I. The Birth of Jesus
The Story of Jesus' Birth
1. It is written in Haggai 2,6-7, that God says, "I will shake the heavens;
and the precious things of all nations shall come." This is fulfilled today,
for the heavens were shaken, that is, the angels in the heavens sang praises
to God. And the earth was shaken, that is, the people on the earth were
agitated; one journeying to this city, another to that throughout the whole
land, as the Gospel tells us. It was not a violent, bloody uprising, but
rather a peaceable one awakened by God who is the God of peace.
It is not to be understood that all countries upon earth were so agitated;
but only those under Roman rule, which did not comprise half of the whole
earth. However, no land was agitated as was the land of Judea, which had
been divided among the tribes of Israel, although at this time the land
was inhabited mostly by the race of Judah, as the ten tribes led captive
into Assyria never returned.
2. This taxing, enrollment, or census, says Luke, was the first; but
in the Gospel according to Matthew, 17, 24, and at other places we read
that it was continued from time to time, that they even demanded tribute
of Christ, and tempted him with the tribute money, Math. 22,17. On the
day of his suffering they also testified against him, that he forbade to
give tribute to Caesar. The Jews did not like to pay tribute, and unwillingly
submitted to the taxing, maintaining that they were God's people and free
from Caesar. They had great disputes as to whether they were obliged to
pay the tribute, but they, could not help themselves and were compelled
to submit. For this reason they would have been pleased to draw Jesus into
the discussion and bring him under the Roman jurisdiction. This taxing
was therefore nothing else but a common decree throughout the whole empire
that every individual should annually pay a penny, and the officers who
collected the tribute were called publicans, who in German are improperly
interpreted notorious sinners.
3. Observe how exact the Evangelist is in his statement that the birth
of Christ occurred in the time of Caesar Augustus, and when Quirinius was
governor of Syria, of which the land of Judea was a part, just as Austria
is a part of the German land. This being the very first taxing, it appears
that this tribute was never before paid until just at the time when Christ
was to be born. By this Jesus shows that his kingdom was not to be of an
earthly character nor to exercise worldly power and lordship, but that
he, together with his parents, is subject to the powers that be. Since
he comes at the time of the very first enrollment, he leaves no doubt with
respect to this, for had he desired to leave it in doubt, he might have
willed to be born under another enrollment, so that it might have been
said it just happened so, without any divine intent.
4. And had he not willed to be submissive, he might have been born before
there was any enrollment decreed. Since now all the works of Jesus are
precious teachings, this circumstance can not be interpreted otherwise
than that he by divine counsel and purpose will not exercise any worldly
authority; but will be subject to it. This then is the first rebuke to
the pope's government and every thing of that character, that harmonizes
with the kingdom of Christ as night does with day.
5. This Gospel is so clear that it requires very little explanation,
but it should be well considered and taken deeply to heart; and no one
will receive more benefit from it than those who, with a calm, quiet heart,
banish everything else from their mind, and diligently look into it. It
is just as the sun which is reflected in calm water and gives out vigorous
warmth, but which cannot be so readily seen nor can it give out such warmth
in water that is in roaring and rapid motion.
Therefore, if you would be enlightened and warmed, if you would see
the wonders of divine grace and have your heart aglow and enlightened,
devout and joyful, go where you can silently meditate and lay hold of this
picture deep in your heart, and you will see miracle upon miracle. But
to give the common person a start and a motive to contemplate it, we will
illustrate it in part, and afterwards enter into it more deeply.
6. First, behold how very ordinary and common things are to us that
transpire on earth, and yet how high they are regarded in heaven. On earth
it occurs in this wise: Here is a poor young woman, Mary of Nazareth, not
highly esteemed, but of the humblest citizens of the village. No one is
conscious of the great wonder she bears, she is silent, keeps her own counsel,
and regards herself as the lowliest in the town. She starts out with her
husband Joseph; very likely they had no servant, and he had to do the work
of master and servant, and she that of mistress and maid, They were therefore
obliged to leave their home unoccupied, or commend it to the care of others.
7. Now they evidently owned an ass, upon which Mary rode, although the
Gospel does not mention it, and it is possible that she went on foot with
Joseph. Imagine how she was despised at the inns and stopping places on
the way, although worthy to ride in state in a chariot of gold.
There were, no doubt, many wives and daughters of prominent men at that
time, who lived in fine apartments and great splendor, while the mother
of God takes a journey in mid-winter under most trying circumstances. What
distinctions there are in the world! It was more than a day's journey from
Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in the land of Judea. They had to journey
either by or through Jerusalem, for Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem while
Nazareth is north.
8. The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were
the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others
until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle,
lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the
head in the hotels and was honored as lord. No one noticed or was conscious
of what God was doing in that stable. He lets the large houses and costly
apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink and be merry;
but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them. 0 what a dark night
this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light!
See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or
desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices
what God is, has and does.
9. See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to
shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world's greatest
wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures
are misfortunes. What had Bethlehem when it did not have Christ? What have
they now who at that time had enough? What do Joseph and Mary lack now,
although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?
10. Some have commented on the word "diversorium", as if it meant an
open archway, through which every body could pass, where some asses stood,
and that 'Mary could not get to a lodging place. This is not right. The
Evangelist desires to show that Joseph and Mary had to occupy a stable,
because there was no room for her in the inn, in the place where the pilgrim
guests generally lodged. All the guests were cared for in the inn or caravansary,
with room, food and bed, except these poor people who had to creep into
a stable where it was customary to house cattle.
This word "diversorium", which by Luke is called "katalyma" means nothing
else than a place for guests, which is proved by the words of Christ, Luke
22,11, where he sent the disciples to prepare the supper, "Go and say unto
the master of the house, The Teacher saith unto thee, Where is the guest
chamber, where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples?" So also here
Joseph and Mary had no room in the katalyma, the inn, but only in the stable
belonging to the innkeeper, who would not have been worthy to give shelter
to such a guest. They had neither money nor influence to secure a room
in 'the inn, hence they were obliged to lodge in a stable. 0 world, how
stupid! 0 man, how blind thou art!
11. But the birth itself is still more pitiful. There was no one to
take pity on this young wife who was for the first time to give birth to
a child; no one to take to heart her condition that she, a stranger, did
not have the least thing a mother needs in a birth-night. There she is
without any preparation, without either light or fire, alone in the darkness,
without any one offering her service as is customary for women to do at
such times. Every thing is in commotion in the inn, there is a swarming
of guests from all parts of the country, no one thinks of this poor woman.
It is also possible that she did not expect the event so soon, else she
would probably have remained at Nazareth.
12. Just imagine what kind of swaddling clothes they were in which she
wrapped the child. Possibly her veil or some article of her clothing, she
could spare. But that she should have wrapped him in Joseph's trousers,
which are exhibited at Aixla-Chapelle appears entirely too false and frivolous.
It is a fable, the like of which there are more in the world. Is it not
strange that the birth of Christ occurs in cold winter, in a strange land,
and in such a poor and despicable manner?
13. Some argue as to how this birth took place, as if Jesus was born
while Mary was praying and rejoicing, without any pain, and before she
was conscious of it. While I do not altogether discard that pious supposition,
it was evidently invented for the sake of simple minded people. But we
must abide by the Gospel, that he was born of the virgin Mary. There is
no deception here, for the Word clearly states that it was an actual birth.
14. It is well known what is meant by giving birth. Mary's experience
was not different from that of other women, so that the birth of Christ
was a real natural birth, Mary being his natural mother and he being her
natural son. Therefore her body performed its functions of giving birth,
which naturally belonged to it, except that she brought forth without sin,
without shame, without pain and without injury, just as she had conceived
without sin. The curse of Eve did not come on her, where God said: "In
pain thou shalt bring forth children," Gen. 3: 16; otherwise it was with
her in every particular as with every woman who gives birth to a child.
15. Grace does not interfere with nature and her work, but rather improves
and promotes it. Likewise Mary, without doubt, also nourished the child
with milk from her breast and not with strange milk, or in a manner different
from that which nature provided, as we sing: ubere de coelo pleno, from
her breast being filled by heaven, without injury or impurity. I mention
this that we may be grounded in the faith and know that Jesus was a natural
man in every respect just as we, the only difference being in his relation
to sin and grace, he being without a sinful nature. In him and in his mother
nature was pure in all the members and in all the operations of those members.
No body or member of woman ever performed its natural function without
sin, except that of this virgin; here for once God bestowed special honor
upon nature and its operations. It is a great comfort to us that Jesus
took upon himself our nature and flesh. Therefore we are not to take away
from him or his mother any thing that is not in conflict with grace, for
the text clearly says that she brought him forth, and the angels said,
unto you he is born.
16. How could God have shown his goodness in a more sublime manner than
by humbling himself to partake of flesh and blood, that he did not even
disdain the natural privacy but honors nature most highly in that part
where in Adam and Eve it was most miserably brought to shame? so that henceforth
even that can be regarded godly, honest and pure, which in all men is the
most ungodly, shameful and impure. These are real miracles of God, for
in no way could he have given us stronger, more forcible and purer pictures
of chastity than in this birth. When we look at this birth, and reflect
upon how the sublime Majesty moves with great earnestness and inexpressible
love and goodness upon the flesh and blood of this virgin, we see how here
all evil lust and every evil thought is banished.
17. No woman can inspire such pure thoughts in a man as this virgin;
nor can any man inspire such pure thought in a woman as this child. If
in reflecting on this birth we recognize the work of God that is embodied
in it, only chastity and purity spring from it.
18. But what happens in heaven concerning this birth? As much as it
is despised on earth, so much and a thousand times more is it honored in
heaven. If an angel from heaven came and praised you and your work, would
you not regard it of greater value than all the praise and honor the world
could give you, and for which you would be willing to bear the greatest
humility and reproach? What exalted honor is that when all the angels in
heaven can not restrain themselves from breaking out in rejoicing, so that
even poor shepherds in the fields hear them preach, praise God, sing and
pour out their joy without measure.? Were not all joy and honor realized
at Bethlehem, yes, all joy and honor experienced by all the kings and nobles
on earth, to be regarded as only dross and abomination, of which no one
likes to think, when compared with the joy and glory here displayed?
19. Behold how very richly God honors those who are despised of men,
and that very gladly. Here you see that his eyes look into the depths of
humility, as is written, "He sitteth above the cherubim" and looketh into
the depths. Nor could the angels find princes or valiant men to whom to
communicate the good news; but only unlearned laymen, the most humble people
upon earth. Could they not have addressed the high priests, who it was
supposed knew so much concerning God and the angels? No, God chose poor
shepherds, who, though they were of low esteem in the sight of men, were
in heaven regarded as worthy of such great grace and honor.
20. See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty! And yet we rage
and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as we had no honor to seek in
heaven; we continually step out of God's sight, so that he may not see
us in the depths, into which he alone looks.
21. This has been considered sufficiently for plain people. Every one
should ponder it further for himself. If every word is properly grasped,
it is as fire that sets the heart aglow, as God says in Jer. 23,29, "Is
not my Word like fire?" And as we see, it is the purpose of the divine
Word, to teach us to know God and his work, and to see that this life is
nothing. For as he does not live according to this life and does not have
possessions nor temporal honor and power, he does not regard these and
says nothing concerning them, but teaches only the contrary. He works in
opposition to these temporal things, looks with favor upon that from which
the world turns, teaches that from which it flees and takes up that which
22. And although we are not willing to tolerate such acts of God and
do not want to receive blessing, honor and life In this way, yet it must
remain so. God does not change his purpose, nor does he teach or act differently
than he purposed. We must adapt ourselves to him, he will not adapt himself
to us. Moreover, he who will not regard his word, nor the manner in which
he works to bring comfort to men, has assuredly no good evidence of being
saved. In what more lovely manner could he have shown his grace to the
humble and despised of earth, than through this birth in poverty, over
which the angels rejoice, and make it known to no one but to the poor shepherds?
23. Let us now look at the mysteries set before us in this history.
In all the mysteries here two things are especially set forth, the Gospel
and faith, that is, what is to be preached and what is to be believed,
who are to be the preachers, and who are to be the believers. This we will
II. THE BIRTH OF JESUS CONSIDERED IN IT'S SPIRITUAL MEANING.
A. The teaching concerning faith.
24. Faith is first, and it is right that we recognize it as the most
important in every word of God. It is of no value only to believe that
this history is true as it is written; for all sinners, even those condemned
believe that. The Scripture, God's Word, does not teach concerning faith,
that it is a natural work, without grace. The right and gracious faith
which God demands is, that you firmly believe that Christ is born for you,
and that this birth took place for your welfare. The Gospel teaches that
Christ was born, and that he did and suffered everything in our behalf,
as is here declared by the angel: "Behold, I bring you good tidings of
great joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this
day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord." In these words you clearly see
that he is born for us.
25. He does not simply say, Christ is born, but to you he is born, neither
does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you I bring glad tidings of great
joy. Furthermore, this joy was not to remain in Christ, but it shall be
to all the people. This faith no condemned or wicked man has, nor can he
have it; for the right ground of salvation which unites Christ and the
believing heart is that they have all things in common. But what have they?
26. Christ has a pure, innocent, and holy birth. Man has an unclean,
sinful, condemned birth; as David says, Ps. 51, 5, "Behold I was brought
forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Nothing can help
this unholy birth except the pure birth of Christ. But Christ's birth cannot
be distributed in a material sense neither would that avail any thing;
it is therefore imparted spiritually, through the Word, as the angel says,
it is given to all who firmly believe so that no harm will come to them
because of their impure birth. This it the way and manner in which we are
to be cleansed from the miserable birth we have from Adam. For this purpose
Christ willed to be born, that through him we might be born again, as he
says John 3: 3, that it takes place through faith; as also St. James says
in 1, 18: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that
we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."
27. We see here how Christ, as it were, takes our birth from us and
absorbs it in his birth, and grants us his, that in it we might become
pure and holy, as if it were our own, so that every Christian may rejoice
and glory in Christ's birth as much as if he had himself been born of Mary
as was Christ. Whoever does not believe this, or doubts, is no Christian.
28. 0, this is the great joy of which the angel speaks. This is the
comfort and exceeding goodness of God that, if a man believes this, he
can boast of the treasure that Mary is his rightful mother, Christ his
brother, and God his father. For these things actually occurred and are
true, but we must believe. This is the principal thing and the principal
treasure in every Gospel, before any doctrine of good works can be taken
out of it. Christ must above all things become our own and we become his,
before we can do good works.
But this cannot occur except through the faith that teaches us rightly
to understand the Gospel and properly to lay hold of it. This is the only
way in which Christ can be rightly known so that the conscience is satisfied
and made to rejoice. Out of this grow love and praise to God who in Christ
has bestowed upon us such unspeakable gifts. This gives courage to do or
leave undone, and living or dying, to suffer every thing that is well pleasing
to God. This is what is meant by Isaiah 9: 6, "Unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given," to us, to us, to us is born, and to us is given
29. Therefore see to it that you do not find pleasure in the Gospel
only as a history, for that is only transient; neither regard it only as
an example, for it is of no value without faith; but see to it that you
make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you. This will be the
case if you believe, then you will repose in the lap of the virgin Mary
and be her dear child. But you must exercise this faith and pray while
you live, you cannot establish it too firmly. This is our foundation and
inheritance, upon which good works must be built.
30. If Christ has now thus become your own, and you have by such faith
been cleansed through him and have received your inheritance without any
personal merit, but alone through the love of God who gives to you as your
own the treasure and work of his Son; it follows that you will do good
works by doing to your neighbor as Christ has done to you. Here good works
are their own teacher. What are the good works of Christ? Is it not true
that they are good because they have been done for your benefit, for God's
sake, who commanded him to do the works in your behalf? In this then Christ
was obedient to the Father, in that he loved and served us.
31. Therefore since you have received enough and become rich, you have
no other commandment to serve Christ and render obedience to him, than
so to direct your works that they may be of benefit to your neighbor, just
as the works of Christ are of benefit and use to you. For the reason Jesus
said at the Last Supper: "This is my commandment that ye love one another;
even as I have loved you." John, 13: 34. Here it is seen that he loved
us and did every thing for our benefit, in order that we may do the same,
not to him, for he needs it not, but to our neighbor; this is his commandment,
and this is our obedience. Therefore it is through faith that Christ becomes
our own, and his love is the cause that we are his. He loves, we believe,
thus both are united into one. Again, our neighbor believes and expects
our love, we are therefore to love him also in return and not let him long
for it in vain. One is the same as the other; as Christ helps us so we
in return help our neighbor, and all have enough.
32. Observe now from this how far those have gone out of the way who
have united good works with stone, wood, clothing, eating and drinking.
Of what benefit is it to your neighbor if you build a church entirely out
of gold!? Of what benefit to him is the frequent ringing of great church
bells? Of what benefit to him is the glitter and the ceremonies in the
churches, the priests' gowns, the sanctuary, the silver pictures and vessels?
Of what benefit to him are the many candles and much incense? Of what benefit
to him is the much chanting and mumbling, the singing of vigils and masses?
Do you think that God will permit himself to be paid with the sound of
bells, the smoke of candles, the glitter of gold and such fancies? He has
commanded none of these, but if you see your neighbor going astray, sinning,
or suffering in body or soul, you are to leave every thing else and at
once help him in every way in your power and if you can do no more, help
him with words of comfort and prayer. Thus has Christ done to you and given
you an example for you to follow.
33. These are the two things in which a Christian is to exercise himself,
the one that he draws Christ into himself, and that by faith he makes him
his own, appropriates to himself the treasures of Christ and confidently
builds upon them; the other that he condescends to his neighbor and lets
him share in that which he has received, even as he shares in the treasures
of Christ. He who does not exercise himself in these two things will receive
no benefit even if he should fast unto death, suffer torture or even give
his body to be burned, and were able to do all miracles, as St. Paul teaches,
I Cor. 13ff.
B. The spiritual meaning of the doctrine of this Gospel.
34. The other mystery, or spiritual teaching, is, that in the churches
the Gospel only should be preached and nothing more. Now it is evident
that the Gospel teaches nothing but the foregoing two things, Christ and
his example and two kinds of good works, the one belonging to Christ by
which we are saved through faith, the other belonging to us by which our
neighbor receives help. Whosoever therefore teaches any thing different
from the Gospel leads people astray; and whosoever does not teach the Gospel
in these two parts, leads people all the more astray and is worse than
the former who teaches without the Gospel, because he abuses and corrupts
God's Word, as St. Paul complains concerning some. 2 Cor. 2: 17.
35. Now it is clear that nature could not have discovered such a doctrine,
nor could all the ingenuity, reason and wisdom of the world have thought
it out. Who would be able to discover by means of his own efforts, that
faith in Christ makes us one with Christ and gives us for our own all that
is Christ's? Who would be able to discover that no works are of any value
except those intended to benefit our neighbor? Nature teaches no more than
that which is wrought by the law. Therefore it falls back upon its own
work, so that this one thinks he fulfills the commandment by founding some
institution or order, that one by fasting, this one by the kind of clothes
he wears, that one by going on pilgrimages; this one in this manner, that
one in that manner; and yet all their works are worthless, for no one is
helped by them. Such is the case at the present time in which the whole
world is blinded and is going astray through the doctrines and works of
men, so that faith and love along with the Gospel have perished.
36. Therefore the Gospel properly apprehended, is a supernatural sermon
and light which makes known Christ only. This is pointed out first of all
by the fact that it was not a man that made it known to others, but that
an angel came down from heaven and made known to the shepherds the birth
of Jesus, while no human being knew any thing about it.
37. In the second place it is pointed out by the fact that Christ was
born at midnight, by which he indicates that all the world is in darkness
as to its future and that Christ can not be known by mere reason, but that
knowledge concerning him must be revealed from heaven.
38. In the third place, it is shown by the light that shined around
the shepherds, which teaches that here there must be an entirely different
light than that of human reason. Moreover, when St. Luke says, Gloria Dei,
the glory of God, shone around them, he calls that light a brightness,
or the glory of God. Why does he say that? In order to call attention to
the mystery and reveal the character of the Gospel. For while the Gospel
is a heavenly light that teaches nothing more than Christ, in whom God's
grace is given to us and all human merit is entirely cast aside, it exalts
only the glory of God, so that henceforth no one may be able to boast of
his own power; but must give God the glory, that it is of his love and
goodness alone that we are saved through Christ.
See, the divine honor, the divine glory, is the light in the Gospel,
which shines around us from heaven through the apostles and their followers
who preach the Gospel. The angel here was in the place of all the preachers
of the Gospel, and the shepherds in the place of all the hearers, as we
shall see. For this reason the Gospel can tolerate no other teaching besides
its own; for the teaching of men is earthly light and human glory; it exalts
the honor and praise of men, and makes souls to glory in their own works;
while the Gospel glories in Christ, in God's grace and goodness, and teaches
us to boast of and confide in Christ.
39. In the fourth place this is represented by the name Judea and Bethlehem,
where Christ chose to be born. Judea is interpreted, confession or thanksgiving;
as when we confess, praise and thank God, acknowledging that all we possess
are his gifts. One who so confesses and praises is called Judaeus. Such
a king of the Jews is Christ, as the expression is: "Jesus Nazarenus Rex
Judaeorum," Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews, of those confessing
God. By this is shown that no teaching whatever can make such a confession
except the Gospel, which teaches Christ.
40. Beth means house; Lehem means bread, Bethlehem, a house of bread.
The city had that name because it was situated in a good, fruitful country,
rich in grain; so that it was the granery for the neighboring towns, or
as we would call it, a fertile country. In olden times the name of the
city was Ephrata, which means fruitful. Both names imply that the city
was in a fruitful and rich land. By this is represented that without the
Gospel this earth is a wilderness and there is no confession of God nor
41. Moreover where Christ and the Gospel are there is the fruitful Bethlehem
and the thankful Judea. There every one has enough in Christ, and overflows
with thanksgiving for the divine grace. But while men are thankful for
human teachings, they can not satisfy, but leave a barren land and deadly
hunger. No heart can ever be satisfied unless it bears Christ rightly proclaimed
in the Gospel. In this a man comes to Bethlehem and finds him, he also
comes to and remains in Judea and thanks his God eternally; here he is
satisfied, here God receives his praise and confession, while outside of
the Gospel there is nothing but thanklessness and starvation.
42. But the angel shows most clearly that nothing is to be preached
in Christendom except the Gospel, he takes upon himself the office of a
preacher of the Gospel. He does not say, I preach to you, but "glad tidings
I bring to you". I am an Evangelist and my word is an evangel, good news.
The meaning of the word Gospel is, a good, joyful message, that is preached
in the New Testament. Of what does the Gospel testify? Listen! the angel
says: "I bring you glad tidings of great joy", my Gospel speaks of great
joy. Where is it? Hear again: "For there is born to you this day in the
city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord".
43. Behold here what the Gospel is, namely, a joyful sermon concerning
Christ, our Saviour. Whoever preaches him rightly, preaches the Gospel
of pure joy. How is it possible for man to hear of greater joy than that
Christ has given to him as his own? He does not only say Christ is born,
but he makes his birth our own by saying, to you a Saviour.
44. Therefore the Gospel does not only teach the history concerning
Christ; but it enables all who believe it to receive it as their own, which
is the way the Gospel operates, as has just been set forth. Of what benefit
would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would
daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to
hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own? If the voice gives
forth this pleasant sound, even if it be in homely phrase, my heart listens
with joy for it is a lovely sound which penetrates the soul. If now there
were any thing else to be preached, the evangelical angel and the angelic
evangelist would certainly have touched upon it.
C. The Spiritual Meaning of the Signs, the Angel and the Shepherds.
45. The angel says further: "And this is the sign unto you; Ye shall
find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger." The
clothes are nothing else than the holy Scriptures, in which the Christian
truth lies wrapped, in which the faith is described. For the Old Testament
contains nothing else than Christ as he is preached in the Gospel. Therefore
we see how the apostles appeal to the testimony of the Scriptures and with
them prove every thing that is to be preached and believed concerning Christ.
Thus St. Paul says, Rom. 3: 21, That the faith of Christ through which
we become righteous is witnessed by the law and the prophets. And Christ
himself, after his resurrection, opened to them the Scriptures, which speak
of him. Luke 24, 27.
When he was transfigured on the mount, Math. 17, 3, Moses and Elijah
stood by him; that means, the law and the prophets as his two witnesses,
which are signs pointing to him. Therefore the angel says, the sign by
which he is recognized is the swaddling clothes, for there is no other
testimony on earth concerning Christian truth than the holy Scriptures.
46. According to this Christ's seamless coat which was not divided and
which during his sufferings was gambled off and given away, John 19,23-24,
represents the New Testament. It indicates that the pope, the Antichrist,
would not deny the Gospel, but would shut it up violently and play with
it by means of false interpretation, until Christ is no longer to be found
in it. Then the four soldiers who crucified the Lord are figures of all
the bishops and teachers in the four quarters of the earth, who violently
suppress the Gospel and destroy Christ and his faith by means of their
human teachings, as the pope with his Papists has long since done.
47. From this we see that the law and the prophets can not be rightly
preached and known unless we see Christ wrapped up in them. It is true
that Christ does not seem to be in them, nor do the Jews find him there.
They appear to be insignificant and unimportant clothes, simple words,
which seem to speak of unimportant external matters, the import of which
is not recognized; but the New Testament, the Gospel, must open it, throw
its light upon it and reveal it, as has been said.
48. First of all then the Gospel must be heard, and the appearance and
the voice of the angel must be believed. Had the shepherds not heard from
the angel that Christ lay there, they might have seen him ten thousand
times without ever knowing that the child was Christ. Accordingly St. Paul
says, 2 Cor. 3, 16, that the law remains dark and covered up for the Jews
until they are converted to Christ.
Christ must first be heard in the Gospel, then it will be seen how beautiful
and lovely the whole Old Testament is in harmony with him, so that a man
cannot help giving himself in submission to faith and be enabled to recognize
the truth of what Christ says in John 5: 46, "For if ye believed Moses,
ye would believe me, for he wrote of me".
49. Therefore let us beware of all teaching that does not set forth
Christ. What more would you know? What more do you need, if indeed you
know Christ, as above set forth, if you walk by faith In God, and by love
to your neighbor, doing to your fellow man as Christ has done to you. This
is indeed the whole Scripture in its briefest form, that no more words
or books are necessary, but only life and action.
50. He lies in the manger. Notice here that nothing but Christ is to
be preached throughout the whole world. What is the manger but the congregations
of Christians in the churches to hear the preaching? We are the beasts
before this manger; and Christ is laid before us upon whom we are to feed
our souls. Whosoever goes to hear the preaching, goes to this manger; but
it must be the preaching of Christ. Not all mangers have Christ neither
do all sermons teach the true faith. There was but one manger in Bethlehem
in which this treasure lay, and besides it was an empty and despised manger
in which there was no fodder.
Therefore the preaching of the Gospel is divorced from all other things,
it has and teaches nothing besides Christ; should any thing else be taught,
then it is no more the manger of Christ, but the manger of war horses full
of temporal things and of fodder for the body.
51. But in order to show that Christ in swaddling clothes represents
the faith in the Old Testaments, we will here give several examples. We
read in Math. 8, 4, when Christ cleansed the leper, that he said to him:
"Go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded,
for a testimony unto them." Here you perceive that the law of Moses was
given to the Jews for a testimony, or sign, as the angel also here says,
namely, that such law represents something different from itself. What?
Christ is the priest, all men are spiritual lepers because of unbelief;
but when we come to faith in him he touches us With his hand, gives and
lays upon us his merit and we become clean and whole without any merit
on our part whatever. We are therefore to show our gratitude to him and
acknowledge that we have not become pious by our own works, but through
his grace, then our course will be right before God. In addition we are
to offer our gifts, that is, give of our own to help our fellow man, to
do good to him as Christ has done to us. Thus Christ is served and an offering
is brought to the rightful priest, for it is done for his sake, in order
to love and praise him.
Do you here see how, figuratively speaking, Christ and the faith are
wrapped up in the plain Scriptures? It is here made evident how Moses in
the law gave only testimony and an interpretation of Christ. The whole
Old Testament should be understood in this manner, and should be taken
to be the swaddling clothes as a sign pointing out and making Christ known.
52. Again, it was commanded that the Sabbath should be strictly observed
and no work should be done, which shows that not our works but Christ's
works should dwell in us; for it is written that we are not saved by our
works but by the works of Christ. Now these works of Christ are twofold,
as shown before. On the one hand, those that Christ has done personally
without us, which are the most important and in which we believe. The others,
those he performs in us, in our love to our neighbor. The first may be
called the evening works and the second the morning works, so that evening
and morning make one day, as it is written in Gen. 1, 5, for the Scriptures
begin the day in the evening and end in the morning, that is, the evening
with the night is the first half, the morning with the day is the second
half of the whole natural day. Now as the first half is dark and the second
half is light, so the first works of Christ are concealed in our faith,
but the others, the works of love, are to appear, to be openly shown toward
our fellow man. Here then you see how the whole Sabbath is observed and
55. Do you see how beautifully Christ lies in these swaddling clothes?
How beautifully the Old Testament reveals the faith and love of Christ
and of his Christians? Now, swaddling clothes are as a rule of two kinds,
the outside of coarse woolen cloth, the inner of linen. The outer or coarse
woolen cloth represents the testimony of the law, but the linnen are the
words of the prophets. As Isaiah says in 7, 14, "Behold, a virgin shall
conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel", and similar
passages which would not be understood of Christ, had the Gospel not revealed
it and shown that Christ is in them.
54. Here then we have these two, the faith and the Gospel, that these
and nothing else are to be preached throughout Christendom. Let us now
see who are to be the preachers and who the learners. The preachers are
to be angels, that is, God's messengers, who are to lead a heavenly life,
are to be constantly engaged with God's Word that they under no circumstances
preach the doctrine of men. It is a most incongruous thing to be God's
messenger and not to further God's message. Angelus means a messenger,
and Luke calls him God's messenger (Angelus Domini). The message also is
of more importance than the messenger's life. If he leads a wicked life
he only injures himself, but if he brings a false message in the place
of God's message, he leads astray and injures every one that hears him,
and causes idolatry among the people in that they accept lies for the truth,
honor men instead of God, and pray to the devil instead of to God.
55. There is no more terrible plague, misfortune or cause for distress
upon earth than a preacher who does not preach God's Word; of whom, alas,
the world today is full; and yet they think they are pious and do good
when indeed their whole work is nothing but murdering souls, blaspheming
God and setting up idolatry, so that it would be much better for them if
they were robbers, murderers, and the worst scoundrels, for then they would
know that they are doing wickedly. But now they go along under spiritual
names and show, as priest, bishop, pope, and are at the same time ravening
wolves in sheeps' clothing, and it would be well if no one ever heard their
56. The learners are shepherds, poor people out in the fields. Here
Jesus does what he says, Math. 11, 5, "And the poor have good tidings preached
to them", and Math. 5, 8, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for their's
is the kingdom of heaven". Here are no learned, no rich, no mighty ones,
for such people do not as a rule accept the Gospel. The Gospel is a heavenly
treasure, which will not tolerate any other treasure, and will not agree
with any earthly guest in the heart. Therefore whoever loves the one must
let go the other, as Christ says, Math. 6, 24: "You cannot serve God and
This is shown by the shepherds in that they were in the field, under
the canopy of heaven, and not in houses, showing that they do not hold
fast and cling to temporal things; and besides they are in the fields by
night, despised by and unknown to the world which sleeps in the night,
and by day delights so to walk that it may be noticed; but the poor shepherds
go about their work at night. They represent all the lowly who live on
earth, often despised and unnoticed but dwell only under the protection
of heaven; they eagerly desire the Gospel.
57. That there were shepherds, means that no one is to hear the Gospel
for himself alone, but every one is to tell it to others who are not acquainted
with it. For he who believes for himself has enough and should endeavor
to bring others to such faith and knowledge, so that one may be a shepherd
of the other, to wait upon and lead him into the pasture of the Gospel
in this world, during the night time of this earthly life.
At first the shepherds were sore afraid because of the angel; for human
nature is shocked when it first hears in the Gospel that all our works
are nothing and are condemned before God, for it does not easily give up
its prejudices and presumptions.
58. Now let every one examine himself in the light of the Gospel and
see how far he is from Christ, what is the character of his faith and love.
There are many who are enkindled with dreamy devotion, when they hear of
such poverty of Christ, are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem,
denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there,
they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more becoming service,
and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably. But they
do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow men need their
help, and which they let go on in their misery unaided. Who is there upon
earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones, or sinful people
around him? Why does he not exercise his love to those? Why does he not
do to them as Christ has done to him?
59. It is altogether false to think that you have done much for Christ,
if you do nothing for those needy ones. Had you been at Bethlehem you would
have paid as little attention to Christ as they did; but since is is now
made known who Christ is, you profess to serve him. Should he come now
and lay himself in a manger, and would send you word that it was he, of
whom you now know so much, you might do something for him, but you would
not have done it before. Had it been positively made known to the rich
man in the Gospel, to what high position Lazarus would be exalted, and
he would have been convinced of the fact, he would not have left him lie
and perish as he did.
60. Therefore, if your neighbor were now what he shall be in the future,
and lay before you, you would surely give him attention. But now, since
it is not so, you beat the air and do not recognize the Lord in your neighbor,
you do not do to him as he has done to you. Therefore God permits you to
be blinded, and deceived by the pope and false preachers, so that you squander
on wood, stone, paper, and wax that with which you might help your fellow
III. EXPLANATION OF THE ANGELS' SONG OF PRAISE.
61. Finally we must also treat of the angels' song, which we use daily
in our service: Gloria in excelcis Deo. There are three things to be considered
in this song, the glory to God, the peace to the earth, and the good will
to mankind. The good will might be understood as the divine good will God
has toward men through Christ. But we will admit it to mean the good will
which is granted unto men through this birth, as it is set forth in the
words thus, "en anthropis eudokia, hominibus beneplacitum."
62. The first is the glory to God. Thus we should also begin, so that
in all things the praise and glory be given to God as the one who does,
gives and possesses all things, that no one ascribe any thing to himself
or claim any merit for himself. For the glory belongs to no one but to
God alone, it does not permit of being made common by being shared by any
63. Adam stole the glory through the evil spirit and appropriated it
to himself, so that all men with him have come into disgrace, which evil
is so deeply rooted in all mankind that there is no vice in them as great
as vanity. Every one is well pleased with himself and no one wants to be
nothing, and they desire nothing, which spirit of vanity is the cause of
all distress, strife and war upon earth.
64. Christ has again brought back the glory to God, in that he has taught
us how all we have or can do is nothing but wrath and displeasure before
God, so that we may not be boastful and self-satisfied, but rather be filled
with fear and shame, so that in this manner our glory and self-satisfaction
may be crushed, and we be glad to be rid of it, in order that we may be
found and preserved in Christ.
65. The second is the peace on earth. For just as strife must exist
where God's glory is not found, as Solomon says, Prov. 13, 10, "By pride
cometh only contention;" so also, where God's glory is there must be peace.
Why should they quarrel when they know that nothing is their own, but that
all they are, have and can desire is from God; they leave every thing in
his hands and are content that they have such a gracious God. He knows
that all he may have, is nothing before God, he does not seek his own honor,
but thinks of him who is something before God, namely Christ.
66. From this it follows that where there are true Christians, there
is no strife, contention, or discord; as Isaiah says in 2, 4, "And they
shall beat their swords into plowshears, and their spears into pruning
hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they
learn war any more.
67. Therefore our Lord Christ is called a king of peace, and is represented
by king Solomon, whose name implies, rich in peace, that inwardly he may
give us peace in our conscience toward God through faith; and outwardly,
that we may exercise love to our fellow men, so that through him there
may be everywhere peace on earth.
68. The third is good will toward men. By good will is not meant the
will that does good works, but the good will and peace of heart, which
is equally submissive in every thing that may betide, be it good or evil.
The angels knew very well that the peace, of which they sang, does not
extend farther than to the Christians who truly believe, such have certainly
peace among themselves. But the world and the devil have no reproof, they
do not permit them to have peace but persecute them to death; as Christ
says, John 16, 33, "In me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation."
69. Hence it was not enough for the angels to sing peace on earth, they
added to it the good will toward men, that they take pleasure in all that
God does, regard all God's dealing with them as wise and good, and praise
and thank him for it. They do not murmur, but willingly submit to God's
will. Moreover since they know that God, whom they have received by faith
in Christ as a gracious Father, can do all things, they exult and rejoice
even under persecution as St. Paul says, Rom 5, 3, "We also rejoice in
our tribulations." They regard all that happens to them as for the best,
out of the abundant satisfaction they have in Christ.
70. Behold, it is such a good will, pleasure, good opinion in all things
whether good or evil, that the angels wish to express in their song; for
where there is no good will, peace will not long exist. The unbelieving
put the worst construction on every thing, always magnify the evil and
double every mishap. Therefore God's dealings with them does not please
them, they would have it different, and that which is written in Psalm
18, 25-26 is fulfilled: "With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful,
with the perfect man thou wilt show thyself perfect; with the pure thou
wilt show thyself pure", that is, whoever has such pleasure in all things
which thou doest. In him thou, and all thine, will also have pleasure,"
and with the perverse thou wilt show thyself froward, that is, as thou
and all thou doest, does not please him, so he is not well pleasing to
thee and all that are thine.
71. Concerning the good will St. Paul says: 1 Cor. 10, 33, "Even as
I also please all men in all things." How does he do that? If you are content
and satisfied with every thing, you will in turn please everybody. It is
a short rule: If you will please no one, be pleased with no one; if you
will please every one, be pleased with every one; in so far, however, that
you do not violate God's Word, for in that case all pleasing and displeasing
ceases. But what may be omitted without doing violence to God's Word, may
be omitted, that you may please every one and at the same time be faithful
to God, then you have this good will of which the angels sing.
72. From this song we may learn what kind of creatures the angels are.
Don't consider what the great masters of art dream about them, here they
are all painted in such a manner that their heart and their own thoughts
may be recognized. In the first place, in that they joyfully sing, ascribing
the glory to God, they show how full of his light and fire they are, not
praising themselves, but recognizing that all things belong to God alone,
so that with great earnestness they ascribe the glory to him to whom it
belongs. Therefore if you would think of a humble, pure, obedient and joyful
heart, praising God, think of the angels. This is their first step, that
by which they serve God.
73. The second is their love to us as has been shown. Here you see what
great and gracious friends we have in them, that they favor us no less
than themselves; rejoice in our welfare quite as much as they do in their
own, so much so that in this song they give us a most comforting inducement
to regard them as the best of friends. In this way you rightly understand
the angels, not according to their being, which the masters of art attempt
fearlessly to portray, but according to their inner heart, spirit and sense,
that though I know not what they are, I know what their chief desire and
constant work is; by this you look
into their heart. This is enough concerning this Gospel. What is meant
by Mary, Joseph, Nazareth will be explained in Luke 1.
The Armor of this Gospel.
74. In this Gospel is the foundation of the article of our faith when
we say: "I believe in Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary." Although
the same article is founded on different passages of Scripture, yet on
none so clearly as on this one. St. Mark says no more than that Christ
has a mother, the same is also the case with St. John, neither saying any
thing of his birth. St. Matthew says he is born of Mary in Bethlehem, but
lets it remain at that, without gloriously proclaiming the virginity of
Mary, as we will hear in due time. But Luke describes it clearly and diligently.
75. In olden times it was also proclaimed by patriarchs and prophets;
as when God says to Abraham, Gen. 22,17: "And in thy seed shall all the
nations of the earth be blessed." Again he says to David, Ps. 89, 4, and
132, 11: "Jehovah hath sworn unto David in truth; he will not return from
it; of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne." But those are
obscure words compared with the Gospel.
76. Again it is also represented in many figures, as in the rod of Aaron
which budded in a supernatural manner, although a dry piece of wood, Num.
7, 5. So also Mary, exempt from all natural generation, brought forth,
in a supernatural manner, really and truly a natural son, just as the rod
bore natural almonds, and still remained a natural rod. Again by Gideon's
fleece, Judges 6, 37, which was wet by the dew of heaven, while the land
around it remained dry, and many like figures which it is not necessary
to enumerate. Nor do these figures conflict with faith, they rather adorn
it; for it must at first be firmly believed before I can believe that the
figure serves to illustrate it.
77. There is a great deal in this article, of which, in time of temptation,
we would not be deprived, for the evil spirit attacks nothing so severely
as our faith. Therefore it is of the greatest importance for us to know
where in God's Word this faith is set forth, and in time of temptation
point to that, for the evil spirit can not stand against God's Word.
78. There are also many ethical teachings in the Gospel, as for example,
meekness, patience, poverty and the like; but these are touched upon enough
and are not points of controversy, for they are fruits of faith and good