The Lord’s Regard

snow & trees

May you have a blessed Christmas Eve.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

— Luke 1:46-49, ESV.


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The Magnificat, by Martin Luther

Mary confesses that the foremost work God did for her was that He regarded her, which is indeed the greatest of His works, on which all the rest depend and from which they all derive.  For where it comes to pass that God turns His face toward one to regard him, there is nothing but grace and salvation, and all gifts and works must follow.  Thus we read in Genesis 4:4, 5 that He had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard.  Here is the origin of the many prayers in the Psalter—that God would lift up His countenance upon us, that He would not hide His countenance from us, that He would make His face shine upon us, and the like.  And that Mary herself regards this as the chief thing, she indicates by saying: “Behold, since He has regarded me, all generations will call me blessed.”

Note that she does not say men will speak all manner of good of her, praise her virtues, exalt her virginity or her humility, or sing of what she has done.  But for this one thing alone, that God regarded her, men will call her blessed.  That is to give all the glory to God as completely as it can be done.  Therefore she points to God’s regard and says: “For, behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.  That is, beginning with the time when God regarded my low estate, I shall be called blessed.”  Not she is praised thereby, but God’s grace toward her.  In fact, she is despised, and she despises herself in that she says her low estate was regarded by God.  Therefore she also mentions her blessedness before enumerating the works that God did to her, and ascribes it all to the fact that God regarded her low estate…

But for this one thing alone, that God regarded her, men will call her blessed.

Whoever, therefore, would show her the proper honor must not regard her alone and by herself, but set her in the presence of God and far beneath Him, must there strip her of all honor, and regard her low estate, as she says; he should then marvel at the exceedingly abundant grace of God, who regards, embraces, and blesses so poor and despised a mortal.  Thus regarding her, you will be moved to love and praise God for His grace, and drawn to look for all good things to Him, who does not reject but graciously regards poor and despised and lowly mortals.  Thus your heart will be strengthened in faith and love and hope.  What do you suppose would please her more than to have you come through her to God this way, and learn from her to put your hope and trust in Him, notwithstanding your despised and lowly estate, in life as well as in death?  She does not want you to come to her, but through her to God.

… who does not reject, but graciously regards poor and despised and lowly mortals.

Again, nothing would please her better than to have you turn in fear from all lofty things on which men set their hearts, seeing that even in His mother God neither found nor desired anything of high degree.  But the masters who so depict and portray the blessed Virgin that there is found in her nothing to be despised, but only great and lofty things—what are they doing but contrasting us with her instead of her with God?  Thus they make us timid and afraid and hide the Virgin’s comfortable picture, as the images are covered over in Lent.  For they deprive us of her example, from which we might take comfort; they make an exception of her and set her above all examples.  But she should be, and herself gladly would be, the foremost example of the grace of God, to incite all the world to trust in this grace and to love and praise it, so that through her the hearts of all men should be filled with such knowledge of God that they might confidently say: “O Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, what great comfort God has shown us in you, by so graciously regarding your unworthiness and low estate.  This encourages us to believe that henceforth He will not despise us poor and lowly ones, but graciously regard us also, according to your example.”

Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: “The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat.”
Concordia Publishing House, 1999, 1956, 321-322.
Emphasis in original.

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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?

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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.”

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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.

The First Christmas, on Facebook

Some might find the medium funny, but I found the message to still be touching.  The method of communication may change, but the message of Truth will never change.

The video is by Igniter Media.

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.

Ponder Now

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  — Luke 2:19.

Please take some time to ponder the reality of the Incarnation, the reality of the almighty eternal God as an infant in a manger, in the arms of a young maiden, in this world for us.

Merry Christmas!

St. Athanasius Quote

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.

— St. Athanasius (296-373 A.D.), Letter to Epictetus; quoted also by the Lutheran Reformers in the Catalog of Testimonies.