Unto You Is Born a Savior: An excerpt from Luther’s Christmas 1544 sermon

An excerpt from Luther’s Christmas 1544 sermon

It’s a marvel that we can “listen in” to Martin Luther’s own sermon on Luke 2, from Christmas 1544. Luther emphasizes two marvelous points: Christ took on our flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. And He did this “for you.” That’s all we need for a truly Merry Christmas. —Pastor Matthew C. Harrison

This highest work [Christ taking on our flesh and being born in Bethlehem] is done “for us and for our salvation”; as the angel sings: “Unto you is born ‹a Savior›” [Luke 2:11]. That the son of God becomes like us would be quite enough. But that is not all. Not only does He become flesh and blood, etc., but your Savior. You are subject to death, sin, and the devil. He wants to redeem you from them. Who will believe this? Ah, heavenly Father, You put Your Son at a maiden’s breast to nurse Him and then let Him be hung upon the cross to die — and all this takes place for our sakes. Who will not rejoice at this? Surely we would die of joy, if we [considered this] aright. But our flesh and the devil prevent it. That is our misery and sadness: that I read this and hear it preached that it is so; the prophets proclaim it; the angels preach; the shepherds spread the report that Christ has come and the angels sing; the apostles do miracles to attest it; and the holy Church still sings [about it]. But how is it that it does not penetrate us, so that we say: “The One who is like you is God the Creator; He nurses at the breast, and yet He is my God; and all this so that He might deliver me”? What a clod and stump am I, that I do not receive Him and acknowledge Him as my Savior? [God says,] “This Child was not given only to the mother so that she might supply Him with milk, but for you, so that He might die and deliver you from My wrath.” All this I hear preached and I read; I have it painted and sung for me, but I do not take it to heart. I go away as if I had been listening to a fable … Should I not think: “If this Child whom the mother embraces is mine, if He is my brother, how, then, should I respond?” It would be no wonder if we became righteous from the heart, even without any other teaching. But we should be warmed and even melt with joy. But the devil has poisoned our flesh and blood so that they will not allow us to attain that fruit and joy, where I hear: “This little Boy does not belong to the mother, but to you, not only as He clings to her … but also as He hangs upon the cross. It is most certain that He has been given and born for you.” Then the heart is warmed and says: “If this is true, then there is no ill so great that I would not endure it, even if I had to suffer still more. But on the contrary, [He suffers], and for the sake of the son, I should give eternal thanks from the heart, and my mouth and heart should overflow with joy.” That is what should happen, and it does happen among Christians, so that their eyes cry tears of joy. But the crude masses go their way and remain [unaffected]. That is a sign that you do not believe this work. Otherwise, you would reform yourself and rejoice. [If you want to know] how we have reformed ourselves, look at the greed and fornication. We continue in sin and shame, scraping and scratching. Oh, woe to those for whom this work seems to have been done in vain, men of iron who despise this work and let it be preached but do not take the work to heart, though it is [proclaimed] throughout the whole of Scripture. Let there be weeping and lamentation over those who receive no benefit from this, and no fruit of joy ensues.

[But] the dear holy angels sing: “Glory to God in the highest, [and on earth, peace,] goodwill!” [Luke 2:14]. “Goodwill” means [God’s] good pleasure and joy. God has not sent this work into the world with a grim countenance, with stormy brow. Rather, as [He says] at the Jordan: “This is My beloved Son” [Matt. 3:17]. All things laugh — the angels, the creatures — only the devil and the flesh do not. The angels are filled with joy, and the work has nothing to do with them. They had reason for being envious and sour. But these best of spirits sing: “Glory!” — [glory] for all the works of God, but especially for this one, as if to say, “Truly, the one who does such a thing, who sends His Son to cling to a maiden’s neck, and not only for the honor but also for the eternal salvation of mankind, such a one is God indeed!” That is grace, love, mercy indeed; for this He is worthy of praise. And this not only in heaven but also on earth; whatever lives and moves shall have peace, good days, and rest, and “goodwill to men.”

From Martin Luther, “Sermon for Christmas Vespers, (Luke 2[:8–14]),” in Luther’s Works: Sermons V, ed. Christopher Boyd Brown, trans. Christopher Boyd Brown, vol. 58 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 194–195.

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