Seeing salvation: on Christmas Eve, approaching the Sacrament

Words from a sermon (on the text of the Nunc Dimittis) preached by John Donne on the evening of Christmas Day, 1626, addressing those who had received the Sacrament earlier that day.  It is interesting to note that Donne clearly here assumes that all his listeners have received Holy Communion on the feast - "it belongs to the thorough celebration of the day" - a practice unknown in the late medieval Church, with reception at Easter only being the norm.

For those of us preparing to partake of the Sacrament tonight or tomorrow, Donne's words wonderfully set before us the grace of receiving the Eucharist at Christmas.

... 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, lettest thou thy servant, etc. 

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.


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