Christmas and Ordinary Life

By Pastor Bill – As we draw near to another celebration of Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation of God, I want to address an often-overlooked aspect of the event:  How the Incarnation frames 849_Baby_Maryour everyday ordinary life. Last Sunday in my Reformation 201 class, we read some excerpts from Luther’s Christmas sermons. Luther beautifully connects the incarnation to temporal life—our work, play, physical needs, the earth, marriage, relationships, parenting, etc.  In essence, Luther see Christmas as the coming together of the sacred and the secular.  In one place, Luther states that God, in the event of the Incarnation, “assumes the closest union imaginable with the believer.”  This union is the “greatest work of all works and the most exalted of all miracles.”[1] Luther beautifully celebrates the significance of this greatest of miracles in many ways, but what strikes me in particular is how his understanding of the incarnation enabled him to embrace ordinary life as holy and precious.  In his day, withdrawing from ordinary life, marriage, parenthood, bodily needs, secular work, etc. was seen as the most holy of endeavors. The temporal or physical was generally seen as bad and the spiritual good.  For Luther, God taking on humanity shows us that ordinary temporal life is good and cannot be separated from the spiritual.  The two cannot be separated just as the two natures of Christ cannot be separated.   Christmas opens our eyes to see that ordinary life and work is not only good but also the highest calling and where God dwells.  Below I have condensed one of Luther’s sermons where he preaches on this subject.  Hope you enjoy it.  Hope that Christmas this year can bring home the good news that our ordinary everyday life is indeed holy and exactly where God works and meets us!

In Proverbs 8:31, Solomon speaks about the wisdom of God, that is, Christ the Lord: Luther“Playing in His inhabited world, and My delight was with the sons of men.” That is to say: “This is the character of My kingdom: I like to play upon the earth. I have My joy in human beings, so that when I am with them I am happy to be around them. I like to have them around Me, and I, therefore, play with them, and the government of My Word is a joyful game. I am cheerful with them.”  The opposite are those wild goats like the monks and nuns who supposed that a godly life was a matter of avoiding people, looking sour, and being of no use or comfort to anyone. And they thought it was not possible to be saved in the world; one must abandon the world, for secular life has sorrow. Therefore, they thought: “If I am to serve God, I must go into the desert, or into a monastery and look sour; I will look at no one; I will meet with no one.” And there they meditate upon salvation. What a blessed work that is! That is not avoiding hell, but running into it. God did not create us for this, but that we should live in community with one another: husband, wife, children and progeny, servants, rulers, subjects. There, governance is required. “Yes,” you say, “but I want nothing to do with that. That is secular or diabolical.” How can it be diabolical to dwell among human beings, to govern, teach, and administer the Sacraments? Is God not present where the preacher is, where the Church and the devils rage against each other? Why, then, do you run away, saying that you cannot be saved there? “I must go into the desert.”

peanutsOn the contrary, take heed that you live with human beings, whether in the Church, the state, or the household. That is where you should be found, so that you may gladly be around people. If you like, take on the governance of the Church, the state, the household; govern your home and do so gladly. … God did not create us to separate from one another, but to gather and remain together, etc. That is why He established government—not so that a wife should separate from her husband, or children from their parents, or a master from his household; instead, God has ordained the opposite.

What is God doing? In brief, God wants to be with us and to be kind and helpful, comforting, so that we also come to Him, receiving His kindness and not despising it. Here He lies in the manger in the form of a boy, “A little Child so praiseworthy,” at His mother’s breast. He does this so that one might know that He loves humankind, willingly wants to dwell among us for our salvation. … And so that no greater “lover of humanity” could be imagined, He ministers to the people, helps them. … He likes to have people around Him, even the frail, as long as they acknowledge themselves to be frail—The “philanthropy” of God—that God loves humanity—cannot be fully expressed; He wants to be with His own people, but in such a way that they can bear it. He lies in the manger; His mother sits nearby as a poor maiden. Joseph and the shepherds find Him, and He freely lets Himself be found. Likewise, afterward, He wants to stay with us upon the cross. God’s Son Himself comes, places Himself in the manger, and wants to be with us, as one who loves human beings, those who have crushed hearts. So in truth He has done.[2]

[1] Brecht, M. (1999). Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532–1546. (J. L. Schaaf, Trans.) (p. 140). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

[2] Luther, M. (2010). Afternoon Sermon for St. Stephen’s Day, Titus 3 [:4–5]. In C. B. Brown (Ed.), M. E. DeGarmeaux (Trans.), Luther’s Works: Sermons V (Vol. 58, p. 201). Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

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