A Greater Love for the Christmas Season

Commenting on @wellsprynge’s Vatican II post, I was reminded that I have a book, Great Sermons on the Birth of Christ by Celebrated Preachers (Smith, ed., 1963) which includes a Christmas Day sermon by Luther. Quite interesting but too long to post. (But if someone wants to ead it, I can scan as a pdf and link that.) Here is the editor’s brief biographical sketch of Luther.

Of Martin Luther, it is hardly necessary to say anything, so great is his reputation and so well-known the major facts of his life. He was born November 10, 1483, of parents who hoped he would give himself to the study of law, which he attempted, but with ever decreasing interest. He took his degrees in the regular course at the University of Erfurt and was graduated Master of Arts in 1505. At the age of twenty-two, Luther de­cided to become a monk, to the displeasure of his parents, and entered the Augustinian Monastery at Erfurt in July, 1505 carrying with him copies of Virgil and Plautos. Even while in the monastery, he was urged by his ecclesiastical superiors in 1515 to enter upon the work of preaching, which he did with great reluctance, but, as Dargan reminds us, “at once he began to realize the value of ·preaching, and the orator’s instinct within him was awakened so that he sometimes preached as many as four times a day.” This stood Luther in great stead in the days to come, and in the midst of the great Reformation ministry he insisted that preaching was the most important part of con­gregational worship.

More and more, Luther felt a repulsion in his soul against much that he saw in the Roman Catholic Church, and its ritual, and while still a monk, October 31, 1517, he nailed to the Church at Wittenberg, his epochal Ninety-Five Theses. In 1529, he issued his famous Catechisms, still the very bulwark of Lutheran theology, and in 1530, he published the great Confession of Faith. Luther was the author of some thirty-eight hymns, a minor mat­ter compared to the great task he so brilliantly performed, trans­lating the entire Bible from the Hebrew and Greek versions, finish­ing this task in 1534. The writings of Luther are so vast that the Weimar edition of his works in German occupies nearly 70,000 pages. His death occurred in 1546.

Luther’s love for the Word of God is a veritable synonym for his name. In his famous Table Talk, Luther said: “A theologian should be thoroughly in possession of the basis and source of faith -that is to say, the Holy Scriptures. Armed with this knowledge it was that I confounded and silenced all my adversaries; for they seek not to fathom and understand the Scriptures; they run over them negligently and drowsily; they speak, they write, they teach, according to the suggestion of their heedless imaginations. My counsel is, that we draw water from the true source and fountain, that is, that we diligently search the Scriptures. He who wholly possesses the text of the Biqle is a consummate divine.”

Luther had a greater love for the Christmas season than prob­ably any one of the great Reformers. It is estimated that he preached over sixty Christmas sermons, that have come down to us using a more or less complete text. Many of these appeared in English translation in the tenth volume of the writings of Luther, edited some sixty years ago by Dr. John N. Lenker. In this vol­ume alone are to be found over three hundred pages expounding the Nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke, some forty pages being given to the events connected with the visit to the Temple and the words of Simeon and Anna. Indeed, to the first twelve verses of the second chapter of Matthew, Luther devotes 125 pages of exposition with an elaborate outline logically arranging these 344 paragraphs. If, as Dargan has said, that “the great events and achievements of that mighty revolution, the Reforma­tion, were largely the work of preachers and preaching, so that the relation between the Reformation and preaching may be described as one of mutual dependence, aid, and guidance,” then of this new order of powerful preachers of the Word of God Luther stood first.