For The Truth

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holy Christmas Day

Fourth Sermon—1534, Martin Luther

Concerning the Account of the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. On this festival of the birth of our dear Lord Jesus Christ we should preach and learn about the great and gracious act which God bestowed upon us by allowing God’s Son to become a human being. Therefore let us hear what the holy Evangelists write about this event. First of all we are told that the angel or the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and announced to him that Mary would give birth to the Son of God. Then they report that Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem and that there Mary gave birth to her first son, in the stall where the cattle milled around them, for there was no room for them in the inn.

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Luke 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

2. This is the story and history which gives us the account of how our dear Lord Jesus Christ was born. A primary need for our young people, especially now, is to remember this account and adore it with sincerity of heart, so that they will never forget it. It should teach them to thank and praise our Lord and God for this tremendous blessing, that we poor, wretched, yes, also damned people, have been granted this great honor of becoming one in flesh and blood with the Son of God. For no one less that the eternal Son of the eternal Father, who alone created heaven and earth out of nothing, he it is, as we are here informed, who became a human being and was born into this world just as we were, except that in His case this all took place without any kind of sin being involved. That is why we can boast that God has become our brother, yes, part of our flesh and blood.

3. The great honor has been granted to neither angels nor devils but to us human beings. The angels are indeed more glorious creatures than we human beings, and yet God has bestowed greater honor upon us and has joined Himself closer to us than to the angels, because He did not become an angel, but chose instead to become a human being.

4. Now if we human beings properly consider this fact, and if we could wholeheartedly believe this, then such inexpressible grace and blessing from our dear Lord God should give us very great joy, and should drive us to thank Him with our whole hearts and move us to gladly obey His will and to live godly lives.

5. When we were still under the papacy, they used to tell this story. Once upon a time the devil attended mass in a church where it was customary in either the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed to sing: Et homo factus est, that is, “God’s Son has become a human being.” While they were singing this, the people remained standing and did not kneel down. The devil was so incensed, that he slammed his fist into one man’s mouth, saying, “You boorish bum, aren’t you ashamed to stand there like a post and refuse to kneel for joy? If God had become OUR brother, as He did become YOUR brother, our joy would be so great that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.”

6. That story may be pure fiction, but if so, then it was invented by someone that was very intelligent and who correctly understood the great honor that was bestowed on us, when God’s Son became a human being in a totally different way from Adam or Eve. You see, Adam was formed out of the soil of the ground, while Eve was formed out of Adam’s rib. But Christ was even more closely related to us because He was born from the flesh and blood of His mother, the Virgin Mary, in the same way that other human beings are born, with this one exception: the Virgin Mary was single when the power of the Holy Spirit came over her and God’s Son was conceived without sin, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Aside from that, He is just like we are, the son of a genuine, natural woman.

7. Adam and Eve were not born but created; God formed Adam from the soil of the earth, while Eve was formed from Adam’s rib. How much more Christ is like us since He is of the same flesh and blood that we have! We should truly cherish and treasure this fact. And especially children and young people should treasure this form little on up and have this glorious fact engraved indelibly on their hearts, that the Son of God has become flesh and that there is no difference between His and our own flesh, except that His flesh is without sin. You see, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and God so filled the flesh, body, and soul of the Virgin Mary with the Holy Spirit in such a way, that no sin was present in her conception and carrying of the Lord Jesus. Aside from that, everything was natural in His formation. Just like other people He ate and drank, slept and awoke, was happy and sad. He became hungry and thirsty and got cold, just like other people. He experienced such and similar, natural sensations and emotions, but he remained without sin. As St. Paul says, “In all respects He was found to be a human being, exactly like us, a person who ate, drank, arose, walked around, experienced joy and sorrow, cold and heat, and so on.”

8. This meant, of course, that he had to humble and humiliate Himself a great deal. After all, it would have been a simple thing for Him to become a human being just like He is now in heaven. He has flesh and blood just like ours, but does not do what we do. He could have done this from the very beginning of His humiliation, but He didn’t want to do that, so He could demonstrate and prove how great his love for us is. He wanted us to rejoice, to take comfort in and the fact that we have a brother in heaven. And cursed is any person who refuses this brother, thus depriving his heart of this joy.

9. That is the reason why this historical account is the theme of preachers every year. They make it the basis of their sermons, so that every child can impress this mental picture on his heart and thank God for this gift and say: There is no reason for me to live in constant fear, because I have a brother who has become a human being just like me. Why he was willing to let this happen, and what He aimed to accomplish by it, namely to free us from sin and eternal death, I shall not discuss in detail today. Right now I want to tell you about the honor that has been bestowed on the entire human race, an honor of which we can rightfully boast and celebrate, namely, that the Son of God has become a human being. All people can boast of this honor. However, only Christians can boast of this birth to all eternity. Down here on earth all people have the honor that God’s Son has assumed their flesh and blood. But the spiritual and eternal fruit of this birth belongs only to Christians. That is the primary truth we should learn from this account.

10. Second, we should learn to follow this striking, divine example. For Christ, the Son of God, humbled Himself the way He did, in order to transfer all His glory to destitute human beings, and on top of that also transferred to them His divine majesty before which the holy angels tremble in awe, while He himself lives like a poverty-stricken beggar. Up in heaven the angels worship Him, while down here on earth He becomes our servant and beds Himself in our slimy sins and sinfulness. Now I say, because the Son of God has done this, we should learn from Him to gladly and humbly praise and glorify Him and His Word, suffering every kind of sorrow I imitation of Him, and so follow His example. For what harm can befall us or why should we be ashamed of suffering? After all, our dear Lord suffered cold and hunger and sorrow, but when He came down to earth, His life was especially filled with sorrow and poverty, as we have told you. In the stall there were no bedpans nor any privacy whatsoever, no pillow, no diapers, no bedding. He had to lie in a manger beneath the cows and oxen. Think of it, my kinsman, yes, my brother, the King of all creation in heaven and on earth, and of all creatures in them, lies there in such wretchedness! Shame on me! Why am I so stuck-up? Why do I want to be so high and mighty that I never want to suffer anything? If the King of glory suffers as He does, for my sake, who do I think I am, anyway? Isn’t it a fact, that I am a poor sinner who does not even deserve to lie on bristle. But here I am, lying on a bed of ease, while my Lord lies there on course straw in a manger for the cows!

11. But isn’t this a disgusting deal? Here we see the humiliation and poverty in which our Lord Jesus lies for our sake, while we pretend to be aristocratic landowners who should get off with no punishment or suffering at all! The house-hotel is filled with guests who sit in the seats of the highest honor; they also have a separate living room and bedroom, maid service and home health care when needed. Meanwhile the young Virgin and Joseph are rudely shown to the barn where cattle are sheltered. That is where she gives birth to the precious Son of God, the Creator of the entire universe! Those are the abominable conditions under which He was born! We must clasp Him to our hearts and confess: Our Lord was born amid such misery and poverty, and eventually He died on a cross for our sakes. It makes no sense at all that we undeserving louts should enjoy eternal rest and peace; for a servant is not greater than his master. But, sad to say, we do not recognize this; we just go on being troublemakers, twisted and gnarled gripers, always haughty and uppity, even though we see our Lord Jesus lying in such great poverty for our sake. But all we gain by our pride is useless, except to polish our shoes for it.

12. That is why we should learn our lesson well and earnestly ponder the great honor that has been bestowed on us by Christ’s becoming a human being. For it is such a great honor, that even if one were an angel, you would do well to wish that you were a human being, so that you could boast: My our flesh and blood is greater than all the angels, and blessed is every creature that is a human being. God grant that we understand this, take it to heart and thank God for this great gift. In addition, we should diligently study the example of Christ, what He manifested with His first advent to this earth in that He suffered for our sake, so that we too do our beat to learn from Him how to suffer. The Lord of all lords becomes a Servant of all servants. We should follow that example and learn from our dear kinsman and brother to gladly help and serve other people, even when it becomes a burden for us and causes us to suffer a little bit in rendering that service. These two things we should note well: the account itself and the example it sets. To that end may God help us by the Holy Spirit through our dear Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


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