2023 12 03: Advent 2023

Posted on 03 Dec 2023

Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This past week I made my first post-Covid visit back to Wittenberg, Germany, the city I worked before I came to Lake of the Isles, and where the reformer Martin Luther penned many of his greatest writings. There were friends to see, Christmas markets to shop and churches to visit all for “pastoral inspiration” for the busiest season of the year.

Of course, there is legend that Luther invented the first Christmas tree, and there are Christmas trees everywhere to be seen from train stations to market squares.  Tradition says that as Luther was traveling home one evening through a forest of evergreens as he stopped to view the way the twinkling stars shone through the boughs of the beautiful trees. Desiring to share this wonder with his family, he cut a tree and took it home. Setting the tree up inside and decorating it with lit candles, he explained his experience to his family and told them about the way the stars were shining bright in Bethlehem the night Christ was born. Thus, the first Christmas tree adorned the first Lutheran home.

Another legend states that although, Luther personally celebrated St. Nicholas Day in his home with his children, he preached against the veneration of saints, including the beloved St. Nicholas, and that gifts should only be given at Christmas and that Christchild was both the gift and the giver. Apparently, Luther’s six children won out.  Love for his children was more important than theology. Today, Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus both appear in chocolate shops across Germany.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery of all in Wittenberg was that in spite of his contrariness to so many people, his tendency to be overly critical of his friends and enemies alike, and his frequent bouts with depression, Martin Luther loved Christmas.  And I don’t mean just Christmas Day, Luther loved the whole Christmas season.  There are countless stories from students who stayed with the Luther family at their home in the former Augustinian monastery, and these students reported that Luther grew more and more cheerful as Christmas approached, “All his words and songs and thoughts concerned the incarnation of our Lord,” and in spite of it still being Advent he would gather his family around playing his lute to sing Christmas hymns some of which he himself had composed.  So if you find yourself singing Christmas songs early in November, and buying presents in October, you can blame Luther. Christmas songs playing from the time of first snow fall, the Christmas rush of commercialism and buying directed to one day, is a part of your Lutheran heritage.

One thing is clear from the many sermons Luther wrote on Christ’s Advent and his Incarnation.  Advent was not a season for preparing and waiting for the perfect Christmas Day to come on December 25th.  No, Christmas was a celebration of what God had done in the past, was doing now and will do in the future- and the four Sundays of Advent were intended to celebrate and ponder the joy of his coming. As for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, Luther thought that this story embodied the good news of the whole Christmas season.

Advent is not about what you can do to come to Jesus: it is about what God has done to come to you. In a sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, Luther wrote. “This is what is meant by ‘Thy king cometh.’ You do not seek him, but he seeks you. You do not find him, he finds you.” It is a wonderful message of hope and love, which unfortunately is impossible for some to believe. They simply to not feel worthy to accept God’s love.  Luther preached comfortingly to them, “Oh, we poor people that we should be so cold and indifferent to this great joy that has been given us. For this is indeed the greatest gift, which far exceeds all else that God has created. Yet we believe so sluggishly, even though the angels proclaim and preach and sing, and their lovely song sums up the whole Christian faith, for ‘Glory to God in the highest’ is the very heart of worship.”

My friends, Jesus does not come as the conquering kings and warriors of the world, but rather he comes humbly to win your heart and your affection, so that all the power of his kingdom may be yours.   And there is no one, so lowly or so needy, that he is not willing to meet, to bend down and over, and to lift up. That is the good news of Advent.   So welcome him; fling wide the portals of your heart and proclaim him as your king. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen