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THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
ZECHARIAH ix. 9.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, o
daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation ; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
From the earliest ages, it has been the practice of the Church of God to commemorate, at certain fixed seasons, those events in its history which characterized the dispensation under which it was placed. The patriarchal Church observed the Sabbath in memory of the creation : and the Israelites kept the Passover, as a memorial of their deliverance from Egyptian tyranny; the feast of Pentecost, in commemoration
of the giving of the law; and the feast of Tabernacles, in remembrance of their dwelling in tents during their sojourn in the wilderness.
Piety indeed, and gratitude to their Divine Benefactor, and a duteous wish to proclaim his goodness to their children's children, might have justly led the patriarchal and the Jewish churches to commemorate these and the many other remarkable events in which that goodness was displayed: but Almighty God Himself was pleased to ordain the constant observance of the before-mentioned and several other festivals ; and thus, by the seal of his authority, to commend a like practice, and the principle on which it is founded, to all generations.
Such was the impression which the Divine appointment made upon the Jews : for we find that at different periods of their history, they spontaneously instituted several fasts and feasts in remembrance of the chastisements they had endured, and of the signal deliverances they had obtained, at the hand of God. The feast of Purim,
commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from the exterminating designs of Hamana; and the feast of the Dedication, in memory of the cleansing of the temple after its defilement by Antiochus Epiphanesb; may be mentioned. And no more satisfactory proof can be desired, that the Jews did well in the institution of these solemnities, and that such freewill offerings are acceptable with God, than that which was furnished by our blessed Saviour, when He attended the feast of the Dedication". Had the authority or the principle, on which this feast was instituted, been considered by Him to vitiate its appointment; or had its observance been reckoned by Him amongst those commandments or traditions of men, by which the word of God was made of none effect; it cannot be supposed that He would have sanctioned it by his presence. But by attending it as He did, He has both herein justified the Jews, and forcibly commended their example to his own disciples.
u 1 Mac. iv. 52-59.
a Esth. ix. 20-28. • John x. 22, 23.
The Christian Church has, therefore, from the beginning, been accustomed to commemorate, in their order, the leading events of our Redeemer's life; his birth, circumcision, and manifestation to the Gentiles;
his death, resurrection, and ascension: together with the descent of the Holy Ghost, by whose most perfect testimony He is set forth to all men, as the only-begotten Son of God, and the Saviour of the world.
In the immediately succeeding times, also, there were added to the principal festivals certain other days, for the purpose of increasing their solemnity, and of more fully directing attention to the change, which the events commemorated in them produced in the situation, and ought to produce in the conduct, of mankind:-to Christmas, for instance, were prefixed the Sundays in Advent, and to Easter were added some following days. Certain days were likewise set apart for thanksgiving to God for the benefits bestowed on mankind through the preaching of the holy Apostles : and lastly, the memory of the chief martyrs, confessors, and disciples of the Gospel, was celebrated on their respective anniversaries ; in order that their successors might learn to be followers of them, in that faith and patience wherewith they had followed Christ.
These anniversaries, however,-from the constantly increasing number of those who attested their belief in Christianity with their blood, and from the facility with which the Church in after ages admitted into the calendar the names of persons who were remarkable, at best, rather for enthusiasm and singularity, than for godliness,-became at length so multiplied, that the original festivals were comparatively neglected; uninstructive and often mischievous legends usurped the place of sober and scriptural edification; and the observance of holydays either became burdensome and superstitious, or was made an occasion of idleness and revelry.
But at the time of the Reformation, this extravagance was effectually redressed in these kingdoms : a ritual, free from legendary and unscriptural innovations,