The Shepherds at the Manger of Jesus Christ

Again with Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-XI:

After the song of the Angels, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us. And they came with haste: and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.  See this about the Saviour which was announced to us! Alas! What sign will let us know him! The sign of poverty which had nothing like it! No, we should not be full of our misery; we prefer our cabins to the palace of Kings; we live happy under our thatch; and too glorious to carry the character of the King of Kings. Let us go and above all spread this happy news; let us go above all to console the poor in telling them the marvels which we have seen. As God has prepared the way by his Gospel! Each was stunned to hear this beautiful account from these innocent and rustic mouths. If it were from celebrities, the Pharisees or Doctors of the Law, which told of these marvels, the world would easily believe that they had seen them make a name for themselves by their sublime visions. But who dreams of contradicting simple shepherds in their naïve and sincere account? The fullness of their joy breaks out naturally and their discourse is without artifice. Such testimonies are necessary to him who opted to choose fishermen to be his first disciples and the future teachers of his Church. All is, to say so, of the same adornment in the mysteries of Jesus Christ. Let us attempt to save the poor and to make them taste the grace of their state. Let us humble the rich of the world and confound their pride. If we lack something, and who doesn’t lack something? let us love, worship, kiss this character of Jesus Christ. Let us not wish to be rich; for what will we gain? for after all, when we will have piled up dignity on dignity, land on land, treasures on treasures, we must detach, we must lose the taste, we must be ready to lose all, if we want to be Christians.

The Beginning of the Gospel

More from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-X:

The beginning of the Gospel is in the words of the Angel to the shepherds: I announce to you, literally, I evangelise you, I give to you the good news which will be the subject of a great joy, and that is the birth of the Saviour of the world.  What happier news is there than to have a Saviour? After leaving the desert, which is found at the start of the book, in the first preaching he did in the synagogue, he said: The spirit of the Lord is upon me. Wherefore he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart, To preach deliverance to the captives and sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of reward. (Luke 4:18-19 DRB, also Isaiah 61:1-2) What equal joy can be given to men of good will and what greater subject of joy? But is not God’s glorification the greatest subject while at the same time to be able to want people to well understand God exalted by such a marvel? Here is what is in the Gospel: it is in learning the happy news of the deliverance of man, who rejoices to see the highest glory of God. Let us go up to the high places, to the most sublime parts of ourselves; let us go up above ourselves and look for God in himself, for us to rejoice of his great glory with the Angels.

The Song of the Angels

The latest instalment from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-IX:

Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will. Peace is published throughout the earth: peace of man with God for the remission of sins, peace of men among themselves, the peace of man with himself by the harmonisation of all his desires to want what God wants. This is the peace that the Angels sing and which they announce to the entire universe.

This peace is the subject of the glory of God. Let us not rejoice in this peace because it makes us feel good in our hearts, but because it glorifies God in the high throne of his glory: let us ascend up to the high places, to the highest place of the throne of God to glorify him in himself and not love what he has done in us to bond ourselves to him.

Let us sing in this spirit with all the Church: Glory to God in the highest.  Each time when we start singing this angelic song, let us enter into the music of the Angels by the symphony and the agreement of all our desires. Let us remember the birth of Our Saviour who gave birth to this song. Let us say from our heart all the words which the Church added to interpret the song of the Angels: we praise you, we adore you, and above all, we give you thanks for your great glory. We love your benefits because they glorify you and the good things which you do for us, because your goodness is honoured.

 On earth peace to men of good will. The word of the original which is translated by “good will”, means the good will of God for us, and tells us that peace is given to men cherished of God.

The original says, word by word: Glory to God in the high places, peace on the earth, good will from the side of God into men.  It is such which is always read in the Eastern Churches. Those of the West come back and sing peace to men of good will, that is to say in the first place to those to whom God wills well, and in the second place to those who themselves have good will, thus the first effect of the good will which God has for us is to inspire us to to have good will towards him.

Good will is that which conforms to the will of God, as that is good by essence and by itself, that which is conformed to it is good by extension. Let us control our will by that of God, and we will be men of good will, to see that this be not by senselessness, or indolence, or negligence or to avoid work, but by faith, that we throw all on God.  Soft and lazy souls would rather do this in speaking all at once; may God do what he wants, and they are only concerned about fleeing pain and worry. But to be truly conformed to the will of God, it is necessary to know to make a sacrifice of the dearest thing, and with a torn heart, say to him: all is yours, do what you want; like the holy man Job, who lost in a day all of his goods and children, the news coming to him blow by blow.  He throws himself to the ground and says: the Lord gave all that I have, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord.  He who worships in this way is the true man of good will; and elevated above the senses and his own desires, he glorifies God in the high places. It is in this way that he has peace, and he tries to calm the trouble in his heart, not just to avoid being sad, but because this trouble blocks the perfection of the sacrifice which he wants to make to God. Otherwise he only seeks a false rest, and see that this is good will.

Good will, it is the sincere love of God and, as St. Paul says, it is love from a pure heart, a right conscience and a faith that does not fail. Faith is weak in those where it is not underlain by good works; and good works are those where one seeks to please God and not one’s own mood,  inclination, or wish.  Then, when you search God with a pure intention, the works are full, otherwise you receive this reproach from Jesus Christ: For I find not thy works full before my God. (Revelation 3:2 DRB)

The Signs to Know Jesus

Again with Bossuet in Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-VIII:

Let us look again at the words of the Angel: You will find a child in swaddling clothes, on a manger; you will know by this sign that it is the Lord. Go in the Court of the Kings; you will recognise the newborn Prince, by his coverings gilded with gold and a superb crib, which would make a throne. But to know the Christ which is born to you, this Lord so high that David his father, King that he was, called him Lord, only the sign of a manger where he lays is given, and the poor clothes where his feeble infancy is wrapped.  That is to say that he is given a nature like yours; weaknesses like yours; a poverty below yours. Who among you was born in a stable? Who of you, poor as you are, gave to your children a manger for a cradle? Jesus is the only who was left to this extremity, and it is by this sign that he wants to be known.

If he wanted to use his power, what gold would crown his head? What purple would drape his shoulders? What jewels would enrich his garments? But, Tertullian follows, he had judged all of this false brightness, all of this borrowed glory, unworthy of himself and those who are his; thus in refusing them, he devalued them; in devaluing them, he proscribed them; in proscribing them, he lined them up with the glories of the demon of this world!

Our fathers, the first Christians, spoke in this way; but unhappy us, we only breathe ambition and softness.

The Angels Announce Jesus to the Shepherds

Continuing on in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-VII:

The shepherds, imitators of the holy Patriarchs and the most innocent and simple flock in the world, guarding and keeping the night watches over their flock. Holy angels, accustomed to converse with the shepherds of old, with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, announced to those in the country that the great Pastor was come; that the earth would now see a shepherd King, who is the son of David.  The angel of the Lord: let us not ask his name as Manué; he will maybe answer: why do you ask my admirable name? It is not necessary to hear that it is the same angel who appeared to Zachariah and the Holy Virgin. Whoever he was, without presuming where the Gospel does not say a word, suddenly the Angel of the Lord presented himself to them; a heavenly light surrounded them and they were seized with a great fear. All which is divine at first stuns human nature, sinful and banished from Heaven. But the Angel reassured them by saying: do not fear: I announce you a great joy: in the city of David, remember this place which long ago was marked for you by the prophet, today the Saviour of the world is born, the Christ, the Lord. And here is the sign which I give you to recognise him: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. At this unique sign of a child lying in a manger, you will recognise him who is the Christ, the Lord, small child which is born for you, son which is given for us; who in the same time, is named the Admirable, the strong God, the Father of eternity, the Prince of peace. Also, at the same instant a great flock of the heavenly army joined the Angel, which praised God and said: Glory to God and peace on the earth.

Let us note here a new Lord to whom we belong: a Lord who receives anew this supreme and divine name with that of Christ. It is the God who is anointed of God, to whom David sang: Your God, o God, has anointed you: you are eternally God. But you are newly the Christ, God and man at the same time, and the name of Lord is ascribed to you, to express that you are God, the same title as your Father; from now on following the example of the Angel, you will be called the Lord in all sovereignty and elevation. Command your new people. You do not speak yet; but you command by your example.  And what? The esteem of the least and the love of poverty; the disdain for the image making of the world, the simplicity: do I dare say it? A holy unsophistication in these new worshippers which the Angel sends you which make all of your heart, agreeable to Joseph, to Mary and the same adornment as them, so that they are equally clothed with the outfit of poverty.


The Stable and the Manger

Continuing in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-VI:

God prepared the world a great and new spectacle when he made a poor King to be born and he made him a palace and a suitable cradle. He came unto his own: and his own received him not. They found no place for him, when he came. The crowd and the rich of the earth had filled the inns: for Jesus there was only an abandoned and deserted stable and a manger for him to sleep: worthy retreat for him who when he grew older said: The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air, who are the most vagabond families of the earth, have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. He was not complaining: he was used to being left this way, and literally from his birth he had no place to lay his head.

He himself wanted it that way. Let us leave the places inhabited by men: let us leave the inns where disorder and schemes reign: look for me among the animals a retreat more simple and innocent. One has found a place worthy of being left. Leave, divine child, all is ready to publicise your poverty. He comes like a beam of light, like a ray of sunlight: he mother is stunned to see him appear all at once: this birth is exempt from cries of pain and violence. Miraculously conceived, he is born more miraculously, and the Saints found it more surprising to be born than to be conceived of a virgin.

Enter into possession of the throne of your poverty. The angels will come and adore you. When God introduces you to the world, the command comes from the high throne of his Majesty: And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith: And let all the angels of God adore him. (Hebrews 1:6 DRB) Who can doubt that his mother, and his adopted father did not adore him at the same time? Jesus was prefigured by Joseph, himself adored by his father and mother; but the adoration which Jesus received was at a new level, as he was blessed and adored as God above all, to the end of the age.

Do not think of approaching this throne of poverty with love of riches and great things. Do not be mistaken, deceived or put up a front, at least in spirit, you who come to the manger of the Saviour. Who does not have the courage to leave all to follow poor the King of the poor? Let us leave all, at least in spirit, and in place of surrounding ourselves with a lavish lifestyle, let us blush to be such where Jesus Christ is naked and left.

All the while he was not naked: his Mother wrapped him in swaddling clothes with her chaste hands. It was necessary to cover the new Adam, who took the character of sin, which the air would devour and which modesty would clothe, out of necessity. Cover, Mary, this tender body: bring him to the virgin breast. Do you understand your giving birth? Do you have too much modesty to see yourself as a mother? What child dares to approach these divine hands! Worship him in feeding him, while the angels bring him other worshippers.

Joseph and the Trip to Bethlehem

More from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-V:

After the dream of Joseph and the word of the angel, this holy man was changed. He became a father, he became a husband by the heart. Others adopted children: Jesus adopted a father. The tender care which he gave Mary and the divine child was the effect of his marriage. He began this happy ministry by the trip to Bethlehem and we will see him soon.

What do you do, Princes of the world, to set the universe in motion, by proclaiming an enrolment of all your empire’s subjects? You want to know the power, the tribute, the future soldiers and you begin, to say so, by enrolling them. It is that or something like it which you think you are doing; but God has other plans which you carry out without regard for your human desires. His Son ought to be born in Bethlehem, humble homeland of David: he predicted it by his Prophet five hundred years before, and see that all the universe is moved to carry out this prophecy.

When they arrived at Bethlehem, ostensibly to obey the Prince who ordered them to register themselves in the public roll, in effect to obey the order of God whose secret program led them to carry out his purpose, Mary’s time to give birth came: and Jesus son of David was born in his town, where David had been given birth. His origin was attested by the public registry: the Roman Empire gave witness to the royal descent of Jesus Christ and Caesar, who did not know it, carried out the order of God.

Let us go also to write of Bethlehem: Bethlehem, the house of bread; let us go there to taste the heavenly bread, the bread of Angels which became the nourishment of man. Let us regard all Churches as being the true Bethlehem and the true house of the bread of life. It is this bread which God gives to the poor in the birth of Jesus, if they love poverty with him; if they know true riches: the poor will eat and be satisfied, if they imitate the poverty of their Saviour and come adore him in the manger.

His Name Will Be Emmanuel: Bossuet on “God With Us”

From his Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-IV:

His name will be Emmanuel: God with us. These are the mystical names which the Prophets give in spirit, to explain certain effects of divine power, which are necessary for those who use them. If we understand the force of that name Emmanuel, we find that of the Saviour. For what is it to be a saviour, if it is not to take away sins, as the angel had explained? But the sins being removed, and having no more separation between God and us, what else is left, unless being united with God and that God is with us perfectly? We are thus perfectly and eternally saved, and we recognise in Jesus who saves us, a true Emmanuel. He is Saviour, because in him, God is with us; it’s a God who unites our nature; reconciled with God, we are lifted up by his grace, until we are no more than a same spirit with him.

It is he which works who is at the same time God and who we are: God and man all together. God is in Jesus Christ reconciling himself to the world, not imputing to them their sins, and wiping them away in the Saints.  Thus God is with them,  because they no longer have their sins.

But this would be nothing if, at the same time, God was not with them to prevent their committing  new ones. God is with you, in the style of the Scriptures, that is to say that God protects you, helps you, and then with a help so powerful that your enemies cannot prevail against you. They fight, says the Prophet, and they do not prevail, because I am with you. (Jer. 1,19) Be with us, O Emmanuel, so that if, after the forgiveness of our sins, we fight his pernicious enticements, his personality, his temptations, and we stay victorious.

Is this all the grace of our Emmanuel? Doubtless no; in him there is a good much higher which also the last of all; it is that he will be with us in eternity, where God will be all in all, with us for us to purify our sins, with us to sin no more, with us for us, to the life where we cannot commit more.  See here, says St. Augustine, three degrees by which we pass to come to the salvation which the name of Jesus promises us and the perfect grace of the divine union by our Emmanuel: happy, when not only we do not sin any more under the yoke of him to whom we succumb, but when we no longer have to come against him whom we have had to fight, and who put our deliverance at risk.

O Jesus! O Emmanuel! O Saviour! O God with us! O conqueror of sin! O bond of the divine union! I wait with faith for that happy day where you will receive for me the name of Jesus; where you will be my Emmanuel, always with me, among all the temptations and dangers; go before me with your grace, unite me with you, and may all that is within me be submitted to your will.

The Two Choices at Jonestown

This comment from one Dr. Clarence Charles on the testimony of Sir Lionel Luckhoo is worth repeating:

As I meditate on Psalm 1 today, I contrasted the glorious life of Sir Lionel Luckhoo and its outcome, with the inglorious one of Jim Jones and his clan and their outcome in a piece entitled, “Eleven Days to the Rescue”:

“Eleven Days to the Rescue ….”.

I, a newly minted doctor, returned to my homeland Georgetown, Guyana in August, 1978. With the glowing MBBS degree from the University of the West Indies, I was confident of a viable exciting future.

I was gradually introduced to one choice made and within eleven days to witness the effect of that choice on another choice that was summarily reflexly made.

Two contrasting choices, two paths, two roads, two positions, two outcomes, two contrasting fortunes, two destinies – one for life, one for death; one for time, the other for eternity; both out of intense desperation, both end games: one out of sleepless nights and inner discord, the other out of public exposure and legal pursuit. Two contrasting choices made on single moves at a mutual critical intersection. The two paths intersected each other at a crucial defining moment in time and then diverged irretrievably, eternally.

One scenario was eminently redemptive, with twenty years of enviably productive peripathetic purpose-driven life yielded to “My… Jesus…”. The other was horrendously destructive, ending like Hitler’s final solution, sudden summary death of a captive multitude; seated “in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains” (Ps. 107;10).

It was a fiasco that the few survivors would never forget, not even for a single day, nay, a single moment. According to New Jersey-based cult psychiatrist, Dr. Hardat Sukhdeo, the psychological scars would remain active, unsoothed, unassuaged, smoulderingly volcanic, forever.

Both had revolutionary world-wide impact, though contrasting, with reverberations echoing through time to the present and for all eternity.

The Robert Browning “Two Roads” moment of two equally attractive and competing paths painted for me a Rembrandt, the iconic master of contrasts, with rich sharp black-white pastels, rooted in the first Davidic Psalm – “Trees planted by streams of water” versus “Chaff that the winds drive away” (Ps. 1; 3,4).

Happily, legal luminary, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, on November 7, 1978, quickly learning how “way leads to way”, took the” narrow road less travelled by”, and that, for him, “made all the difference”.

Regrettably, James Warren Jones, eleven days later, took to the broad way (Mt. 7: 13), the way that looked right to him (Prov. 14: 12, Prov. 21:2), the way that looked right in his own eyes (Judg. 21:25). He took with him 918 souls. They were bound captive men, women and children. His November 18, 1978 Jonestown jungle agricultural settlement, experiment and cultic commune, inevitably, imploded to obscurity and a cosmic instructive lesson in the art and end of deception.

In view of the 7th and its divine directive, thereof, Sir Lionel, in obedience, dare not turn up as Jim’s Jones’ demanded legal counsel and intermediary. He thus, wisely, absented himself from the crucial Leo Ryan-People’s Temple consultation on the 18th.

As such, God preserved his life, immediately ratifying his destiny before his very eyes. The Lord Jesus, as ever, had timed the American FGBMF-Guyana visit and hotel testimony meeting to perfection.

Like Nehemiah, Sir Lionel had begun to do a great work, by just simply believing in the Lord Jesus and following His nudges, in the first instance, and, as such, he would not travel by small plane to Jonestown (Neh. 6: 2-4). He had determined not to “walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1: 1). He thus escaped the quick cyanide Kool-Aid collateral death. He avoided a wild wayward bullet to the chest.

“Eleven Days to the Rescue” was, for Sir Lionel, a mission in God’s international divine design of Pauline proportions, character, singularity, intensity, consistency and urgency ….”

Although for us those two choices probably don’t look as dramatic as they did during that fateful November in Guyana, they are still the choices we all have to make.

Click here to help make that choice

Let’s Not Do Something Stupid About the Russians

It’s supposed to be the time of year for joy and merriment, but I’ve seen a few things lately that bother me about the immediate course of the country. Most of those concern foreign policy, that necessary evil Americans aren’t very good at, even with all the years of travel and media coverage. (I think the media coverage is part of the problem, but I digress…)

What I specifically have in mind are the drumbeats of war about Vladimir Putin and the Russians. I’ve heard endless bawling about how he is the new Adolf Hitler and the Russian Federation the new Nazi Germany and, if we don’t “do something” about him, he’ll go on and conquer the world.  I’m sure that some Boomers, whose lives were dominated by the Cold War but who were too late to the party to end it, feel a tingle up their legs at the whole idea of reviving the ethic of that era.

It’s a lot of rubbish.

Back in 2008 I wrote a piece entitled Why I Wouldn’t Obsess Over the Russians. In that piece I noted the following:

It’s fair to say that the current regime in Moscow is looking for yet another buffer, having lost not only the Warsaw Pact countries but also the other republics of the old Soviet Union. From a strategic standpoint the touchiest of those is the Ukraine. Invading Georgia is one sure way of sending a message to the Ukrainians not to welcome NATO with open arms, which the Russians would interpret as a stab into their heartland (and a look at the map would confirm this.) Wisdom for the Americans would dictate that we, while certainly securing a position in places like Poland (maybe, I’ll take that up later,) should not push too hard in places like Georgia or Ukraine. If we corner the Russians, they have no where else to come out but straight at us, and that’s not a pleasant thought for a country with a large arsenal of nuclear weapons–especially if some of them end up in Cuba.

But I also noted this:

…it’s hard to think of a nation which is more blessed than Russia with sheer territory and natural resources and yet never seems to take full advantage of it. Russia had a golden opportunity to shed its authoritarian past and adopt a working economy and state, yet squandered it in a fashion worthy of the Middle East, first in the “Mafia” years of Boris Yeltsin and then those of Vladimir Putin when the power of organised crime was centralised in the state. The main reason why the Soviet Union lost the cold war was that it never developed a viable economy to match its military arsenal, and both Russian and American history show that, if you want to be a sustaining world power, you have to have both.

Or put more humorously:

 In the early 1970’s, when the Brezhnev era seemed most full of promise, an elderly Frenchman travelled from Moscow to Khabarovsk on the Trans-Siberian railway.  After only a few hours at the eastern end of the line he boarded the train again for the long journey back to Moscow.  The Frenchman watched life through the windows of the train, commenting on what he saw to his wife and anyone else who would listen.  The sights, as he saw them a second time, seemed even more fascinating and puzzling; and as the train passed yet another straggling town he took off his spectacles and addressed the carriage.  ‘There are only two words in the English language to describe this country.  One is mesee and the other is sloppee.’ (Mark Frankland, The sixth continent: Russia and the making of Mikhail Gorbachov, p. 46)

Russia is, to use their own expression, a very specific country, one which people in the West (to say nothing of Americans) have always found mystifying. The simple fact of the matter is that most of what we are seeing Putin doing is basically defensive posturing wrapped up in Russian nationalism. Putin is playing from a weak hand and he knows it; his adventures are nibbling about the edges and not swallowing up vast territories.  I think that Angela Merkel understands this but whether her counterparts in Washington do is another matter.

Rather than being another Hitler, Putin is an outsized Mussolini.  Russia is no Germany, never has been. (Neither, for that matter, are we, which is one reason why we don’t have a Hitler in the White House, either).

What dealing with Russia will take is patience and flexibility, understanding our real national interests rather than our hippie or Cold War dreams. We don’t need to do something stupid or impulsive we will regret later. That advice also applies to the Middle East, where endless calls for “boots on the ground” defy the lessons of recent history or that everyone there has many natural enemies who can prove useful.

We are paying a foreign policy establishment well; it’s time we got something for our investment other than one fiasco after another. Otherwise we will prove once again what most snobs know: that you can be a real American and a foreign policy expert, but you can’t be both.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal