Martin Luther loved Christmas. He preached extensively about it, wrote two Christmas hymns, and is even credited with inventing the Christmas tree. As the story goes, the 16th century reformer was walking home one winter evening and was so captivated by the brilliance of stars shining through evergreen tress that he wanted to recreate the scene for his family. He put up a tree in the main room, gathered the kids around, and attached lighted candles to the branches with wires. I can only imagine what his wife, Katie, thought about the fire hazard!
Luther’s joy over Christmas rested in his conviction that this holiday uniquely demonstrates God’s extravagant love and radical grace. In a sermon Luther preached in 1530 on the afternoon of Christmas Day, the reformer stressed the fact that the big truths we celebrate at Christmas—that the Christ child, the God-man, was born of a virgin to be our Lord and Savior—are not merely facts but they must be received personally. Even “the godless among the Christians” and the devil himself can believe the facts of Christmas, but the facts alone do them little good. The more radical gospel of Christmas is that Jesus not only came in human flesh in Bethlehem but that he came for us.
We find the good news of this message in the angelic announcement recorded in Luke 2:11: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” With Luther’s help, let’s explore that simple sentence from Luke 2 and think about the implications for our families.
First, the angels proclaim that Christ is born for you.
Who is the “you” to whom this joyful news is proclaimed? This is good news that will cause great joy for all people (Luke 2:10), and the angelic hosts chose to announce the birth to poor, lowly shepherds. You see, Jesus wasn’t born in a castle. He didn’t sleep in a cozy crib. Jesus was born in a stable, and he slept in a manger, a feeding box for cows and sheep. And just as Jesus was born in a humble stable, so his birth was announced to the neediest of people. “Who then are those to whom this joyful news is to be proclaimed?” asks Dr. Luther. “Those who are faint-hearted and feel the burden of their sins, like the shepherds, to whom the angels proclaim the message, letting the great lords in Jerusalem, who do not accept it, go on sleeping.”1 The angels passed over the powerful people of the time and they gave their message to the lowly and weak.
Parents, do you feel weak this Christmas? Are you faint-hearted? Have COVID cancellations and online school worn you out? Has the extra time together as a family exposed impatience and a short fuse? Do you feel the burden of your sins? If so, the message of Christmas is for you. Yes, mom and dad, especially for you!
Second, the angels tell us that Christ is born to save!
Christmas shows us the friendly heart of God. At Christmas, God so loved the world that he gave (John 3:16). As Luther wrote, “For if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know and feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart. For, if what the angel says is true, that he is our Lord and Savior, what can sin do against us? ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’” (Romans 8:31).
If we’re not careful, the Christmas season can become a time when we’re out to prove ourselves. The stores are working to outdo last year’s profit margins. It’s often not conscious, but some of us hang lights to look better than the neighbors, bake cookies or send cards merely to gain status and approval, and post snazzy pictures of our Christmas traditions with the goal getting instant “likes.” And if completing the Advent devotional is more important than being present with your children, then maybe even it has become a way to strive and perform.
The good news for people with something to prove is that the Savior has already performed for you! His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension merits us the righteousness and holiness that we’re trying so hard to achieve for ourselves. The text says that he is the Savior. Through Christ, your loving Father has already put your name on the nice list. And if this is true, then we can let go of every attempt to earn favor with God and others through Christmas-season performance. This doesn’t mean we put away all the Advent traditions, but it radically changes the motivation for pursuing them. When we are secure in the Father’s love, we can in turn love and serve our families and neighbors with hearts that overflow with exuberant joy—though I don’t recommend wiring actual candles to your tree!
Finally, the angels tell us that Christ is born today.
He has already come. We’re in a season of waiting for Christmas morning, but you can cherish the great gift you’ve been given in Christ right now. Today is the day for you to experience the joy of your salvation. As Luther writes, “If you can confirm the message of the angel and say yes to it and believe it in your heart, then your heart will be filled with assurance and joy and confidence, and you will not worry much about even the costliest and best that this world has to offer.”
In fact, if you’ve already received the costliest and best in Christ then you can stake your life, your possessions, and your honor upon him. Even today in your 2020 Christmas season weakness, you can confess him as the one who saves in every need, call upon him, and trust that he will rescue ultimately from every misfortune. Have you trusted Christ? You may need to trust him again today. Here is the good news. You can love your family and enjoy this Christmas together not merely because Christ, the God-man, has come in flesh, but because he came for you!
1 Martin Luther, “Sermon on the Afternoon of Christmas Day 1530” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 227–34.
Jesus Came for Me: The True Story of Christmas
Jesus came for us. Because Jesus was born at Christmas, we can know that he is with us always. This board book by author Jared Kennedy helps toddlers and preschoolers understand the true meaning of Christmas in a personal, memorable way.
Fantastic article! It reminds us of our desperate need for the healing holiday balm of the gospel. Thanks for your obvious love for biblical truth, historical theology, theological joy, and Advent proclamation. May God remind us often during this blessed season that Christ is for us!