms the groundwork or basis of our freedom from it, -as He by His pains has delivered us from the yoke of bondage, having become “ the End of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth,” we do well to commemorate annually the return of the day. Whilst dwelling with thankfulness on that freedom from the painful external rite, wherewith Christ has thus made us free, we should, however, bear in mind that there is now required on our parts the inward circumcision of the heart; that, as it was formerly so it is now," he is not a Jew (or a Christian) who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God.”
THE Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to
“ EPIPHANY” is a Greek word, signifying “ Manifestation ;” and the name is derived from the Event to which it refers — the Manifestation of Christ to those Gentiles who came to Him from the East, as is recorded in the second chapter of St. Matthew. This Event can never be regarded by us, who are of Gentile race, but with the deepest interest, as being the dawning of that glorious day of which the prophets had spoken. See especially Isa. xxv. 7 ; xxxv. 1, 2; lx.; and Hosea, ii. 23. Then was the first ray of that