Preached at St. Paul’s Cathedral London on Christmas Day, 1626.
John Donne. An extract.
Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.
The whole life of Christ was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha (where he was crucified) even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as his cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas-day and his Good Friday are but the evening and morning of one and the same day. And as even his birth is his death, so every action and passage that manifests Christ to us, is his birth, for Epiphany is manifestation; and therefore, though the church do now call Twelfth-day Epiphany, because upon that day Christ was manifested to the Gentiles in those wise men who came then to worship him, yet the ancient church called this day (the day of Christ’s birth) the Epiphany, because this day Christ was manifested to the world, by being born this day. Every manifestation of Christ to the world, to the church, to a particular soul, is an Epiphany, a Christmas-day. Now there is nowhere a more evident manifestation of Christ than in that which induced this text, Lord, 1101c lettest thou thy servant, 8fc.
It had been revealed to Simeon (whose words these are) that he should see Christ before he died; and actually and really, substantially, essentially, bodily, presentially, personally he does see him; so it is Simeon’s Epiphany, Simeon’s Christmas-day; so also this day, in which we commemorate and celebrate the general Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the whole world in his birth, all we, we, who besides our interest in the universal Epiphany and manifestation implied in the very day, have this day received the body and blood of Christ in his holy and blessed Sacrament, have had another Epiphany, another Christmas-day, another manifestation and application of Christ to ourselves. And as the church prepares our devotion before Christmas-day, with four Sundays in Advent, which brings Christ nearer and nearer unto us, and remembers us that he is coming, and then continues that remembrance again with the celebration of other festivals with it, and after it, as St. Stephen, St. John, and the rest that follow; so for this birth of Christ in your particular souls, for this Epiphany, this Christmas-day, this manifestation of Christ which you have had in the most blessed Sacrament this day, as you were prepared before by that which was said before, so it belongs to the thorough celebration of the day, and to the dignity of that mysterious act, and to the blessedness of worthy and the danger of unworthy receivers, to press that evidence in your behalf, and to enable you, by a farther examination of yourselves, to depart in peace, because your eyes have seen his salvation.
To be able to conclude to yourselves, that because you have had a Christmas-day, a manifestation of Christ’s birth in your souls by the Sacrament, you shall have a whole Good Friday, a crucifying and a consummatum est, a measure of corrections and joy in those corrections, temptations, and the issue with the temptation; and that you shall have a resurrection and an ascension, an inchoation, and an unremovable possession of heaven itself in this world. Make good your Christmas-day, that Christ by a worthy receiving of the Sacrament be born in you, and he that died for you will live with you all the year, and all the years of your lives, and inspire into you, and receive from you at the last gasp, this blessed acclamation, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant, fyc.
The end of all digestions and concoctions is assimilation, that the meat may become our body. The end of all consideration of all the actions of such leading and exemplary men as Simeon was, is assimilation too, that we may be like that man; therefore wo shall make it a first part, to take a picture, to give a character of this man, to consider how Simeon was qualified and prepared, matured and disposed to that confidence, that he could desire to depart in peace, intimated in that first word now; now, that all that I look for is accomplished, and farther expressed in the first word of the other clause, For; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation; Now, now the time is fulfilled, For, for mine eyes have seen. And then enters the second part; what is the greatest happiness that can be well wished in this world, by a man well prepared, is, that he may depart in peace: Lord, now lettest thou, fyc. And all the way, in every step that we make, in his light (in Simeon’s light) we shall see light; we shall consider that that preparation and disposition, and acquiescence which Simeon had in his Epiphany, in his visible seeing of Christ then, is offered to us in this Epiphany, in this manifestation and application of Christ in the Sacrament; and that therefore every penitent, and devout, and reverend, and worthy receiver hath had in that holy action his Now, there are all things accomplished to him and his For, for his eyes have seen his salvation and so may be content, nay glad, to depart in peace.