Saturday, December 24, 2005

Luther, Christmas, and Complacency

Do you find yourself a bit bored with Christmas? I don’t think many Christians would admit it. Of course, we all hate the secularization and mass marketing of a sacred holiday. But what about the spiritual nature of this holiday? If you’ve been a Christian for a long period of time, have you become so familiar with the story of Christ’s birth that you’re “just going through the motions”? You know, you “space out” during sermons about the birth of Christ, or you simply mouth the words to the “Christmas” hymns? This is unfortunately the way we are as humans. We tend to become complacent with what is very familiar to us.

Martin Luther enjoyed Christmas day with full vigor. The thoughts of Christ’s birth filled his mind the entire day. Luther though often commented about man’s inability to fully appreciate the joy of Christmas:

Ah, we poor people, to be so cold and sluggish in the face of the great joy that has clearly been prepared for us! This great benefaction exceeds by far all the other works of creation; and yet our faith in it is found to be so weak, although it is preached and sung to us by angels, who are heavenly theologians and who were so glad for our sake! Their song is very, very beautiful and describes the entire Christian religion. For giving glory to God in the highest heaven is the supreme worship. This they wish and bring us in the Christ."

Source: Ewald Plass (editor) What Luther Says Volume 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing house, 1959) 154..

Really, the story of Christ’s birth is an offense to sinful man. It is our sin nature that breeds complacency. Luther says sinful man “...cannot bear to have God speak to us in His majesty with countless thousands of angels.” To confound our sinfulness and ability to turn away from the praises of angels, God comes to us in Christ. Luther says,

God says: Now I shall hide my majesty most thoroughly, shall allow My Son to become man, born of a virgin; let Him do good to men and preach them the forgiveness of sins. He shall act in the kindest manner possible; only bear in mind that this man is the same God who spoke in the desert at Mount Sinai to the Children of Israel. Believe, therefore, that it is He whom you are hearing. He has hidden His majesty in humanity, does not appear with lightning, thunder, or angels, but as one born of a poor virgin and speaking with men of the forgiveness of sins. But this makes men mad and irrational, and they nail Him to the cross. What shall we do? If God were to come with His angels, no one could listen to Him. Now he says: I will come in a simple and humble form, in the person of a man; therefore believe Me now. But we want to hear Him still less and despise Him. We hold He should by all means come in majesty, and yet we are unable to bear Him in this form. This we cannot bear, and that we do not want to bear. When He comes as the son of a poor virgin we say: Alas, this is to be the Messiah?”

Source: Ewald Plass (editor) What Luther Says Volume 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing house, 1959) 154-155.

Stop for a few moments and try to be honest with your complacency this holiday season. Realize, it is the inherent sinfulness of man that not only secularizes this holiday, but also causes those of the faith to be a little….bored. The cure? For me, by stopping for a while, meditating on my sinful life and the holiness of God, provokes a deep joy for the birth of a perfect Savior. The thought of my sins in the light of the holiness of God terrifies. Luther's advice: stay with God as He has revealed Himself in the lowly Christ. The lowly Christ offers forgiveness and salvation, peace with God. These cannot be attained by works, but grasped by faith.

Indeed, the most important stories of our lives are the stories of salvation. If you're married, you probably tell the "story" of your "salvation from singleness." If you have a great job, you probably tell the "story" of your "salvation from poverty." If you have wonderful friends who've been there for you, you probably tell your "story" of "salvation from isolation." I believe the babe in the manger is a mighty savior who forgave all my sins. The story of Christ's birth becomes the most important story of my life. I never tire of telling about the things i've been saved from- If you're struggling with boredom of the story of the birth of Christ, perhaps it isn't your story yet.


kletois said...

I have to say that as I get older, both in age and in the faith, my mind dwells more and more on Christ during Christmas day.

James Swan said...

Hi kletois,

I've had a similar experience as well.

I am saddened though by those in my church that just seem to be "playing church." Now, I can't know their heart, but I often wonder what's going on inside them.