Preached in St. Michael's Episcopal Church,
Brattleboro, on the morning of Christmas Day, 1876
by Rev. T. P. Tyler, D. D.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,
and we beheld His glory,
the glory of the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
With the church, it is always---
Or Trinity begun."
The eternal years of God are here; and, while she watches for the Bridegroom's coming, she twines around the circuit of each as it goes by, a diadem of beauty, - a chaplet woven out of unfading memories of Him. And of all her festivals this is the fountain head, the dayspring, the flush of dawn. Let us welcome its coming once more, as we have done from childhood; as our parents did in their time; as their predecessors in the church have done through the long ages of old England's history, making the cold heart of winter warm with glad worship and almsgiving, and innocent mirth. We wish each other - and together we wish our worthy pastor, a merry Christmas. We have met here for happy orisons and anthems of praise, and the sacrifice of thanksgiving at the table of the Lord; and we shall go hence, not to work, but to obey the command of God to His people of old "Go your way; eat the fat, and drink the sweet and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto the Lord; neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength." And out of these three - praise, bounty and rest - it is ours to weave a fitting garment for each festal holy-day on its annual return.
The tendency of our race to observe anniversaries is worthy of note. The feeling from which it springs must be as deep-seated as it is universal. Days are, in themselves, indeed, but like spaces of duration; equal measures of the departure of things from the first moment of their creation. Such, however, they can never be to us. He, who formed the majestic clockwork of the heavens to mark their recurrence year by year, has so made us that we cannot but regard them differently, according as we have suffered or been glad in them. We speak of happy days and of adverse days, although, in strictness, these expressions are verified only as to what we did or endured therein; yet we cannot do otherwise than thus to place our burden on the back, or our crown of joy upon the head of the days themselves. Each family has its anniversaries of the bridal, the birth, or the funeral, marked evermore in its calendar; and every nation, having a history, has its days made glorious by deeds that were done upon them. That it is God who has thus founded such observance deep in our very nature, he clearly showed when, having set lights in the firmament to be for signs, and for seasons, for days and for years, he, as it were, hastened to give a peculiar character to one of the days thus measured out, blessing and hallowing it, and bidding men to remember and keep it holy.
Birth always marks a day for some little circle; and when one has been born and lived, and passed away - the patriot, warrior or sage, who has won his country's love, and "the thanks of millions yet to be," men keep his birthday, summing up in that the whole great memory of his life. It were strange indeed if the first Christians, in the face of this strong tendency and universal practice, had not kept the anniversary of that night at Bethlehem. They did so; and wheresoever throughout the world they carried Christianity, they carried the observance of this twenty-fifth of December as the Nativity of the Lord. From farthest East to farthest West; from India to "Britain, divided from the world;" from that time to this, consenting Chistendom has kept it; - with the exception only of those bodies of Christians formed by seceders from the church of our race, who settled the usages of what they regard as churches, with unhappy consistency, upon the principle of doing nothing which that church did, or ever had done; a principle so manifestly absurd that their wiser successors show evident signs of reversing their action, as in other respects, so especially in this.
No question is made of this consent of Christians from the beginning. Did they then mistake the day? or, in their earnest desire to honor so great an event, though ignorant of the true date, did they arbitrarily fix upon this day, clothing it in imperial purple and exalting it to the vacant throne as chief of all human birthdays? It is scarcely credible. Surely the blessed virgin mother, who laid up all things concerning Him so lovingly in her heart, could not have forgotten this. But not even such slight doubt as this rests upon the legitimacy of Christmas. The civil service of the mighty Roman Empire with its well adjusted and wide reaching machinery was set in motion, by the Divine hand, with the very intent to establish it. Observe how this was done: "It came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria." This does not mean that the subjects of Rome were then taxed for the first time. Like the subjects of all governments, before and since, they had been well used to it. One, and probably the main object of the measure, was to render taxation, perhaps more equal, certainly more general; and hence the words tax and taxing convey the idea as well, it may be, as any others.
What the decree required was the census of the whole Empire, - of the then civilized world; a great and notable undertaking, possible only to a central power whose network of trained officials spread over all the nations, and reached the remotest village and most secluded hamlet. A permanent record was made of the names of all the people, arranged by nations, provinces, cities, neighborhoods and families; and these registers were deposited in the Imperial archives at Rome. A literal translation of this passage would read: "A decree went out that all the world should be registered." To facilitate this, the inhabitants of a certain district were ordered to be, on the appointed day, each at his native place. At every such locality the proper official was present; and, under that date, recorded in the census lists the names of all, men women and children. These lists, carefully preserved in the public offices of the capital, were the basis of taxation, requisitions for military service, and other governmental needs, and were open to the inspection of all who desired to consult them.
Among the lists thus prepared, officially certified and conserved, was, of course, that of the little town of Bethlehem, Judea, made on that 25th of December. In that list were recorded the names of the holy family; so recorded as to indicate the birth of our Lord then and there. The busy notary set down briefly and perfunctorily as he was told, the words: Joseph and Mary, of whom Christ is born," - little thinking what a momentous fact he was recording; or that, of all the records making that day throughout the world, this alone would be sought after, referred to, quoted and repeated from generation to generation till the last syllable of recorded time?
But we cannot consult these registers of Imperial Rome. No; they were for a long time safely kept, but finally perished in the sack of that city by the barbarians in the fourth century. Still we know of that record and its very words as certainly as if it still existed. It remained there for a period about equal to that which has elapsed since the Reformation; a period of especial literary activity. The books then written and now extant fill a large library. And all through those three centuries Christian writers appealed constantly and without contradiction to these registers. Thus, within fifty years of the death of St. John, Justin Martyr, in his celebrated Defense of Christianity, addressed to the Roman Emperor and Senate, says: "There is a certain village in the land of Judea, distant [35?] stadia from Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ was born, as ye can learn from the enrollments completed under Cyrenius, your first Procurator in Judea." Tertullian, who lived soon after, speaks of "the enrollment of Augustus which the Roman archives preserved as a faithful witness of our Lord's nativity," and in his treatise against the Jews, who maintained that Jesus was from Nazareth of Gallilee, he writes: "He was of the country of Bethlehem and of the house of David, as among the Romans she is described in the census, - Mary of whom Christ was born." He quotes the exact words set down by the Roman officer who was not told the name Jesus, since that was not His till the 8th day after, but who did hear that he was called the Christ; for just then it was that the shepherds had arrived from hearing the Gloria in excelsis of the heavenly host, and their glad tidings, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." "And they came in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger. And when they had seen it they made known abroad the saying that was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told by the shepherds." Their visit must have made some talk in Bethlehem, and the notary, a heathen doubtless, was told by Joseph who the new born child was, and by others who He was said to be, and neither knowing or caring what the word implied naturally wrote, "Joseph and Mary of whom Christ is born."
It was a busy day in that ancient but decayed Judean village. The place was full of strangers, anxious only to get this registration done, and to return to their homes. Few saw or cared for the peasant family from Nazareth, rudely sheltered in the stable of the crowded inn; and yet, among them there, transpired the great event of the world's - of the universe's history. They could not know, as we know, that "the word was made flesh and dwelt among us."
St. John, writing primarily for the benefit of the Grecians, to reveal this great mystery, availed himself of language familiar to their philosophy. Some four centuries before this, Plato had used that term, "the word," to express the eternal wisdom, one of the three impersonations of Deity, according to his system; and the philosophic Jews of Alexandria, and other Greek-speaking colonies, had introduced it into their theology as expressing the idea of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs. "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. When He prepared the heavens I was there; when He appointed the foundations of the earth, then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him. I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before Him." Hence St. John adopted it to explain as far as was possible to the finite mind, the nature of the Eternal Son. "In the beginning" - before time was, in and from eternity, "was the Word and the Word was with God," - co-existed with the Father, "and the Word was God," possessing the whole divine nature; since, one and indivisible, that nature imparted by the Father is necessarily imparted entire. "And the Word was made flesh" - by flesh is here meant our nature consisting of body and soul, - "and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth," - the clearest revelation of the mystery, God, a distinct Person, eternally begotten of God. And hence the faith into which each of us is baptised. "I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father; begotten of the Father before all worlds: God of God; Light of Light; very God of very God, begotten not made: of one substance i.e. essence or nature, with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man." Hence too the stress which is laid in holy writ on the fact that He is the Son of God - the only Son - the only begotten of the Father. This only-ness of his sonship necessarily implies his Divinity - since by creation, or adoption, or any other way conceivable, He would not be the only Son.
Another truth we should recall, as on the anniversary we stand, in thought, by the manger-cradle at Bethlehem. It is this: that there was no human person born of the Virgin Mary. Of her substance, body and soul, the second Person of the adorable Trinity took our whole and perfect nature, but not the person of a man. The distinction is of vital importance to a true conception of who Christ was. Had the Eternal Son joined to himself a human personality already begun to exist in the womb of His mother, ever blessed, there had been in Christ two persons - the second Person in the Godhead assuming, and the human person assumed; and that one person of our race only would have been in some sort united to God. But our Lord is no such inconceivable being. By the Holy Spirit he formed our nature of her substance, and by the same act made that nature His own. No human person came into existence to be assumed. Thus He advanced to His glory, not any one man from among us, but the nature common to us all, while he continues, as before, one only Person, the second of the holy Trinity - changing but the manner of his subsisting, which was before in the sole glory of the Son of God, and is now in the habit of our flesh.
Surely, so great a movement on the part of God toward us - this meeting in one person of the Divinity and humanity, implies some great necessity, some otherwise inevitable disaster that impended over us. We are too apt to feel as if this danger were so divided up among the millions of our race, that the share of each individual must be small. But no; as each soul is the pattern of every other, the compendium of all man has ever been, in one heart included; so upon every life is concentrated all the peril of our living here; and with it the whole great necessity of God's incarnation, as perfectly as if he stood alone on earth, contending with the powers of darkness; and with it the whole debt of gratitude and love, and joy that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."
Vermont Phoenix, December 29, 1876.
Thomas Pickman Tyler, who died at his residence on Tyler street on Monday last, was the eighth son and tenth child of the late Hon. Royall Tyler, a judge of the supreme court of Vermont from 1801 to 1806, and chief judge from 1807 to 1812. His mother was Mary Palmer. He was born in Brattleboro Nov. 20, 1815, in the "old Tyler house up on the hill," and his boyhood was passed in this village. He was a pupil in the High school and finished his educational course in Trinity college, Hartford, from which he was graduated in 1838. He at once became a candidate for holy orders, and was ordained deacon and priest in succession within the shortest time allowed by the canons of the Episcopal church.
His first parish was at Canton, N. Y. In November, 1841, he married Mary Ann, daughter of Rufus Clark of Brattleboro, and soon after took charge of the parish in Fredonia, N. Y. Here he made a deep impression upon all with whom he was thrown in contact, as is evident by the fact that a correspondence has been maintained with numerous members of his congregation, growing less as in the course of nature their numbers have decreased. On Christmas last he received a remembrance from one of the few remaining Fredonia friends, and one lady writing not long since from New York city said, "All the old Fredonia friends come to see me when they are in New York, and they often and often speak of you. Very few men were ever so loved and so remembered by the friends of their early years as you have been. You made a deep mark on the character and ideas of all those young people in your charge."
After this successful pastorate he was called to Columbus, Ohio, but his wife's health not being good he soon returned to Fredonia, and not long after he was called to Batavia, N. Y., where he remained until 1862, receiving the degree of D. D. in 1857. During this time his wife died, and he afterward married Diana, widow of Hon. Joshua L. Brown of Batavia. His resignation, which was caused by inability to perform his duties by reason of ill health, was a source of much grief to his Batavia friends, who were quite as much attached to him as were those of his former parish. In a letter written only last week to Mrs. Tyler a lady says: "How I wish I had one of Dr. Tyler's good sermons to read."
When his health was sufficiently restored he took charge of the parish in Brownville, Jefferson county, N. Y., whence he removed to Hamilton in the same state. In 1870 he was obliged to resign for the same reason as before, and then removed to Brattleboro, where he has since lived. He had been gradually failing for the last two or three years, but his remarkable vitality preserved him beyond the allotted threescore years and ten.
By his first wife he had three sons, John S., colonel of the Second Regiment Vermont Volunteers, who died in New York in May, 1864, from the results of wounds received in the Battle of the Wilderness; Rufus C., who was an officer of the volunteer navy during the civil war and was afterwards lost at sea; Hanson R., now a lieutenant in the navy and at present attached to the Mohican, and a daughter who died in infancy. Two brothers, Rev. George P. Tyler of Lansingburg, and Hon. Royall Tyler of this village, survive him.
The funeral, which took place on Wednesday last, was private, owing to illness in the family and the desire of Mrs. Tyler to prevent the exposure of their friends to the inclemency of the weather.
Vermont Phoenix, January 29, 1892.