Martin Luther loved Christmas. There are countless stories from students who would stay with the Luther family at their home, a converted monastery that they opened to many visitors and guests. He would grow more and more cheerful as Christmas approached, students reported, and gather his family around to sing Christmas hymns – some of which he composed – by the fire.
Why this great love of Christmas? Because for Luther it represented the inherent logic of God’s activity. Except that “logic” is probably not quite the right word, as everything about Christmas is ill-logical to the world. That almighty God would give up power? That the infinite Lord would become finite and vulnerable? That Christ would divest himself of divinity to take on our mortal flesh? That the king of the universe would be born to a poor and outcast young mother in a stable because no one would make room?
None of this makes sense. Except that it God’s way of showing God’s profound love for us, leaving all things behind in order to appear before us in a form we can receive and accept. God as God is too terrifying for mere mortals to behold, let alone receive, and so God comes to us as one of us: vulnerable, weak, frail, subject to illness and disappointment and rejection, all so that we can perceive that God is with us and for us and will not abandon us, as Luther shares in a Christmas sermon from 1530:
If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners.
Hard to believe? Absolutely. Which is why there is Advent – four weeks to get used to the idea that almighty God would do anything to convey to us God’s parental, enduring, and redeeming love. And our weeks to be prepared to be surprised yet again by just how far God will go to reach us. Let the preparations begin!