Unto us a Child is born…

Senior Pastor Marcus MackayIt was Christmas of 1532. The Peace of Nuremberg had just been signed in June, halting conflict between the Catholics and Protestants and uniting them against the Ottoman Turks who were threatening Hungary. We know from history that this peace would not last. In August, the German Lutherans mourned the death of Elector Johann, who suffered a stroke while at his hunting castle. At his funeral service, Luther praised him for his courage in signing the Augsburg Confession back in 1530. Who would fill such large shoes? Regardless, surely all of these events and future concerns weighed heavily on Luther’s mind and heart!
But Christmas came as it always does. Luther scheduled himself for a rigorous preaching schedule: five sermons in four consecutive days. Beginning Christmas Eve in the parish church, Luther preached on the Festival of Christ’s Nativity, culminating on December 27th, the Day of St. John the Evangelist. His text for all five sermons was Isaiah 9:1-7
1But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
In the midst of national security issues, the death of a great leader and so many uncertainties, Luther did not waver in his concern for his flock’s clear, unwavering and objective faith. I suppose he could have appealed to their felt needs or cultural responsibilities, but the Festival of Christ’s Nativity was all about simple faith which justifies us poor sinners. It was about a God who took on human flesh to wallow in the trenches of this life. This simple faith always has and holds as its direct object the person and work of Jesus Christ. While Christmas has many cultural traditions (for us: Santa, elves, reindeer, etc), a Christian should primarily begin their focus elsewhere. In his introduction to his sermon series, Luther writes:
People are presently celebrating the beautiful and delightful festival of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is fitting indeed for us to celebrate God’s glorious grace with a truly wonderful festival and to ponder it well, so that the article in which we confess and pray in our Christian faith, I believe in Jesus Christ conceived of the Holy Ghost born of the Virgin Mary, may be remembered not just within Christendom, but also that distressed sorrowful hearts everywhere might find comfort and be strengthened over against the devil and every misfortune.
We celebrate this festival, first, because of what we confess in the Creed. For it is a great, unspeakable endowment that we have in faith to regard this as God’s consummate wisdom that He, who created heaven and earth, is born of a virgin. Among Jews and Gentiles this has been judged as particularly foolish proclamation, when first it was preached to the world. It was considered too absurd, just as today still so very many regard it too ridiculous that sublime, divine majesty, God himself, should not lower Himself so deeply, not only to create, nourish, and sustain mankind, but also Himself to become a man. To sum, up, human reason does not understand it; the devil, the world, and human reason object to it, exclaiming NOTHING MORE FOOLISH HAS EVER BEEN FOISTED ON PEOPLE IN THE WORLD! For this reason, we must diligently preach and study this article, so that we become well versed in and strengthened by it, in no way entertaining any doubts about it, but becoming ever more sure that God sent His Son in the world, to become man and be born of a woman. For this is solely the gift and wisdom belonging to us who are Christians, that we are able to say that no greater wisdom, no more sublime truth, has appeared in the world than that God, who created heaven and earth, was born of a virgin, that He, therefore, has such members as eyes, ears, hands, and feet, body and soul, just like any other human being. Indeed, it is ridiculous to human reason; but we celebrate this festival in order to become firmly persuaded of it and entertain no doubts about it.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ at Advent Lutheran Church: God is not a God of doubt, but a God of certainty! With Luther and the many faithful Christians who have come before us, we celebrate the Festival of the Nativity with many events and situations upon our mind and heart. But for us who walk in darkness and dwell in land of darkness, a light has shone. Christ, the light of the world has come! Incarnated . . . becoming human . . . like you . . . for you.
For Luther and his beloved flock, the Lord also provided a new leader, Elector Johann Frederick I. At the young age of twenty-nine, he succeeded his father and became even more Lutheran in his policies than his father! Thus, in the midst of change, the Lord yet provided. Luther and those who gladly received the Word in his many sermons believed and found comfort in such simple, yet profound truth. Let us thus keep this Festival of Christ’s Nativity in sincerity and truth, gathering with our family and loved ones here at Advent to receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. I am blessed to receive these gifts with you as your new Pastor and serve you in like manner.
Unto us a child is born . . . unto us a Son is given . . . a blessed Christmastide to all of you,
Pastor Mackay