Martin Luther’s Nativity Sermon
Translated by Roland Bainton
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Wilmington NC
December 24, 2019
Delivered by Pastor Mark Opgrand
My dear friends in Christ.
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am sure you noticed the cover of our bulletin tonight. Some of you may have recognized right away that it depicts Martin Luther celebrating Christmas with his family probably around the year 1525 or 30.
A Christmas tree is in the background …along with food on the table. The children seem to have just finished singing a carol …with their father accompanying them on a lute. Katie Luther holds the youngest.
You can also see figures in the doorway, and that’s because Luther always had students living with the family in his converted monastery in Wittenberg … and it was always … an open house.
Now the reason for this cover tonight is that we have once again…. an opportunity to hear Martin Luther’s Christmas Eve Nativity sermon … first preached …. by Martin Luther (himself) in 1543.
Those who have read it or heard it before have been deeply moved at his insights and certainly by his passion for the proclamation of the Christmas gospel.
I will not be delivering it in the original German… or with a German accent, but just so you remember these will be Luther’s words, (and not mine) I am going to put on my “Martin Luther” hat… and cover my alb with a Martin Luther style cassock.
So, with no further ado … from the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther…in 1543 … (his Christmas sermon)
“Oh, how quietly and simply… do those events take place on earth … that are so heralded in heaven. On earth … it happened this way.
There was a poor young wife, … Mary of Nazareth, among the meanest dwellers of the town, so little esteemed … that no one noticed the great wonder … that she carried. She was silent,… did not vaunt (flaunt) herself, but served her husband, …who had no manservant or maid.
They simply left the house. Perhaps they had a donkey for Mary to ride upon, though the gospels say nothing about it and we may believe …that she went on foot.
Think of how she was treated in the inns on the way, she who might well have been taken ….in a golden carriage…with gorgeous accessories!
How many great ladies and their daughters there… at that time … were living in luxury, while the mother of God, on foot, …in midwinter … trudged her weight… across the fields.
How unequal it all was! The journey was certainly more than a day from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem … which lies on the farther side of Jerusalem.
Joseph had thought, …“When we get to Bethlehem, we shall be among relatives… and can borrow everything.”
A fine idea that was!
Bad enough … that a young bride married only a year could not have had her baby at Nazareth … in her own house instead of making all that journey of three days … when heavy with child!
How much worse ….that when she arrived ….there was no room for her!
The inn …was full.
No one would release a room … to this pregnant woman. She had to go to a cow stall …and there …bring forth … the maker of all creatures … because nobody …would give way.
“And so it was, … that while they were there, she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes,… and laid him in a manger.
Meanwhile… many cutthroats lounged like lords in the inn. They did not recognize … what God was doing in the stable. With all their eating, drinking, and finery, God ..left … them …empty, and this comfort and treasure …was hidden from them.
Oh, what a dark night it was in Bethlehem that this light should not have been seen. Thus God shows… that he has no regard for what the world is ..and has ..and does.
And the world shows that it does not know ..or consider …what God is ..and has ..and does. Joseph had to do his best, … and it may well be that he asked some maid to fetch water … or something else, but we do not read … that any… came to help. They heard that a young wife was lying in a cow stall … and no one gave heed.
Shame on you, wretched Bethlehem!
The inn ought to have been burned with brimstone … for even though Mary had been a beggar maid … or unwed, anybody at such a time … should have been glad … to give her a hand.
Now there are … many of you …in the congregation … who think to yourselves: “If only …I … had been there! How quick I would have been … to help the Baby! I would have washed his linen. How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds … to see the Lord lying in the manger!”
Yes, you would!
You say that .. because you know …how great Christ is, but if ..you have been there ..at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Childish and silly thoughts are these!
Why … don’t … you … do … it … now?
You have Christ in .. your neighbor. You ought … to serve him, for what you do … to your neighbor in need … you do to the Lord Christ himself. (pause… sigh)
The birth was still more pitiable. There she was … without preparation: no light, no fire, in the dead of night, in thick darkness. No one came … to give the customary assistance.
She “wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger.” Why not in a cradle,.. on a bench, or on the ground? Because they had no cradle, ..bench,.. table,.. board, … nor anything whatever… except the manger of the oxen.
That… was the first throne … of this king. There in a stable, without man or maid, lay the Creator of all the world. And there …was the maid of fifteen years bringing forth her first-born without water, fire, light, or pan.
This …. is a sight for tears!
What ..Mary and Joseph did next, ..nobody knows. The scholars say.. they adored. They must have marveled .. that this Child was the Son of God. He was also.. a real human being.
Those who say Mary was not a real mother … lose all the joy. He was a true baby, with flesh, blood, hands and legs. He slept, cried, and did everything else that a baby does (…. only without sin)
Think … women, there was no one there …to bathe the baby. No warm water,… nor even cold. No fire,.. no light. The mother was herself …midwife and maid. The cold manger … was the bed and the bathtub.
Who showed the poor girl .. what to do? She had never had a baby before. I am amazed …that the little one …did not freeze!
But do not make of Mary … a stone. It must have gone straight to her heart … that she was so abandoned.
She was flesh and blood … and must have felt miserable … and Joseph, too … that she was left in this way,… all alone, …with no one.. to help, in a strange land ..in the middle of winter.
Her eyes were moist,.. even though she was happy and aware… that the baby was God’s son and the savior of the world.
She was not stone. For the higher people are … in the favor of God,… the more tender are they.
Mary was not only holy. She was also .. the mother of the Lord. So, …with trembling ..and reverence … before nestling him to herself, she laid him down, because her faith said to her, “He will be “the son of the highest.”
No one else on earth …had this faith … not even Joseph, for although he had been informed by the angel … the word did not go to his heart … as to the heart of Mary, the mother.
Let us then, meditate upon the Nativity just as we see it happening … in our own babies. I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, … the majesty of Christ, …but rather his flesh.
Look upon … the Baby Jesus. Divinity …may terrify people. Inexpressible majesty … will crush them. That is why Christ took on our humanity, …except for sin, that he should not … terrify us … but rather .. that with love and favor … he should console and confirm.
Behold Christ lying in the lap of his young mother, …still a virgin. What can be sweeter that the Babe …what more lovely than the mother! What fairer …than her youth! Look at the Child,… knowing nothing.
Yet all that is… belongs to him,… in order that your conscience should not fear but take comfort in him. Doubt nothing, my friends. Watch him …springing …in the lap of the maiden. Laugh with him.
Look upon this Lord of Peace …and your spirit will be at peace. See how God invites you .. in so many ways. God places before you … a baby with whom you may take refuge. You cannot fear him … for nothing is more appealing to people than a baby.
Are you afraid?
Then come to him … lying in the lap of the fairest and sweetest maid. You .. will .. see how great is the divine goodness, which seeks above all else …that you .. should not despair.
Trust him! .. Trust him! …Here is the Child in whom is salvation.
To me there is no greater consolation … given to humanity than this: that Christ became human, …a child,… a baby … playing in the lap …and at the breast of his most gracious mother.
Who is there … whom this sight …would not comfort? For now … through his birth … is overcome all the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt… all this … if you come to this gurgling Babe and simply believe …that he is come …. not to judge you … but to save you.. not to judge you… but to save you… !”
(Take off hat and robe).
and with that…. on behalf of Martin Luther and alI preachers…tonight… .I wish you all a …very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year…whether it be … 1544… or 2020!