A Devotional on the Birth of Jesus by Martin Luther

A Devotional on the Birth of Jesus by Martin Luther

A Devotional by Martin Luther

Bad enough that a young bride married only a year could not have had her baby at Nazareth in her own house instead of making all that journey of three days when heavy with child. How much worse that when she arrived there was no room for her. The inn was full. No one would release a room to this pregnant woman. She had to go to a cow stall and there bring forth the Maker of all creatures because nobody would give way. . . .

When now they were come to Bethlehem, the Evangelist says that they were, of all, the lowest and the most despised, and must make way for everyone until they were shoved into a stable to make a common lodging and table with the cattle. . . .

The birth was still more pitiable. No one regarded this young wife bringing forth her first-born. No one took her condition to heart. No one noticed that in a strange place she had not the very least thing needful in childbirth. There she was without preparation: no light, no fire, in the dead of night, in thick darkness. No one came to give the customary assistance. The guests swarming in the inn were carousing, and no one attended to this woman. . . . And now think what she could use for swaddling clothes—some garment, she could spare, perhaps her veil. . . .

She “wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.” Why not in a cradle, on a bench, or on the ground? Because they had no cradle, bench, table, board, nor anything whatever except the manger of the oxen. That was the first throne of this King. There in a stable, without man or maid, lay the Creator of all the world. And there was the maid of fifteen years bringing forth her first-born without water, fire, light, or pan, a sight for tears! . . .

Think, women, there was no one there to bathe the Baby. No warm water, nor even cold. No fire, no light. The mother was herself midwife and the maid. The cold manger was the bed and the bathtub. Who showed the poor girl what to do? She had never had a baby before. . . . Do not make of Mary a stone. It must have gone straight to her heart that she was so abandoned. She was flesh and blood, . . . not stone. For the higher people are in the favor of God, the more tender are they. . . .

A human Jesus is an approachable Jesus.

I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, but rather his flesh. Look upon the Baby Jesus. . . . See how God invites you. . . . He places before you a Babe in whom you may take refuge. . . . Here is the Child in whom is salvation. To me there is no greater consolation given to mankind than this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother. . . . Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.

Jesus’s Humanity

Sentimental renditions of the nativity of Jesus have been a staple for a long time, to the point that Jesus’s birth in a stable is made to seem charming and picturesque. There is a basic problem with that picture, namely, it is untrue. Jesus’s birth was not charming. It was accompanied by deprivation and terror. Martin Luther’s thoughts about the birth of Jesus are a rescue effort designed to spare us from shallow thinking about what actually happened on the night Jesus was born.

Luther was a master of the human faculty that today we call the imagination. This shows itself in two ways. First, the imagination is our capacity to identify with people and events beyond ourselves. English Romantic poet Percy Shelley described the imagination as “a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with . . . [a] thought, action, or person not our own.” In the same passage, Shelley spoke of putting ourself “in the place of another” by an exercise of our imagination. This is exactly what Luther does in this meditation. Where have we ever relived the details of Jesus’s birth as vividly as Luther leads us to experience them?

Secondly, the imagination contains the word image within it. The imagination demands an image. In literary terms, Luther’s imagination is realistic, and literary realism includes the portrayal of the unidealized and unwelcome aspects of human experience. The power of Luther’s recreation of the night of Jesus’s birth resides in his ability to present the details as they really happened. The pathos and terror of the events register with us, and the devotional effect is that we grieve for the suffering of the characters and are moved to admire Mary and love Jesus even more.

The actual details of the nativity are inherently metaphoric and parabolic, and Luther is sensitive to this too. So in the last paragraph he expounds on the implications of the helpless humanity of the infant Jesus. A human Jesus is an approachable Jesus. Luther’s final sentence is nothing less than a latent altar call to come to a gurgling Babe for salvation.

There is also a theological aspect to Luther’s literary imagining of the night of the nativity. The theology that undergirds Luther’s meditation is the humanity of Christ. In an oft-quoted sentence, Luther claims that he would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ . . . but rather his flesh. Jesus was both God and man. To neglect either is to distort the truth about Jesus. Bible-believing Christians can readily privilege Christ’s divinity over his humanity.1

The edification that we can carry away from Luther’s meditation is to allow the pity of the physical details of the birth of Jesus to register in our minds, and then to make sure that we understand what those details imply at metaphoric and spiritual levels.

Luther’s imagination works its meditative magic on the following simple foundation from Luke 2:6–7:

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

This article is adapted from Journey to Bethlehem: A Treasury of Classic Christmas Devotionals by Leland Ryken.

Related Articles

Seeing Jesus the Way the Shepherds Did

Francis A. Schaeffer

Let us imagine that we are with the shepherds on those hills in Palestine. We come bursting into the presence of Mary, Joseph, and the baby, and immediately we wonder: what are we looking at?

A Devotional on Prayer by Jane Austen

Leland Ryken

Teach us to feel the importance of every day, and every hour as it passes, and earnestly strive to make a better use of what thy goodness may yet bestow on us, than we have done of the time past.

Why Jesus Came

John Piper

The reason God became man was to die. As God pure and simple, he could not die for sinners. But as man he could. His aim was to die.

A Devotional on the Excellency of Christ Seen in Christmas by Jonathan Edwards

Leland Ryken

Christ came to subdue the mighty powers of darkness, and make a show of them openly, and so to restore peace on earth.

Go to Source
Author: Leland Ryken

The post A Devotional on the Birth of Jesus by Martin Luther first appeared on Koa Sinag.

You cannot copy content of this page