Luther, Corporate Mottos, and Christmas
Martin Luther is best known for things like the 95 Thesis, translating most of the Bible into German, writing commentaries on Romans and Galatians, penning the hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God. But did you know that Luther was regarded as a great lover of the Christmas season? Many allege him to be responsible for introducing the concept of decorating a Christmas tree. Legend has it, Luther was walking home one evening close to Christmas, when he saw a beautiful fir tree. He was so overcome by it, he rushed home to tell others, only to find himself unable to adequately describe its beauty. He went and chopped down a smaller version of it, and then decorated it to resemble what he saw. Shortly thereafter, he incorporated it into his Christmas practice to remind him of the beauty of God’s gift to sinners. The extent to which this story is true is debatable, but we do know Luther’s affection for Christmas was great, because he preached and then published over a hundred Christmas sermons. Why such an emphasis on Christmas? On December 24th, 1532, in a sermon on Isaiah 9 Luther commented …
People are presently celebrating the beautiful and delightful festival of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is fitting, indeed, for us to celebrate God’s glorious grace with a truly wonderful festival and to ponder it well . . . [Why? Luther implicitly asked . . . So that the promise of the Gospel may be] remembered . . . [and then] distressed, sorrowful hearts everywhere might find comfort and be strengthened over against the devil and every misfortune.
Luther loved Christmas because of the facts undergirding it—man is in great need, and yet God has made and fulfilled great promises in Christ, bringing salvation to sinners. However, just like in Luther’s time, many today are trying to change the message of Christmas to something that is tastefully decorated with materialism, corporate mottos, and nicely-packaged socially-acceptable morals. According to this secular message of Christmas, what is of chief importance are the experiences we create, not the facts we proclaim, and the presents we get, not the gift God has given. However, the Christian faith gives a very different declaration concerning Christmas. It declares the facts about mankind’s fallen state, and what God has promised in the Gospel. Christianity focuses Christmas on the person and work of Christ, who brings comfort to the afflicted, hope to the downcast, and help to the oppressed. It proclaims God’s promise to give a savior for his lost people.
If you want to know what the world thinks the message of Christmas is, just look at the advertisements during this time of the year. One popular company says, “Believe,” and in one sense this is accurate. Christmas is about believing, but the question is, ‘believe in what or whom?’ In 1524 Luther wrote one of his Christmas hymns entitled All Praise to Thee, Eternal Lord. We will sing it this Sunday. In it, Luther focuses our attention on ‘the one in whom we are to believe’—Jesus Christ. Using wonderfully crafted stanzas, Luther leads us to consider both the divinity and humanity of the Savior. He causes us to reflect upon the purpose of Christ’s work and our appropriate response to it.
All praise to Thee, Eternal Lord, Clothed in a garb of flesh and blood; Choosing a manger for Thy throne, While worlds on worlds are Thine alone.
Once did the skies before Thee bow; A virgin’s arms contain Thee now, While angels, who in Thee rejoice, Now listen for Thine infant voice.
A little Child, Thou art our Guest, That weary ones in Thee may rest; Forlorn and lowly is Thy birth; That we may rise to heaven from earth.
Thou comest in the darksome night To make us children of the light; To make us, in the realms divine, Like Thine own angels round Thee shine.
All this for us Thy love hath done; By this to Thee our love is won; For this we tune our cheerful lays, And sing our thanks in ceaseless praise.
May our response to Christ during this Christmas season be one of repentance, faith, obedience, trust, Gospel proclamation to the lost, and ceaseless praise to our gracious Redeemer. May this child, who was born and given for us, be our chief affection and delight.