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BETHLEHEM EPHRATAH. DE
ECEMBER'S blasts are sweeping across the lofty hights of Bethlehem. To the north we behold, against the wintery sky, the towers of Jerusalem. Far to the southeast the eye traverses successive descents, slope after slope, till in the distance we espy the leaden gleam of the waves of Asphaltites, and beyond them the jagged, conical, sparkling, almost transparent peaks* of the mountains of the Arabian desert.
Along the northern road, we behold, slowly approaching on foot, the figure of a sturdy traveler, staff in hand, closely wrapped in his thick gabardine, and leading by the bridle a panniered mule, and another bearing a muffled figure.
Enveloped in her large winter veil, and in various skins and coarse fabrics, rides a young female, apparently in suffering, and shrinking from the cutting northern blasts, which now begin to come loaded with snow, as they drive relentlessly along the rocky road. She seems weak, and weary, and scarcely capable of maintaining her seat without support from her com
panion, who supports her with his ready arm from time to time, while all their apparel, and the shaggy hide of their brute companions, are soon coated with the fine driving snow and sleet, and the road becomes so slippery, that with many a slide they slowly urge their painful way.
And is this, alas! the daughter of an ancient line of kings? Is this to be the mother of a universal conqueror? Young, delicate, never exposed to many hardships, how, in this dreary journey, do the pitiless forces of wintery war, the gloom of frowning Nature, spread a pall over thy spirit in thine hour of anguish!
Soon they stand before the door of the hospitable inn, confident at last of privacy and rest. With what chagrin does Joseph learn that not a corner of the spacious edifice is unoccupied ! The great census has gathered here unprecedented crowds, and they are come too late from far Galilee. Thus they stand benumbed with cold in the open high-way, poor, friendless, and unknown. In despair, he looks for some friendly face to guide him, but all are cowering around the fire. He looks here and there for some temporary shelter, if it be no better than a hut, a shed, or a hovel, but all in vain.
At length a door presents itself to his view in a neighboring hill side, affording entrance to
a species of cave or grot, such as are common in those mountain regions, and which, when additionally excavated by art, as in the present instance, are frequently fitted with a few rude articles of stable furniture. In fact, it is a stable in the rock; and thither, as a last resort, he bends his steps.
They enter; and in the farthest recess of the cave, which, though tenanted by several steeds, proves at least dry and warm, Joseph hastens to scatter straw, and spread the matting he carries in his panniers. Upon this the trembling virgin sinks, grateful for so mean a shelter, while, having cared for the mules, her husband kindles a fire, and dries their drenched garments, and makes such other arrangements for her comfort as the tenderest anxiety can suggest.
Thus it is that at last the hour approaches for the entrance upon earth of that Jehovah who made it. Can we stand beneath the rugged rocks of that low-browed cave, now wreathed in the stifling smoke, listen to the stamping of the steeds, and the sound of their teeth as they grind their food; can we see in yon dim corner the figure of the sighing and exhausted young maiden, the kneeling form of Joseph by her side; can we hear the fierce December gale howling without, and the rushing of the rain and sleet;
can we call all these circumstances about us, be fully possessed of the scene, ourselves a part of it, and then reflect that here, in this obscure retreat—this cavern,
fit to be the den of fierce banditti—this somber fuliginous vault, is about to happen the greatest event in the whole annals of time! Can we stand thus at the very crisis of the mighty spiritual drama, for the enactment of which the world itself was made, and yet feel no deep and solemn adoration, no profound awe?
Yet I have heard that there be those, unhappily, who, in all the scenes we have been and are passing through, can see nothing pure, lovely, hallowed; nothing venerable, nothing divine; nothing even enchanting to the mere imaginative sense of poetical beauty; men whose souls are so dead to any genuine emotions of purity, so devoid of any true greatness of feeling, any devout magnanimity; men so dried, shriveled, and barren in a parched and sterile intellectual acuteness ; men so destitute of creative imagination, or any glimmering perception of what is truly noble and exalted, and, finally, so virulent in the spleen of their small natures, that they can not approach into the sanctuary of earth's most solemn, most tremendous scenes, without recoiling in trepidation from the uncongenial place.
It is not for such men that I ever feel sen
timents either of fear or of respect. I breathe another atmosphere, inhabit a different world. Their profane babblings can neither beguile my intellect nor defile my heart. And I pray to the Author of all light, love, and beauty, that if any are to be so miserable as to be unable to see glory where it shines, truth where it radi. ates, love where it beams, beauty where it dazzles; any who by their very nature are condemned to denial, unbelief, sneering, and woe, I, at least, may be permitted evermore to gaze unblinded upon the central illumination of all worlds, and breathe exultingly the pure air of belief, love, and humble joy.
How often have we all, doubtless, with wondering curiosity, brooded over those hidden years of the incarnation, preceding the public ministry of the Being now approaching to view. As a star here and there in a dark night looks kindly out from the gloom of the overcast heavens, speaking of the universe beyond, and assisting our faith to realize its glories, though shrouded in darkness, so, from the canopy of those thirty years, look kindly forth to meet our gaze a few. dispersed star-beams of the heaven-inspired Gospel.
What, then, is the first personal dawning upon us of this Being whose name is “ Wonder