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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Day - 12/25/2017

The lectionary Martin Luther would have used 500 years ago isn’t the same as today’s lectionary but in all that time, the Christmas readings haven’t changed. Back then the Christmas Eve gospel was from Luke chapter two and it still is. Back then the Christmas Day gospel was the opening verses of John and it still is. So Martin Luther had many opportunities to preach on both of these texts. Last night I shared some of what he had to say about Luke’s birth narrative. He had even more to say about John.

In fact, Luther’s earliest known sermon was on the Gospel of John, preached to his Augustinian monastic community at Christmas time in 1514 and of course Christmas alone would have provided many opportunities for Luther to preach on John’s prologue, verses that were very meaningful for him. In fact, he called John 1:12 the point of the entire gospel message, “But to all who believed him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become Children of God.” All in all then, Luther preached 53 sermons on just the first four chapters of John.

As I mentioned last night though, what you get in his Christmas preaching is Luther at his best. He still gets the occasional shot in at the pope or the Catholic Church but theologically he’s especially insightful as the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, was central for him.

Luther says that, “He (God that is) condescends to assume my flesh and blood, my body and soul. He does not become an angel or another magnificent creature; he becomes human. This is a token of God’s mercy to wretched human beings; the human heart cannot grasp or understand, let alone express it.”

We can get so distracted by the emotional sentiment of Christmas along with the more secular aspects of the season that we overlook the wonder of the Word made flesh. But not Luther; “Even if I should never be saved—which God forbid!—this thought would still fill me with joy: that Christ, who is of my flesh, blood, and soul, is sitting in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, and that such an honor has been conferred on my frame, flesh and blood.” Luther had struggled with the image of an angry, wrathful God, but these verses from John helped him to imagine God differently: “Now I can see that God my Lord is not angry with me; for he is my flesh and blood and sits at the right hand of the heavenly Father as Lord over all creatures.”

Luther very much embraces the idea that the incarnation is for us and for our salvation as it says in the Nicene Creed, so in another place he says, “Thus the most precious treasure and the strongest consolation we Christians have is this: that the Word, the true and natural Son of God, became human; that he became incarnate for our sakes in order that we might enter into great glory, that our flesh and blood, skin and hair, hands and feet, stomach, and back might reside in heaven as God does, and in order that we might boldly defy the devil and whatever else assails us.”

Luther was emphatic in affirming the full humanity of Jesus, affirming the doctrine that came out of early church councils that said that only what was assumed could be saved, that is, if Christ only appeared to be human but really wasn’t , he couldn’t save us. Luther unpacked that by saying, “When the evangelist declared that Christ dwelt among us, he meant to say, ‘He did not appear like the angel Gabriel, who came to Mary with God’s command and then soon departed from her; for angels do not tarry long in visiting humankind. Christ, however, remained with us according to his human nature, which was inseparably united with the divine since his incarnation.’ This is the article of faith which we Christians believe, which is our greatest consolation, and by means of which we become children of God.”

Luther expands on our identity as children of God: “That Jesus Christ is very God and very human, the only begotten Son of the Father, begotten of him in eternity, and born of the Virgin Mary in time, and that believers in him are redeemed from sin and all evil—this is our Christian faith. This alone makes us Christians. It makes us adopted sons of God, but not his natural children; for Christ, our Head, alone is the natural, true and only-begotten Son of God the Father. This gospel should be highly prized and regarded by us, as the holy fathers also regarded it. For whoever has the Son is free from trouble, for then he is a child of God.”

Luther emphasized the full humanity of Jesus but also his full divinity because as the church taught, only God can save. So Luther also underscores the difference between Jesus and the patriarchs, Moses and all the prophets who came before him. Commenting on verse 14 that cites the glory, grace and truth of the Word made flesh, Luther says, “In all ages there have been great men…for example there were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah and Elisha, all of whom proved by word and deed that they were friends and children of God. They were children of God, born of and from God the same as we. They proved themselves by word and deed; and the glory we perceive in them is divine, not physical and earthly. Nevertheless, they are in no respect comparable to the Word that became flesh.”

From these quotes, the centrality of the incarnation for Luther’s theology becomes clear. As I said in my newsletter article, the celebration of Christmas can easily become an exercise in taking the Lord’s name in vain as it winds up having nothing at all to do with Christ but instead becomes wrapped in and trapped in commercialism and sentimentalism. A dose of Luther though, helps to get past that as he never strays far from proclaiming that in Christ we have God in the flesh for our forgiveness, life and salvation. For him, that was the reason that Christmas was a joyous occasion. From his preaching, you get the idea that the wonder of the Word made flesh never ceased to amaze him. What bothered him was the fact that everyone didn’t find it as wondrous and amazing as he did.

On a quiet, cold Christmas morning it’s good that we take time and join Luther in wonder and amazement at the good news of the Word made flesh, good news that gives us the power to become children of God.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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