Luther on Christmas

“He lies in the manger. Look at this so that you may be certain that only Christ is to be preached in all the world. What else is the manger than the gathering of the Christian people in church to listen to the sermon? We are the animals that go with this manger. There Christ is placed before us, and with this food we are to feed our souls, that is, lead them to the sermon. He who goes to listen to a sermon, goes to this manger, but the sermons must deal with Christ. For not all mangers hold Christ and not all sermons teach the faith. Notice there was only one manger in Bethlehem in which this treasure lay, and it was, in addition, an unused, despised manger which at other times contained no fodder. Thus the preaching of the gospel is free of all other things; it has Christ and teaches only him.” (Luther’s Works 53:22-23).

“Eternal death and God’s wrath take us by the throat; we are never at peace but constantly plagued in body and soul here on earth, making it an enormous, woeful, fear-ridden kingdom of the devil. If we rightly think about it, however, such pitiful, heart-rending calamity in no way compares with the glory of this precious treasure and joy of a Savior. . . . And with this message the angel wants earnestly to divert our eyes and hearts from our devil-induced grief and sorry condition to this child. . . . When this joyous image reigns in a person’s heart, then the evil launched by the devil becomes as nothing, though indeed always still very real and damaging. Whoever, therefore, desires to . . . be safe from the devil’s poison . . . must rivet his attention on these wonderfully comforting words. . . ‘unto you a Savior is born’” (Luther’s House Postils, ed. E. Klug (Baker, 1996) 1.110-111).

“The prophet Isaiah … says that the child who is born to us and the son who is given to us is a Lord, but his government lies on his shoulder. . . . Who can really understand this? To have a government . . . on the shoulder? . . . That has to be an amazing and truly extraordinary Lord, to carry his government up around his neck. . . . Isaiah wants it . . . to be understood that this . . . is a government altogether different from that of this world. . . . The person subject to secular government is not borne by his rulers; but he must . . . be supportive of his rulers. . . . In the kingdom of Christ this King . . . bears us . . . We and all who believe in him are his government. . . . Exactly where are Christ’s government and his kingdom? “On his shoulder,” says Isaiah. It is unprecedented that Christ’s . . . people do not lie under his feet . . . but lie on his shoulder. In my dialectics I cannot define . . . the Christian church as well as the prophet Isaiah does here with such few words . . . . If you want to find the Christian church, you will never find it where you do not see Christians resting upon Christ’s shoulder. . . . For no one is a Christian unless he lies on Christ’s shoulder . . . and is carried by him, just as a strayed, lost sheep is carried by its shepherd. A real Christian believes that he is carried on Christ’s shoulders, that . . . all his sins lie on Christ’s shoulders. . . . Christ must carry us, must make payment and satisfaction for our sins, or we are lost. He had to suffer on the cross for us, and he must still constantly carry us and bear with us. We cannot and dare not carry him; he must carry us. In no way can we help him pay off our debt. . . . Some, however, do not want to be born by Christ; instead they bear Christ. . . . In their thinking they believe they are to live in this or that manner, do enough to pay for their sins and appease God’s anger. But that sort of carrying is contradictory. If . . . you try to bear Christ, that will be a very heavy load. . . . Obviously you would be crushed by the load. . . . Christ speaks to a poor sinner in this manner: ‘You are conceived and born in sin, you have angered God by many sins and are condemned to death; but you are not to suffer anguish on account of this, for your sins are forgiven you; simply lie on my shoulder; I want to carry you before God. . . .’ Unfortunately most people in the world do not only not accept this preaching but despise and disdain it. . . . But let us receive this preaching, thank God for it, and be confident that Christ will intercede for and give answer for us, so that our sins will not accuse and condemn us before God” (Luther’s House Postils, ed. Klug III.224-8).

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