My Sisters and Brothers in Christ at St. John’s,
I have a lot of old books. It is an occupational hazard of sorts, pastor’s collect many books. New pastors quickly learn how to graciously refuse books from retiring colleagues they do not want. I however enjoy digging through old collections of books to find the classic commentaries and writings from well known theologians, but you have to be willing to sort through a lot of outdated and musty books. Sometimes you stumble across the same thing over and over again, such as Martin Luther’s Christmas sermon “The Story of the Birth of Jesus and the Angel’s Song “.
This is one of Luther’s most famous sermons and it has been reprinted in many different books and collections. It was first translated into English and published in 1906 in volume 11 of The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, published by the long gone Lutheran publishing house All Land’s Press. Perhaps the sermon gained such fame when it was included in the classic Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, first published in 1948 (and its 2017 edition was the second bestselling book at our Reformation Book Fare). In this sermon, Luther captures the calling of Christmas for all, as translated in The Sermons of Martin Luther: vol. 1, published buy Baker Book House of Grand Rapids in 1988, page 138-9.
“The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord…There was no one to take pity on this young wife who was for the first time to give birth to a child; no one to take to heart her condition that she, a stranger, did not have the least thing a mother needs in a birth-night. There she is without any preparation, without either light or fire, alone in the darkness… There are many of you in this 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 had 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 you neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself.”
Luther makes the Christian mission clear; we are to serve Christ by serving our neighbor. After all that is where Christ dwells. This doesn’t mean helping the neighbors we like, or the ones who are like us, but our neighbors huddling for warmth in a doorway, our neighbors living in their cars, our neighbors trying to keep their needs out of site. As Christ was born to a couple relegated to a barn, Christ continues to show up in our neighbors in need. May we recognize Christ in our neighbors, and serve him there.
Yours in Christ,