Herrenhuter readings for Wednesday, the 24th December 2014

nativity-christ iconThe testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7) And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them – the shepherds – , and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2,9-11) 

“From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing” (Martin Luther 1535) 

What a sight to behold by those simple shepherds in the fields – the heavenly hosts in all their splendour, rejoicing and praising God for his miracles and wonders, yes, glorifying him for the greatest wonder of all – the birth of his only begotten Son Jesus Christ in the city of David, in Bethlehem. The saviour of the world and all its people lying in a manger, born by the blessed virgin mother Mary and coming for us and our salvation. That’s the testimony from on high, carried over by the holy angel and witnessed by those poor and terrified shepherds on the open fields of Bethlehem.

They were greatly afraid. They didn’t know, what to make of it. They were overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord, that was all around them. Quite extraordinary for sure. Yet the angelic testimony was straightforward and sure. First of all, they were not to be afraid. This was not an attack on them, but rather this message was for them, to their eternal benefit, for their blessed salvation too. In our sinfulness and downright simple foolishness concerning all things godly, we are afraid were we should rejoice, grateful and full of courage and bliss were we should rather be shocked, petrified and just plain dead afraid. This divine testimony puts things in proper perspective. The shepherds are encouraged to relax, listen carefully and then do what the angel commands them – straightforward, enlightening and pure words of wisdom and gospel blessing.

Secondly the angel tells these plain folk out there, that he’s bringing good tidings and great joy for all people. Instead of bad news and causes for lament and mourning, the angel is bringing the best of news. It’s good, meet and salutary! No strings attached. Just plain joy to the world the Lord has come! And these good tidings are not just for some select few, not just as usual for the rich and mighty, but rather its meant for them out there in the sticks. That’s why the angel comes to them first, because they would have had their doubts. That’s why the angel tells them its for all people and not just for the lucky chosen ones. No, they too are chosen to hear it, because they too are in the focus of God’s most holy mission of salvation, redemption and bringing eternal life. The angel doesn’t speak in some hidden heavenly tongue, but addresses those unlearned and wretched working staff in the fields so that they can hear, understand and take to heart, what great and wonderful tidings are shared with them from heaven.

This is the light that shines out there in the darkness. It dispels the night and grants light and salvation. It’s illuminating all the hearts and minds out there. And it dawns to those care takers, this is for real. The new day of God’s grace, mercy, goodness and peace has broken – never to cease again. God’s favour has been revealed to all people. Nothing could be more important or vital and lifesaving than that. It’s the crucial message for everybody. For if God’s for us, who can be against us. Nothing can rip us from his loving hand and merciful care. Never ever! For that’s the final headline of this message: Christ the Lord has been born! We’re no longer alone. God is with us: Immanuel + He is not against us. God is for us, so we can call him Father and Jesus Christ is our brother. We’re in good company even though we’re in bad shape and now all and everything will serve to our best. We are not lost, but saved by Jesus Christ our Lord. That’s the truth. That’s what makes the world go round. That’s our wisdom, our boasting and our comfort in all our troubles and as we carry our cross following him too.

Let us continue to focus on these good tidings as we go our way and do our calling. Let us concentrate on that, taking comfort out of his promise that he is the saviour of the world and of all i.e. also of us – and let us not be put off by his lowly appearance. Let us not doubt his divine authority and power to save, redeem and give new life out of death to all who are lost in sin and caught up in all sorts of bondage even as he lies in the manger and at the breast of his holy mother. It is him. There is no other. Let us draw near with confident and trusting hearts, fearing, loving and trusting him above all else. He is the King of glory. He is the Lord of Lords. Therefore we fall down before him, adore and worship him alone + and cry: Lord, have mercy on us poor miserable sinners + See, he has given his only begotten Son for us and our salvation. He has had mercy on us and granted us remission of all our sins for his sake. That’s why we’re on holiday now. It’s the festive season. The time of God’s favour – without end +

Now we pray to him: O Lord by Thy Holy Spirit increase in us poor simple folk the true knowledge and wisdom of Thee and of Thy holy will and grant us increase in true obedience to Thy Word, to the end that by Thy grace we may come to everlasting life – through Jesus Christ, our Lord born in Bethlehem and proclaimed by the angelic hosts, witnessed by the simple shepherds and found by the wise men from the east. Lord, we praise and glorify your name and your miracles and wonders, but above all we magnify you as you were and as you are and as you will be – the saviour of us all + Amen.

2. “To you this night is born a child
Of Mary, chosen virgin mild;
This little child, of lowly birth,
Shall be the joy of all the earth.

3. “This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
Who in all need shall aid afford;
He will Himself your Savior be
From all your sins to set you free.

4. “He will on you the gifts bestow
Prepared by God for all below,
That in His kingdom, bright and fair,
You may with us His glory share.

5. “These are the tokens ye shall mark:
The swaddling-clothes and manger dark;
There ye shall find the Infant laid
By whom the heavens and earth were made.”

6. Now let us all with gladsome cheer
Go with the shepherds and draw near
To see the precious gift of God,
Who hath His own dear Son bestowed.

7. Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!
What is it in yon manger lies?
Who is this child, so young and fair?
The blessed Christ-child lieth there.

8. Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee?

9. Ah, Lord, who hast created all,
How weak art Thou, how poor and small,
That Thou dost choose Thine infant bed
Where humble cattle lately fed!

10. Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
It yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.

11. For velvets soft and silken stuff
Thou hast but hay and straw so rough,
Whereon Thou, King, so rich and great,
As ’twere Thy heaven, art throned in state.

12. And thus, dear Lord, it pleaseth Thee
To make this truth quite plain to me,
That all the world’s wealth, honor, might,
Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.

13. Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

14. My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep;
I, too, must sing with joyful tongue
That sweetest ancient cradle-song:

15. Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who unto us His Son hath given!
While angels sing with pious mirth
A glad new year to all the earth.

The Lutheran Hymnal Hymn #85  Text: Luke 2: 1-18
Author: Martin Luther, 1535
Tune: Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her
Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1855, alt.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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