Merry Christmas 2017 A.D.


Christ always received worship and adoration from the angels, for He always was God.  Now they are adoring Him also as man.

— Blessed Theodoret,
Book of Concord, Catalog of Testimonies (632).

That the nature received from us is a participant in the same honor of Him who received it and that no difference in worship appears, but the divinity which is not seen is worshiped through the nature which is seen—this surpasses every miracle.

— Blessed Theodoret,
Book of Concord, Catalog of Testimonies (629).

Merry Christmas 2014


Merry Christmas!

On this day, it is my prayer that you were able to not only remember the incarnation of the Lord in word and song, but that you were also able to physically participate in His incarnation by eating His very Body and Blood.  (Luke 22:17-20).

But if you, like me, were not able to receive the Lord bodily, there can still be a real spiritual communion.  God gave Christ to Mary bodily, but to the shepherds by proclamation and sight.  God gives Christ to us in both Word and Sacrament.

Unto us is born a Savior!  He is Christ the Lord!  Merry Christmas to all!

Mild, he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

— “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” text by Charles Wesley.

Merry Christmas!

O Magnum Mysterium

O Great Mystery!
O Magnum Mysterium!

I especially appreciate the picture that starts at 3:45.  This song and these pictures are not emotionally bouncy or catchy, but they convey truth.  Deep truth.

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

Blessed fourth day of Christmas.

HT: Pastoral Meanderings.

Luther’s Sermon Guide for Christmas Eve 1521

“In the first place, notice how ordinarily and simply things take place on earth, and yet they are held in such high respect in heaven!  This is what takes place on earth: there is a poor, young woman, Mary, in Nazareth.  Nobody pays any attention to her, and she is considered to be one of the least significant inhabitants of the town.  Nobody realizes the great wonder she is carrying…

Then when they came to Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant, the most despised people, as the evangelist indicates.  They were obliged to make room for everybody, until they were shown into a stable and had to be satisfied to share with the animals a common hostel, a common table, a common room and bed!  At the same time many a rogue occupied the seat of honor in the inn and was treated as a gentleman.  Nobody notices or understands what God performs in the stable.  He permits the big houses and the expensive rooms to remain empty; he permits them to eat, to drink, and to be of good cheer, but this solace and this treasure is hidden from them.  Oh, what a dark night must have been over Bethlehem at that time that they did not see such a light!  Thus God indicates that he pays no attention at all to what the world is or has or can do, and on the other hand the world proves that it knows nothing at all of, and pays no attention to, what God is or has or does.  Behold, this is the first symbol wherewith Christ puts to shame the world and indicates that all of its doing, knowledge, and being are contemptible to us, that its greatest wisdom is in reality foolishness, that its best performance is wrongdoing, and that its greatest good is evil.  What did Bethlehem really have, when it had not Christ?  What do those have now, who at that time were well off?  And what do Mary and Joseph lack now, even though at that time they had no place to sleep comfortably during the night? …

But the birth itself was even more pitiful: nobody took pity on this young woman who was about to give birth for the first time; nobody took to heart the heaviness of her body; and nobody cared that she was in strange surroundings and did not have any of the things which a woman in childbirth needs.  Rather, she was there without anything ready, without light, without fire, in the middle of the night, alone in the darkness.  Nobody offered her any of the services which one naturally renders to pregnant women.  Everyone was drunk and roistering in the inn, a throng of guests from everywhere, and nobody bothered about this woman.  I suspect she did not expect to give birth so soon; otherwise she might have remained in Nazareth.…

Then there are some who express opinions concerning how this birth took place, claiming Mary was delivered of her child while she was praying, in great joy, before she became aware of it, without any pains.  I do not condemn these devotional considerations—perhaps they were devised for the benefit of simple-minded folk—but we must stay with the Gospel text which says she gave birth to him, and with the article of the creed which says “born of the Virgin Mary.”  There is no deception here, but, as the words indicate, it was a real birth.  Now we know, do we not, what the meaning of “to bear” is and how it happens.  The birth happened to her exactly as to other women, consciously with her mind functioning normally and with the parts of her body helping along, as is proper at the time of birth, in order that she should be his normal natural mother and he her natural normal son.  For this reason her body did not abandon its natural functions which belong to childbirth, except that she gave birth without sin, without shame, without pain, and without injury, just as she had conceived without sin.  The curse of Eve, which reads: “In pain you shall bear your children” {[Gen. 3:16], “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing”}, did not apply to her.  In other respects things happened to her exactly as they happen to any woman giving birth.  For grace does not destroy or impede nature and nature’s works; indeed, grace improves and promotes them…

I am talking about this so that we may have a foundation for our faith and that we let Christ be a natural human being, in every respect exactly as we are.  Nor must we put him in a separate category as far as nature is concerned except where sin and grace are involved…

Therefore whatever is not contrary to grace should in no way be subtracted from his and his mother’s nature.  The text clearly states and declares that she bore him, and that “he is born” is also proclaimed by the angels.

How could God have demonstrated his goodness more powerfully than by stepping down so deep into flesh and blood, that he does not despise that which is kept secret by nature, but honors nature to the highest degree exactly where it was brought into shame to the highest degree in Adam and Eve?


But what is taking place in heaven because of this birth?  Even as it is disregarded on earth, it is highly honored in heaven, and indeed a thousand times more.  Suppose an angel from heaven praised you and your works, would you not consider it greater than the praise and honor of all the world?  You would feel you could not bear enough humbleness and contempt for it.  Now, what sort of honor is it that all the angels in heaven cannot contain themselves for joy, that they burst forth giving poor shepherds in the field a chance to hear them, that they preach, praise, sing, and pour out their joy beyond measure?  Can the joy and honor of all the people of Bethlehem, indeed that of all kings and lords on the earth, be compared to this joy and honor?…  Behold, how richly God honors those who are despised and apt to be despised of men!

Here you see where his eyes are turned: into the depths and low places, as it is written: “He sits above the Cherubim and looks into the depth or the abyss.”  Then, too, the angels could not find any princes or potentates, but only unlearned lay people and the lowliest of all the folk on earth.  Could they not have addressed the high priests and the learned men of Jerusalem?  After all, they talk a lot about God and the angels.  No, poor shepherds, who were nothing on earth, had to be worthy to receive such great grace and honor in heaven.  How completely does God spurn that which is high!  And we only strive madly and frantically after vain heights … again and again we step out of God’s horizon, so that he might not see us in the depths, the only place where he looks…

As we see, it is the nature of the divine words to teach us to understand God and his works; their aim is to show us that this life is nothing.  Since he does not live in accordance with this life and does not own goods, honor, and power of this temporal life, he has no regard for them and he does not speak of them, but teaches only the reverse, and acts “foolishly”: he looks at that from which the world turns away, teaches those things from which the world flees, picks up what the world casts aside.  And although we do not like going along with such actions of God and do not wish to give up goods, honor, and life in this manner, yet that is how it must be.  For it cannot be changed; God teaches and acts in no other manner.  We must take our direction from him; he will not take his direction from us.

Also, whoever disregards his word, his deed—the nativity—and his consolation, certainly has no good sign of salvation in him.  How could God have demonstrated more pleasantly that he is gracious to all those who are lowly and despised on earth than by this lowly birth, from which the angels derive joy and which he reveals to none but the poor shepherds?

Now let us see what sort of mysteries, hidden things, are presented to us in this story.  Generally speaking, there are two matters which are expressed in all mysteries—the gospel and the faith, i.e., what one is to preach, and what one is to believe, and who are to be the preachers and who are to be the hearers.  Let us have a look at these two matters.

The First Matter

The first matter is the faith which is truly to be perceived in all the words of God.  This faith does not merely consist in believing that this story is true, as it is written.  For that does not avail anything, because everyone, even the damned, believe that.  Concerning faith, Scripture and God’s word do not teach that it is a natural work, without grace.  Rather the faith that is the right one, rich in grace, demanded by God’s word and deed, is that you firmly believe Christ is born for you and that his birth is yours, and come to pass for your benefit.  For the Gospel teaches that Christ was born for our sake and that he did everything and suffered all things for our sake, just as the angel says here:  “I announce to you a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:10–11].  From these words you see clearly that he was born for us.

He does not simply say: “Christ is born,” but: “for you is he born.”  Again, he does not say: “I announce a joy,” but: “to you do I announce a great joy.”  Again, this joy will not remain in Christ, but is for all people.  A damned or a wicked man does not have this faith, nor can he have it.  For the right foundation of all salvation which unites Christ and the believing heart in this manner is that everything they have individually becomes something they hold in common.  What is it that they have?

Christ has a pure, innocent, holy birth.  Man has an impure, sinful, damned birth, as David says in Psalm 51[:5]: “Behold, in sin am I fashioned in the womb, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  There is no remedy for this except through the pure birth of Christ.  Now the birth of Christ cannot be distributed physically, even as that would not be of any help either.  For this reason it is distributed spiritually, by means of the word, to everyone, as the angel says, so that all who firmly believe that it is given to them in this manner shall not be harmed by their impure birth; this is the manner and means to become cleansed from the stain of the birth we have from miserable Adam.  Christ willed to be born so that we might be born in different manner, as he says in John 3[:3–6].  This happens through that faith, as James 1[:18] says: “He has born us of his own will through his word of truth, so that we begin to be his new creation.”

In this manner Christ takes to himself our birth and absorbs it in his birth; he presents us with his birth so that we become pure and new in it, as if it were our own, so that every Christian might rejoice in this birth of Christ and glory in it no less than if he, too, like Christ, had been born bodily of Mary.  Whoever does not believe this or has doubts about it, is not a Christian.

This is the great joy, of which the angel speaks, this is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man (if he has this faith) may boast of such treasure as that Mary is his real mother, Christ his brother, and God his father.  For these things are, all of them, true …  ****

[The Second Matter]

The second mystery or hidden teaching is that in the church nothing other than the gospel shall be preached.  Now the gospel teaches only the two previous things, Christ and his example, two kinds of good works: one kind belonging to Christ, by means of which we in faith, attain salvation, the other kind belonging to us, by means of which our neighbor is helped.  Whoever teaches differently from the gospel, he misleads, and whoever does not teach the gospel in accordance with these two parts, he misleads even more and is worse than he who teaches without the gospel, because he desecrates and corrupts the word of God, as St. Paul complains about some [II Cor. 2:17; 4:2].  Now nature by itself could not have discovered such teaching, nor can the intelligence, reason, and wisdom of all men devise it…

This is brought out in the first place in this, that it was not one human being who announced to another this birth of Christ, but it was an angel who came from heaven and announced to the shepherds this birth of Christ.  No human being knew a thing about it.  In the second place, midnight, at which time Christ was born, has a meaning, namely, that all the world is in darkness at his advent and that reason is unable to recognize Christ.  There must be a revelation from heaven.  In the third place, the light which shone around the shepherds is meant to teach that there is needed here a light entirely different from any natural reason.  St. Luke speaks here of gloria dei, the glory of God shone about them.  He calls this light a gloria or honor of God.  Why does he do this?  In order to touch on the mystery and to indicate the nature of the gospel.

Since the gospel is a heavenly light, teaching nothing but Christ in whom God’s grace is given us and our doing is summarily rejected, it raises up only the honor of God so that henceforth nobody can boast of a single capability, but is obliged to give honor to God and to leave the glory to him, so that it is purely through his love and goodness that we are saved through Christ.”


Glory to God in the highest, for “these things are, all of them, true.”

— Luther, Martin: Luther’s Works, Vol. 52: Sermons II, Church Postil. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1974, S. 52: iii-19.

“Where Shepherds Lately Knelt”

Where shepherds lately knelt and kept the angel’s word,
I come in half-belief, a pilgrim strangely stirred;
But there is room and welcome there for me,
But there is room and welcome there for me.

In that unlikely place I find him as they said:
Sweet newborn Babe, how frail!  And in a manger bed:
A still, small voice to cry one day for me,
A still, small voice to cry one day for me.

How should I not have known Isaiah would be there,
His prophecies fulfilled?  With pounding heart I stare:
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me,
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me.

Can I, will I forget how Love was born, and burned
It’s way into my heart—unasked, unforced, unearned,
To die, to live, and not alone for me,
To die, to live, and not alone for me?

— “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt,”
Lutheran Service Book, 369.

HT: Pastoral Meanderings.

The “Catalog of Testimonies” and Advent

The “Catalog of Testimonies” was appended to the Book of Concord to show that the Lutheran doctrine was not invented in the 1500s.

A person will easily recognize that when these doctrines are taught in the Book of Concord nothing new has been introduced, either in the doctrinal issues themselves, or in phrases and ways of speaking.  We have spoken and taught about these mysteries, first of all, just as Holy Scripture does, and also as the ancient, pure Church did.  [Catalog of Testimonies: To the Christian Reader].

Because these testimonies of “the ancient, pure Church” relate primarily to the natures of Christ they make excellent Advent meditations.  They also help to explain why Christians view the Lord’s Supper as an integral part of the Christmas celebration:

Christ always received worship and adoration from the angels, for He always was God.  Now they are adoring Him also as man.  [Theodoret, 632].


In regard to the flesh the Father has commanded, “Let all God’s angels worship Him.”  [Chrysostom, 631].


The Word did not become flesh in order to add to divinity.  In order that flesh might rise up, He came forth from Mary, not that the Word might become better.  There was a great addition to the human body from communion and union with the Word.  [Athanasius, 628].


The Word that became man did not confer a partial grace on the received [human] nature; rather, it pleased God that the whole fullness of Deity dwelt in it.  [Theodoret, 639].


… the divinity which is not seen is worshiped through the nature which is seen—this surpasses every miracle.  [Theodoret, 629].


Because the Savior’s flesh was joined to the Word of God, who is by nature Life, it was made life-giving.  [Cyril, 640].

The Word became one of us, and said, “This is my body given for you,” and thereby he puts his word, his body, his blood: his very life into us.  (John 1:14, Luke 22:19).

May you have a blessed Advent and Christmas.

Notes:  All page citations and translations are from Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.

Virgin Mary.

This is the Magnificat by the holy Virgin Mary as recorded in Luke 1:46-55 (NIV).  It received its name from the first line which is often translated: “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  Mary sang this paean after the Almighty God became incarnate inside her.  Every time we receive the Lord’s Supper, we receive the incarnate body of Almighty God in us.  May our souls, like Mary’s, magnify the Lord in response to His great gift.