On Christmas Day 1814, Samuel Marsden preached the first ever Christmas message on New Zealand soil at Oihi in the Bay of Islands. His text was Luke 2:10-11. The following sermon is not the one Marsden preached on that day (we have no record of that sermon), but another Christmas sermon on the same text from a different year. The sermon has been slightly abridged here.
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
The birth of our blessed Saviour is one of the most important events that ever occurred since the foundation of the world for in it the happiness of all the human race was involved; Though all will not obtain salvation through him, but only those who believe, and serve him.
God had promised many years before this event took place that he would send mankind a saviour and the faithful in every age looked anxiously for his coming. The apostle to the Hebrews mentions many a name, who believed in the divine promises and obtained eternal salvation through him. He begins with Abel and recites a long list of the Old Testament saints, of prophets and martyrs. All these, he observes, died, “not receiving what was promised, since God had provided something better”
As the fullness of time drew near God made a fuller revelation to the faithful and prepared their minds for receiving the [good news].
And so we find good old Simeon when on the very verge of the grave, receiving a divine intimation that he should not taste death until he had seen the saviour of the world. He had in a very special manner been promised to the Jewish nation, and they were anxiously looking for his appearance … an earthly king and ruler.
But God’s thoughts [are] not as their thoughts. No doubt many of them expected him to appear in a very different manner from what he did. They expected that his advent would be distinguished by some outward significance, power and majesty. The eastern Magi expected to find him in Herod’s palace, when they saw his star and hastened to Jerusalem to pay their homage to him. On their arrival they said ‘where is he who is born king of the Jews?’
But as his kingdom was not of this world he was not to enter into it as an earthly prince. Though his birth was to be proclaimed by harbingers from heaven, they were not sent to publish this wonder to Kings and Emperors, nor to the chief priest or rulers of the Jewish nation, but to the humble shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night.
When the angel of the Lord appeared unto the shepherds, we are told the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sure afraid. In order to dissipate their fears, and to calm their agitated minds, the angel said unto them fear not for behold ‘I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
In considering this subject we shall
First endeavour to elucidate the tidings announced;
And second, consider the importance of them
Firstly. We have here the birth of Christ proclaimed and the city wherein he was born. ‘Go to Bethlehem’ said the angel to the shepherd ‘and there shall ye see him, wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger’.
It had been foretold by the prophet Micah, that the saviour should be born in Bethlehem. This prophecy had its full accomplishment at his birth.
How must the pious shepherds have rejoiced when they saw him who had been so long promised to the faithful? Their faith does not appear to have been staggered when they saw him in his low and humble state.
On the contrary their hearts were filled with unspeakable joy and they returned glorifying and praising God for all the things for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told unto them by the angels.
The description here given of Jesus is worthy of our deepest attention. The angel describes him by first by his office. [Saviour.]
Many saviours had been sent to Israel in former times. Moses delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. Samuel afterwards saved them out of the hands of their enemies, and many others of their kings and prophets.
But here was one born infinitely superior to them all. One who came not only to deliver one people, but a whole world – not from temporal bondage and misery, but from sin, Satan, death and hell, and to save them with an everlasting salvation. For this purpose he came into the world, to redeem man from all evil. This was his office to which he had a right and title.
The name ‘Christ’ as also the name ‘Messiah’, signifies ‘anointed’. Jesus was the Lord’s anointed. He had appointed him to preach glad tidings to the meek.
This was the name by which the great deliverer was expected by the Jewish as well as the Gentile world. The woman of Samaria in her conversation with our saviour at Jacob’s well said unto him, ‘I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ, when he is come he will tell us all things’. Hence we see that the Samaritans as well as the Jews were expecting the coming of the Messiah.
Now his name denoted his divine commission, together with his justifications for the performance of his office. The kings and the priests, and in some instances the prophets also, were set apart for their respective offices by the holy unction. And he in whom all these offices of prophet, priest and king were combined, was consecrated to them by a public and immeasurable effusion of the Holy Ghost. He was a saviour duly sent and qualified for the great work of redeeming a lost world.
He was not only set apart by the father of mercies to this office, but he was in every respect sufficient for it.
Had the person, whom the angel announced been a mere creature, he never could have effected all that was necessary for those he came to save.
But he was the Lord Jehovah himself. He was God manifest in the flesh.
It had been said of him, 800 years before, “To us a child is born” […his name shall be called, wonderful, prince of peace, mighty God, everlasting Father’] … and that prophecy was now declared to be accomplished.
Hence we infer that whatever he had undertaken, he was able to perform. His atonement would be sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. His righteousness would be sufficient to justify all that should trust in it for acceptance, and his grace and Holy Spirit would be sufficient to make them conquerors over all their spiritual enemies, and to bring his people finally to glory.
More joyful tiding than these could never be proclaimed by man or angel. Well might the angel say behold I bring you [good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people]
We have now considered out Lord’s office. He came as a deliverer of his people from their sin, Satan, death and hell – and that he had a title to this office having been consecrated, and set apart to it by the Holy Ghost – and that he was sufficient for it, being God over all blessed ever more.
We shall in the second place consider the importance of the tidings mentioned in our text.
The very term ‘behold’ is always used to mark the importance of that to which it is prefixed. It emphatically calls our attention to the subject. But here the particular view in which the tidings claim our close attention is distinctly specified,
They are a matter, firstly, of exceeding joy.
To illustrate this we need only to observe by whom the message was delivered and to whom. An angel from heaven was the messenger but he was not privileged to say, to us is born a saviour. No, there was no saviour provided for the fallen angels but for man a saviour was provided. When man fell God became incarnate. We are told by the voice of inspiration, he took not upon him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
Suppose then, that instead of being sent to men, the angel had been sent to his fallen brethren, and that after he had opened the gates of hell he had announced the tidings to the apostate spirits, to you is sent a saviour. O what joy had been spread through these dark and dreary regions of misery and woe. How would the very vassals of hell itself have wrung to loud exclamation and hosannas! How would every spirit instantly have forgotten its pains and pressed forward to hear the full import of this joyful message.
Thus then ought these tidings to be received among us. Since the only difference between them and us is that on them is executed the sentence they deserve.
But are not we sinners? The angels that sinned are reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgement of the great day, and suffering now the vengeance of eternal fire. We are as prisoners, guilty prisoners waiting for our trial, and to have the sentence of death passed upon us as soon as the full measure of our iniquities are completed. This my brethren is our awful state while we are living without God and following the vain imaginations of our own hearts.
The glad tidings mentioned in our text ought to be tidings of unusual joy to all who are sinners before God. They are equally interesting to Jews and Gentiles, to those of the apostolic age, and to us who live at such a distance both of time and place. Nor is there one single individual upon earth amongst the children of men who have not equal cause to value the Saviour that is here proclaimed to us.
Who is there that does not need the merit of his atonement and the efficacy of his grace? Who is there that have not sinned and come short of the glory of God. Who is there that to whom these glad tidings are not published freely. Who is there amongst you that is not invited to come to Jesus for pardon of sin.
There is not one upon earth, rich or poor ignorant or learned that can be saved without him. Nor is there one however abandoned, who may not by a believing application to the Saviour, be admitted to his pardoning grace and mercy.
Since all may obtain the blessings which these glad tidings proclaim they may well be called glad tidings to all people since they are so to all nations kindreds tongues and people, and some of all nations under heaven will at last be found amongst that great multitude which St John saw.
What a pleasing idea is this, how pleasant to the pious soul is this divine prospect. What pains has God taken to make known his divine will to us. He has not merely given is his word of promise, but he has fulfilled his promise made unto his the fathers.
And the very hour his Son is made flesh and dwells amongst us, an angel is dispatched from heaven to communicate the joyful news to men upon earth. And this heavenly messenger no sooner proclaims the good tidings than an heavenly host joins the angel in loud anthems praising God and saying glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.
If anything could add to the happiness of the angels of God, this wonderful display of divine love to man increased their joy.
Having now considered the importance of these (good) tidings we shall conclude with inviting you all to imitate the shepherds.
Firstly, Inquire into the truth of all they and you have heard.
The shepherds were not satisfied with the good tidings communicated to them by the angel but they said one to another ‘let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass which the Lord hath made known unto us.’ Go you then, we say, go to Bethlehem, or rather go to the Bible, and see whether these things be not as they have been represented.
What would you have thought of the shepherds, after what they had seen and heard, if when they had an opportunity of obtaining satisfaction on the point, they had neglected it, and had laid themselves down to sleep without making any further enquiry about the new born Saviour?
O, let me entreat you to enquire after him. You have incomparably better means of information than they had. You may see in the sacred scriptures the whole record concerning the holy child Jesus. His birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension. Yes, you may see the union of the Godhead with the manhood, and may read in facts as well as in his promises, and declarations his ability to save you to the utter most. All these wonderful and mysterious subjects are revealed in God’s holy word which you can consult at all times, for it is nigh unto every one of you.
O, arise then and enquire into these important truths with all the humility care and attention they require. Your eternal happiness wholly depends upon knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.
Again when you are convinced that the Saviour was born in Bethlehem yourselves, and that all the prophets have said of him relative to his incarnation, and for what purpose he came into the world, namely to redeem us from all our iniquity, communicate these things to others with all diligence and care.
The shepherds would not hide within their own bosoms the things they had heard and seen, but immediately published them abroad for the information of others. They told others that they had seen an angel to who proclaimed the good tidings to them, that that angel was accompanied by an heavenly host who praised God, and sang glory to him in the highest, the Saviour for ruined man was born in Bethlehem that night, that they went to the city and found the new born child in the very stable and manger where the angel said he was laid.
This information made a deep impression upon the minds of those who heard them from related by the shepherds and especially upon the blessed mother of our Lord, for the evangelist tells us that Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. She meditated upon them, and they administered the greatest consolation to her mind, and confirmed her faith in the divine promises.
Should you be silent then? when you have so much clearer instruction to convey. Should you not impart it gladly to those around you?
And for the comfort of your own souls should you not ponder all these things in your hearts. These wonderful and important events should occupy our contemplation from the beginning to the end of the year. For there is no subject upon earth in which our happiness is so much interested as the nativity of our Lord and Saviour.
Our church has with great propriety and pious consideration appointed a special service for this day. In order that we may keep in grateful remembrance the infinite love of God to us in giving us his Son, to save and deliver us from everlasting death. With what holy devotion, with what sacred reverence and holy godly fear ought we to keep this divine festival. At this period we should renew our covenant with God and engage thru his grace and Holy Spirit to serve him more and love him better. It is a period never to be forgotten by the pious Christian.
All who love the Saviour will go as it were to Bethlehem with the shepherds to see the new born babe, and with them, they will praise and glorify God for his unspeakable gift. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for its redemption. These glad and good tidings ought to be received by all with the greatest heartfelt joy and gratitude.
But alas, few believe the report, so as to be influenced by it.
Instead of making this holy festival a time of deep humiliation, and of praise and thanksgiving to God, the greatest part of mankind convert it into a season of drunkenness, riot and crime, by which they pour the most souring contempt upon the divine goodness. And many, many act so wickedly, and give themselves to such vices lusts and appetites, as if they were determined to kindle God’s wrath against them and to cause him to swear that they shall never enter into his rest.
Let me warn all of you who have trifled with the salvation of your souls to the present period, that your day is coming, I mean the day of vengeance when God will bring you into judgement for all you now do. Consider this ye that forget.
This may be the last Christmas you may spend upon earth.
Spend it then then, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envy. It is now time for you to awake out of sleep and to bethink you what is to be done.
You then who love the Saviour, rejoice and glorify God with the shepherds. They saw the him in the manger but him whom you have not seen ye love, [and though now you see him not, you believe, and rejoice with joy unspeakable. – 1 Pet 1:8] Keep continually in mind the exceeding great love of your Lord and only Saviour that he was rich yet etc [yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich – 2 Cor 8:9].
Renew your solemn covenants with him at this period. Dedicate yourselves anew.
Let not the love of the world nor the things of the world draw your affections away from him. Before the return of another Christmas, you may be removed to a better world to see him as he is and to be present with him. Many during the last revolving year, have entered the joy of their Lord, and many will the next (in) the number of whom your name may be recorded.
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid, only cleave unto the Lord with full purpose of heart, and he will preserve you falling, and will in the end present you before the throne of his glory. \
It will be well for you to visit Bethlehem often. To meditate upon the great humiliation of your Lord where he lay in the manger because there was no room for him in the inn. There is no room for him still in the hearts of wicked men but if you are his people he will dwell in your hearts. Your bodies will become his temple thru the Holy Ghost. And when he hath perfected all the good pleasure of his will in you, he will wipe away all your tears, he (will) put final end to all your mourning. You shall no more say my soul melteth away because of trouble for he will place you near his throne, at his right hand, where there are pleasures for ever more.
Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written death is swallowed up in victory. Then every promise will be fulfilled, every wish will be fully satisfied, God’s people shall dwell in his holy temple and go out mo no more, and join an innumerable multitude of angels, in one everlasting song to God and the Lamb will who sit upon the throne forever and ever.
 Sermon 33 in the Moore College Sermon Collection. Marsden has used an outline from Charles Simeon’s Horae Homileticae to compose this sermon. Transcription by David Pettett.
 Text is missing in the original manuscript here.