16th Century Christmas Hymn

By an anonymous author, possibly of Finnish origin

Translator’s Preface

One of my favorite Christmas hymn settings is Michael Praetorius’ 1609 4-voice arrangement of “Parvulus nobis nascitur” from Part 6 of his Musae Sioniae (The Muses of Zion). According to John Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology, this Latin hymn first appeared in the 1579 edition of Lucas Lossius’ Psalmodia.

The now dissolved Chorus Cantans Latine of Martin Luther College, consisting of 12 male voices at its height, performed this arrangement several times, and its memory has stuck with me. I recently had an opportunity to translate it so that it could be sung by an American Lutheran church choir.

First, I pulled up my literal translation from years ago:

1. A little child is born for us,
Given birth from a virgin.
Because of him the angels rejoice
And we [his] servants give thanks:
“To the Trinity be glory without end!”

2. We have the King of grace
And the Lion of victory—
The only Son of God
Who gives light to every age.
To the Trinity be glory without end!

3. He came to bring us, [God's] dear children,
Back to God from death,
And to heal the severe wounds
Inflicted by the cunning of the serpent.
To the Trinity be glory without end!

4. To this sweet little infant
Sing you all with one accord,
[Who is] lying in a manger,
Humbled in a shabby bed.
To the Trinity be glory without end!

In undertaking a rhyming translation to fit Praetorius’ setting, I wanted to accomplish several things:

  1. The nobis (“for us“) of st. 1 was emphasized by being set to two ascended Ds (“no-bis”) after three G notes (“Par-vu-lus”). I wanted to retain that gospel emphasis on “for us” by having “us” occur with the first of the two Ds. In other words, “us” had to be the fourth syllable of the first line of st. 1.
  2. In the refrain (last line of each st.), Praetorius has the music match the concept of eternity, either by dragging out the syllables with multiple notes (soprano) or by repeating the lyrics (tenor and bass). I didn’t want my translation to get in the way of that feature; the refrain had to conclude with the concept of eternity and have lyrics that could be easily and pleasantly repeated.
  3. I wanted to have the same clear allusions to various Scripture references as the original. The “lion of victory” in st. 2 clearly alludes to Revelation 5:5, the second half of st. 2 to John 1:1-18, the second half of st. 3 to the fall into sin in Genesis 3, etc.
  4. It’s always nice if one can introduce a new theme or thread while being faithful to the original. In this case, after opening st. 1 with “See,” I thought about starting each stanza with “See” – to give the whole hymn a sort of “Behold!” or surprise-like character to match the wondrous miracle of the incarnation that is celebrated on Christmas. But when that didn’t work, I ended up going with a sort of sensory progression in the first three stanzas – sight (“See”) to hearing (“Hear”) to touch (“to snatch…From death’s firm clutches”). This also made st. 4 stand out more as a conclusion by the absence of any direct sensory reference in it.
  5. Without getting ridiculous, I like to repeat consonant and vowel sounds within stanzas and lines of stanzas. It helps to unify.

What I ended up with is the product below. You can also access the English choir score here. One suggestion is to have the choir sing “To the Trinity” in st. 4 in unison, before returning to 4 parts for the remainder of the stanza. This would audibly comply with the immediately preceding exhortation: “In unison let all rejoice.”

Unless I am mistaken, this is the first publication of a singable, rhyming translation of “Parvulus nobis nascitur” in English. May it serve to the eternal glory of the Trinity.

See, Born for Us a Precious Child

1. See, born for us a precious child,
Son of a virgin undefiled!
The angels praise him in the sky
And we on earth make glad reply:
“To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!”

2. Hear now the King from Judah roar!
With all our foes he shall wage war!
The Father’s Son, the God of grace!
The light of life beams from his face!
To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!

3. Sent down to snatch God’s children dear
From death’s firm clutches, and its fear,
He came to crush the serpent’s head
And heal our wounds of sin so red.
To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!

4. Though in a manger poor he cries,
Though on a bed of straw he lies,
To this sweet infant raise your voice!
In unison let all rejoice:
“To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!”

To press!

Just an FYI to the readership of Red Brick Parsonage Printing: I just learned today that my translation of five Christmas sermons of Luther, previously only available in English on this site, was recommended for publication by the editorial staff of Northwestern Publishing House.

This likely means that the days these sermons will remain on this site are numbered. Please enjoy them while they are here, and look for their publication by NPH in the coming months. Thanks!

Fifth Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus

By Martin Luther

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Das dritte Theil der Hauspostillen Doct. Martini Lutheri, von den fürnehmesten Festen durchs Jahr, nach der Wittenbergischen Kirchenordnung. Predigten am Weihnachten, oder heiligen Christfest. Von dem Kindlin Jhesu und seinen sechs Namen, aus dem 9. Kapitel des Propheten Isaiä (Vers 1-7) (Part Three of the Devotional Sermons of Doctor Martin Luther, from the chief festivals of the church year, according to the Wittenberg Church Order. Sermons on Christmas, or the Holy Festival of Christ. On the baby Jesus and his six names, from Isaiah 9:1-7), taken from Dr. Martin Luther’s sämmtliche Werke, vol. 6, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt am Main und Erlangen: Verlag von Heyder & Zimmer, 1865), pp. 295-305.

This, the fifth in a five-sermon series, Luther preached in the Wittenberg parish church in the morning of the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, December 27, 1531. Once again the Weimar edition proved useful in confirming, streamlining, and correcting the Erlangen version (see WA 34/2:530-536).

See the “Translator’s Preface” to the First Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus for more information on the sources of these sermons.

God willing, now that I am finished I will reformat all five into one book of devotions for Advent or Christmas and present it to a confessional Lutheran publishing house for publication. I leave it in the Lord’s hands whether they will find such a book useful to my synod at large.

May Christ’s name Champion fortify our hearts, may his name Everlasting Father revive our souls, and may his name Prince of Peace make us his willing citizens while on earth and point us ahead to our heavenly reward.

The Fifth Sermon

Isaiah 9:1-7. (Luther Bibel 1545, alt.)
But it will not stay dark on those in anxiety. If in former times he has made the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali insignificant, then he will bring it to honor afterward, the way along the sea, the land on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who wander in darkness see a great light, and on those who dwell in the dark land it shines brightly. You make the people great; you make great its joy. Before you people will rejoice, as they rejoice in the harvest, as they are glad when they divide spoils. For you have broken to pieces the yoke of their burden and the rod of their shoulders and the staff of their driver, as at the time of Midian. For all the armaments of those who arm themselves with violence and the bloody garments will be burned up and consumed with fire. For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, whose government is upon his shoulder—his name is Wonderful, Counsel, Strength, Champion, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace—so that his government may become great and there may be no end of peace on the throne of David and in his kingdom, so that he readies and strengthens it with justice and righteousness from now on until forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

You have heard it spoken about the child through Isaiah that he should be called Wonderful, Counsel, and Strength. You have also heard what those names mean. Now follows the fourth name, “Champion,” that is, a warrior. We Germans use the word giant for such a man, a man strong and fit for battle.1

With this name the prophet shows how this king and Lord faces his foes. The first three names apply to us; they teach how he rules, comforts, upholds, and defends us. First he leads us into various sorts of cross and suffering. Then he gives us counsel and comfort through the Word. Thirdly, he stands by us with his power, so that we get through safely. So these three names concern us.

But this fourth name applies to him. It teaches how he wants to enlarge and spread his kingdom, how he wants to attack his enemies, to fling them around and pound them into a heap, so that we who are led by him in a strange way, comforted by his counsel, and upheld and protected by his strength, might advance and not always remain so small. He is therefore called Champion, because he is a giant and the kind of warrior who has his way with his enemies. This too is a strength and power, but not whereby he helps us; that’s what the third name teaches. But with this strength and power he beats up and throws down others, whom he also wants to make his subjects.

He accomplishes this without a single swing of the sword. For just as his government with which he rules his Church is carried out in a wonderful way, so also this victory against his enemies, through which he makes the people his subjects, takes place in wonderful way – without armor, without drawing a sword, without firing a shot. He simply hurls his gospel into the world. That is his sword with which he subdues the world. It happens just as the passage in Isaiah 11 says: “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will kill the godless.” His only sword is the rod of his mouth and the breath of his lips. The gospel he has put into the apostles’ mouths is his word with which he strikes into the world, as with lightning and thunder.

The apostles did nothing but confidently preach the gospel into the world and seize people at their softest spot, at the heart.2 They did not strike anyone with a physical sword, did not take what belonged to anyone else, did not compel anyone with force. But they confidently armed themselves with the spiritual sword, which is the word of God, against all the world’s reason, wisdom, intellect, holiness, power, and riches. They took captive human hearts and brought them to the kingdom of Christ. They tore apart and demolished the devil’s kingdom in every nation.

St. Peter stepped forward on Pentecost after the sending of the Holy Spirit and struck with the sword of the gospel into the Jews. He fought such a great battle that in one day and with one sermon he repelled three thousand souls from the devil. And because he was entrusted with preaching the gospel to the Jews, he advanced even further and struck at the Jews until still others came forward, were converted, and became Christians. The persecutors, however, went down, and in the end all Judaism, which sets itself against the gospel and does not want to tolerate this champion and warrior, Christ, fell into a heap.

Similarly St. Paul, soon after his conversion, invaded the high priests, scribes, and the Jews. Then, because he was entrusted with preaching the gospel to the gentiles, he carried the name of Jesus to the heathens and to their kings. He taught that all humans, Jews and gentiles, were sinners, and had to be justified without merit, by God’s grace, through the redemption that had happened through Christ Jesus. That seems to be a trivial message, but it was such a mighty thunderbolt that the entire Roman Empire was struck into a heap, along with its idols, holiness, and wisdom. There lay all their gods – Minerva, Mars, the whole pantheon. Thus this Champion struck down everything among Jews and gentiles through the amazing power of his word in the apostles.

So also today, what have I done to the pope? I have never drawn any sword, but I have struck only with the mouth and the gospel. And I am still striking at the pope, bishops, monks, and priests, at idols, errors, and sects. And by doing that I have accomplished more than all the emperors and kings could have accomplished with all their power. We have only taken the staff of his mouth and struck at hearts, letting God do as he pleases, letting the Word do its work. That has caused such a stir in the papacy and torn such a big hole in it that, if the peasants hadn’t gone fishing for the net, things would certainly be much different with the papacy right now.3

So you can see this champion’s power in this, that such a great giant as he wields no weapons other than the Word. He has it preached into the world that all humans, with all their wisdom, righteousness, and piety, are in the wrong and condemned before God, and that whoever wishes to be saved must repent and believe in the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name. When this sermon advances into the world, indulgences, purgatory, private masses, monkery, and the papacy fall in defeat, without any physical defenses or weapons. That is one amazing and unusual giant, who destroys the devil’s fair with such a seemingly modest and chintzy instrument.

But the Jews and heathens say, “Sure, but it is not right that the apostles cause such a stir in Judaism and in the Roman Empire. Peter and Paul are really nothing but rebels who lead both nation and people astray and stir up rebellion all over the earth. How then can that be God’s power?” The pope says the same thing about our gospel today, that it is not God’s work, but the devil’s. Good. No one should understand this name, Champion, unless he has faith. Human reason does not say it’s right that masses, pilgrimages, worship of the saints, and indulgences cease through the preaching of the gospel being done today. For reason does not recognize this fearsome warrior and giant. Instead it says that he is a rebel, even as his own people, the Jews, have crucified him as a rebel.

But we, we who march along in the first name, Wonderful, know that we place our confidence in the trustworthy Counsel, Christ, and that we should wait on his strength. And because we do that, we see and experience that he is the true conqueror who carries away so many people from the devil’s kingdom in victory, and he does it so lightly armed, without one swing of the sword, using only the breath of his lips. And he shows this struggle not only in his enemies, whom he snatches from the devil and brings to the kingdom of heaven, but he also shows it daily in us by killing the devil in our hearts, that is, sin and death. For sins are the devil’s fiery arrows. When they terrify my conscience and cause it to despair, then it is time for me to strike the devil dead. How? Through the Word, which Christ puts into my heart as a reliable counselor. For wherever Christ is preached and his name is spoken earnestly, the devil must flee.

This is the struggle in which this champion is engaged. When the gospel commences in battle, it does not let up with swinging and hacking, so that many people are won and Christ’s kingdom gets larger. This is a blessed combat and war, because through it humans are repelled from the devil and brought into Christ’s kingdom. What a champion and giant he is! So it stands written in Psalm 149 that the saints “should have sharp swords in their hands to practice vengeance among the heathens [and] punishment among the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with iron shackles, so that the saints do the justice to them about which it is written. All his saints will have this honor.” Here’s how that happens: Our sword is not the physical sword of the world, but the spiritual sword of the mouth of Christ. The saints take this sword in hand and enter the fray. This results in a vengeance being practiced among the heathens and the peoples being punished, in the kings being thrown into the stocks. All of them with all their wisdom and holiness are taken captive and made subject to Christ. This is the honor that belongs to such warriors.

So too in the present day our gospel punishes the peoples and avenges our Lord God and all the blasphemy that has been heaped on him with the services and masses in the papacy. The Word sneaks in and puts our adversaries to shame. It captures and holds them in a saving prison, so that they are freed from sin, death, and the devil and saved eternally. That is a precious captivity. If only all the world were thus captive! – for it is the kind of captivity that guards and protects people from the devil.

The sword is drawn and advances, and it will continue to advance until the Last Day. It was first drawn over the Jews by the apostles. There it hacked away until Judaism was destroyed. Next it was drawn over the gentiles and over the Roman Empire. It hacked away until the idolatry had to cease. Now it is drawn over the papacy. There it will hack away without ceasing until the entire papacy goes down. The dregs of the papacy will remain, but the sword of the gospel shall not stop condemning the papacy with its idolatry. Even though the papacy will catch its breath at times, the Spirit of the mouth of Christ will continue slaying it until Christ brings it to an end through the appearance of his coming.

The prophet lines up theses first four names as those which pertain to the authority he exercises on our behalf and against his enemies. Now follows the fifth name:

“Everlasting Father.”

This name applies to us in our relationship with him and is a very lovely name, full of comfort. For with this name it is shown that those who are under Christ are not servants, but children and free people, who have come out of the servile right into the right of children, and are not under the law, but under grace. For the word father is the opposite of the words tyrant and judge. Moses with his law is a judge and tyrant. Wherever the law strikes in a person’s heart, it terrifies him so that he wants to go to court with God. But it is recorded, in the words of David, “Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is right before you.”

We should pay close attention to this name, that Christ is not called a tyrant or judge. He is called Father, one who shows and conducts himself toward us in a fatherly way. And he is not called Father for just one moment, as the sophists have taught, but he is called Everlasting Father. In the papacy, when I wanted to go to the Sacrament, I would think, “If only it were possible for someone to remain pure for a single hour after confession! Then I might be able to receive the Sacrament in a worthy manner.” Accordingly I did not know what the forgiveness of sins really was, nor did I understand why Christ was called Everlasting Father.

Therefore learn what this name Everlasting Father means. If you are under Christ in his kingdom, then he removes the law and the servile yoke from you, not just for one hour, not just for one day, but all the way to the Last Day and into eternity. For he is your Father Everlasting, as the prophet calls him here. So you can never be under the law. Christ himself says so in John 3: “God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not judged.” If he does not judge the world, then the law must be gone. If a believer is not judged, then his servitude to the law must be over. In short, a Christian is not under the law, for Christ is called Everlasting Father.

Now that’s real forgiveness of sins, that in Christ’s kingdom the absolution is spoken not on account of our works, but on account of the fact that Christ bears the name Everlasting Father. When you believe in Christ, the law never has anything to say to you. Christ wants to be your father into eternity, to exercise no right against you, but to treat you like his child. If you have sinned and you repent and believe in the forgiveness of sins in his name, he will have compassion on you as a father has compassion on his children.

We should learn this well, that under Christ in his kingdom neither judgment nor justice are in force, but only forgiving sin and being an Everlasting Father. Let the unbelievers, who do not belong to Christ’s kingdom, go to the judge and executioner. But if you believe in Christ, you are an everlasting child, and Christ will always and eternally be your father. Or, if you must have the law, apply it to your flesh and old Adam to keep it in check, and conduct yourself according to the Ten Commandments. But your faith, heart, and conscience should be free from the law. In your heart the law should completely melt away before this name, like ice does in the summer heat.

Therefore a Christian should be prepared, when the devil wants to summon him to court, to say in his heart, “I know of no court, for it is written, ‘Whoever believes in the Son is not judged.’ The law is gone and has ceased to carry any weight, for I am under a lord who is called Father, not for one hour, not for one day, but into eternity. Therefore I am not under the law of servants, but am under the grace of children and free people. I want to have the right of sons.” A father gives his children everything they require, out of fatherly love. But if a servant wants to get anything from his lord, he must earn it through service.

So now Christ is not just a Champion against his foes, but also an Everlasting Father to his friends, to Christians. He rules them so that they need pay attention to no law according to the heart and conscience. In my heart the law should put nothing between me and Christ; forgiveness of sins should be all that’s there. When it comes to my faith and my conscience, rod, judge, bench, court, plaintiff, executioner, and everything else should be set aside, and this alone should be in force: Christ is Father, and an everlasting one. I should not imagine Christ to be standing behind me with club in hand; that belongs to the judge and executioner, not to a father. And Christ is called Father, and Everlasting Father at that. He will therefore not be my judge, if I believe in him.

Isn’t that a comforting kingdom, that has this little child? Isn’t that a great grace, that we wretched humans and sinners should be in a kingdom where there is no wrath, but only forgiveness? Certainly, let your old Adam be oppressed and tormented by the law so that he is kept in check and is obedient. Just make sure that your heart has joy and your conscience is glad and assured toward God. For Christ should be there, and he intercedes for us. He says that he doesn’t know of any judge’s bench; he is only an Everlasting Father. He removes the law from our hearts and lays it on our old Adam.

When the heart is thus set at peace, Satan comes and tries to torment us with Christ’s name. He asks us, “Didn’t Christ say in Matthew that many would be condemned on the Last Day who had prophesied and driven out demons and performed many miracles in his name? Is he really your Lord?”

But you should reply, “Bug off, devil! You try to use Christ’s name for yourself, but you are worthless. Christ is the kind who does not wish to take me to court, but is an Everlasting Father. He himself says, ‘I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world,’ and, ‘Whoever believes in him is not judged.’ ”

That’s what Everlasting Father means, that those who are under Christ are not under the law according to the conscience, heart, and spirit, even if they are under the law according to the flesh and old Adam.

The sixth name is: “Prince of Peace.”

This king will be a king and prince who will rule happily and peacefully. Peace, happiness, and prosperity will abound in the land for his citizens. In 2 Kings King Joram greets King Jehu by asking, “Is there peace, Jehu?” And in 1 Samuel David has his men greet Nabal by saying, “Prosper well! Peace be with you and your household, and with all that you have!” Christ is called Prince of Peace because there will be all abundance and wealth in his kingdom, sufficient to the utmost, as one could only wish to have. He will have a kingdom packed with riches and joy. That’s what peace means here. For if we stand in his good graces because he is an Everlasting Father, if sin, death, and the devil cannot accuse us, then, over and above that, there will be every kind of happiness and an abundance of all things in his kingdom.

But just as we cannot see with the eyes of reason how he is an Everlasting Father, so we also cannot see how he is a Prince of Peace. All of this must be believed, if we want to understand and apprehend any of it. This peace, these blessings, this wealth we have in Christ’s kingdom is the kind that no human can perceive with physical eyes or comprehend with reason. We have the gospel, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Psalms, God, Christ, his Spirit, and understanding. We have such understanding of Scripture as to make all people rich in spirit. Who can see and tell of these riches and this happiness, except the pious?

So now Christ is called Prince of Peace, because everything in his kingdom proceeds happily and successfully. He rules his own happily, gently, and peacefully and makes them rich and blessed in all sorts of spiritual gifts. But there must be faith if one is going to really perceive and treasure these gifts. Whoever could lay a single passage from the gospel on the gold-scale and see what great riches were bestowed upon us there, he would regard all the kingdoms of the earth as nothing but crap by comparison. Yes, whoever could just see what a gift and treasure holy baptism is would elevate it above the entire world’s possessions. But because we don’t see it, we don’t care about it.

But in reality these blessings surpass everything that’s in the world. For when you have the word of God, his grace, his baptism, and his holy Supper, you have all wisdom and can advise, help, and free people from death, sin, and error, so that you and others cannot help but rejoice in God in time and in eternity. These treasures are so great and priceless that no one can express their worth. And such blessings are in full effect under this king in his kingdom, where he rules with his gospel.

But what is in effect under the pope, where he rules with the precepts and dreams of men? What happens there we ourselves have experienced to our detriment. We did not know what baptism was, who Christ was, what faith was. We did not understand a single word of the Lord’s Prayer, did not really know how to pray. We did not understand a single one of God’s commandments, nor a single part of the Creed. We could not really explain a single verse in the entire Psalter. We were not able to say how many sacraments there were. We did not know what the duties of father, mother, manservant, and maidservant were, nor that their stations were blessed ones. When someone was supposed to preach about good works, he did not teach how everyone should obey God in his particular station and serve his neighbor. Instead he said, “If you want to do good works, go to St. James in Spain, go to Rome, run to a cloister, become a monk for all to see.” That is a gross and glaring wrong compared to the great riches we now have under the gospel.

This little child is the kind of king who is a gentle father, rules his own gently and fatherly, and is a rich prince who can and will make us rich and bless us “with all sorts of spiritual blessing in heavenly possessions,” as St. Paul says in Ephesians 1. In his kingdom everything is filled to the brim, and there is blessing in abundance. But it is “spiritual blessing in heavenly possessions,” which cannot be seen with the eyes of reason. One must rather perceive and apprehend them through faith, just as with all the other names, since they are entirely spiritual.

Therefore we should not be troubled, even if the world hates, slanders, persecutes, and strangles us, as long us this wealth of spiritual blessing and heavenly possessions in Christ remains firmly ours. If I have this treasure, I can defy the pope, emperor, and all the world, and say, “You all may be great lords, and I may be a poor beggar compared to you, but I still have a heller4 in my pocket that you do not have. I understand this passage from Holy Scripture which you neither understand nor care about. This passage I would not give up for all your wealth, nay, for the whole world.”

This, then, is how this little child rules his Church, as these six names teach. He is a king who is wonderful, has good counsel, is mighty, can wage war and be such an eternally tender-hearted father too, and is a rich prince, who makes his children into nothing but kings and princes, rich in spiritual and heavenly gifts.

Footnotes

1 Today we similarly identify such a man by calling him “huge.”

2 The Erlangen edition makes Luther a little more graphic here, describing the heart as the spot “under the left nipple,” but there is no support for this addition in either the Rörer or Nuremburg copies.

3 Luther is referring to the German Peasants’ War (1524-1526).

4 A small copper coin once current in several German states, worth less than a farthing.

Fourth Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus

By Martin Luther

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Das dritte Theil der Hauspostillen Doct. Martini Lutheri, von den fürnehmesten Festen durchs Jahr, nach der Wittenbergischen Kirchenordnung. Predigten am Weihnachten, oder heiligen Christfest. Von dem Kindlin Jhesu und seinen sechs Namen, aus dem 9. Kapitel des Propheten Isaiä (Vers 1-7) (Part Three of the Devotional Sermons of Doctor Martin Luther, from the chief festivals of the church year, according to the Wittenberg Church Order. Sermons on Christmas, or the Holy Festival of Christ. On the baby Jesus and his six names, from Isaiah 9:1-7), taken from Dr. Martin Luther’s sämmtliche Werke, vol. 6, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt am Main und Erlangen: Verlag von Heyder & Zimmer, 1865), pp. 284-295.

This, the fourth in a five-sermon series, Luther preached in the Wittenberg parish church in the afternoon of the Feast of St. Stephen, December 26, 1531. Once again the Weimar edition proved useful in confirming, streamlining, and correcting the Erlangen version (see WA 34/2:523-530).

See the “Translator’s Preface” to the First Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus for more information on the sources of these sermons.

God willing, I will translate the remaining sermon at some point in the future.

May the open invitation in Christ’s name Counsel both remind us that we are never as wise as we think we are or could be, and spur us on to devotional eagerness and diligence. May Christ’s name Strength give us determination, perseverance, and hope under the cross.

The Fourth Sermon

Isaiah 9:1-7. (Luther Bibel 1545, alt.)
But it will not stay dark on those in anxiety. If in former times he has made the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali insignificant, then he will bring it to honor afterward, the way along the sea, the land on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who wander in darkness see a great light, and on those who dwell in the dark land it shines brightly. You make the people great; you make great its joy. Before you people will rejoice, as they rejoice in the harvest, as they are glad when they divide spoils. For you have broken to pieces the yoke of their burden and the rod of their shoulders and the staff of their driver, as at the time of Midian. For all the armaments of those who arm themselves with violence and the bloody garments will be burned up and consumed with fire. For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, whose government is upon his shoulder—his name is Wonderful, Counsel, Strength, Champion, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace—so that his government may become great and there may be no end of peace on the throne of David and in his kingdom, so that he readies and strengthens it with justice and righteousness from now on until forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Earlier today we heard about the first name. The newborn babe, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, is called Wonderful, because he carries his government and kingdom on his shoulder and goes about with it in such a way that the entire world with all its reason, wisdom, and good sense cannot recognize it. Christ’s government and Church is and remains hidden from the world, so that whoever does not reach it through faith and the Holy Spirit will never recognize or experience what the Christian Church is, nor will he know whether he himself is a Christian.

The second name that follows is: “Counsel.”

This child and son is called Counsel because he is a reliable counselor and can give good counsel in all the difficult situations that call for counsel, understanding, and comfort. For as he guides and rules his holy Church in a strange way, in the midst of the sin, cross, distress, disgrace, shame, and persecution with which she is weighed down, so he also guides and rules her with good and trustworthy counsel, with which he stands by her and comes to her aid in all sorts of sorrow. The counsel he gives is his dear, holy gospel. It can counsel and help in all the affairs that threaten to burden, lead astray, or seduce our heart and conscience.

He is called Wonderful because he leads us in a strange way and leaves us hanging there looking like heretics and sinners with whom God is angry. This appearance will remain as long as there is a Christian Church on earth. It’s hard enough that Christians have to look like they are the most wicked and dangerous people on earth in the eyes of all the world. But the thought that God is angry with them and that they are rejected by him also often occurs to Christians themselves, according to the feeling of their flesh. When that happens, Christians and saints need some good counsel so that they can endure such thoughts. For if I’m constantly going to have the reputation of being a heretic and leading both nation and people astray with my teaching, and if I’m always going to have a doubting, despairing heart and feel that God is letting me have it, I’m just not going to be able to last. That’s why I need Christ to stand by me with his trustworthy counsel and to put the staff in my hand, so that I can endure it.

That’s how St. Christopher is portrayed in the middle of the sea. He has a pole that the Lord has placed into his hand, which he uses to steady and support himself. If he didn’t have the pole, it would be impossible for him to bear his burden and to cross the deep and wide sea. So too it would be impossible for me to bear the world’s great threats, ravings, raging, and tyranny, and the devil’s great cunning and fiery arrows, if Christ did not help me. I would have had to defect back to the pope long ago if Christ had not given my heart trustworthy counsel. But when the burden starts to get too heavy for Christendom and for us, Christ comes and guides his people with his counsel. He speaks his word into our hearts: “Take heart, just cling to me. Let the world rave and rage, let them call you a heretic, let them condemn you. Whatever happens to you also happens to me.” As he says through the prophet Zechariah, “Whoever touches you touches the apple of my eye.” And he says in Psalm 2, “The princes and kings gather together against the Lord and against his Christ.”

Thus he counsels the apostles in Matthew 10: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves. Therefore be shrewd like the snakes and without guile like the doves. Be on your guard against men, for they will hand you over to their councils and flog you in their synagogues. They will bring you before princes and kings because of me, as a testimony about them and about the gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you should speak, for what you should speak will be given to you at that hour. For it will not be you who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

And he says in John 15: “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But since you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, the world therefore hates you.”

And in Acts 4, when the apostles had to stand before the council of the chief priests in Jerusalem, Christ stands by them with his counsel, so that they lift up their voice to God with one accord and say: “Lord, you are the God who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. Through the mouth of David your servant you said, ‘Why do the heathens grow furious and the peoples make useless plots? The kings of the earth combine forces and the princes convene privately to oppose the Lord and his Christ.’ Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the gentiles and the people of Israel about your holy child Jesus, whom you have anointed, to do what your hand and your counsel had already decided beforehand should happen.”

That is the true counsel and confidence we have through Christ, that we are able to say, “If in the name of the Lord I should be a heretic and despised in the eyes of the world, so be it. But my comfort is this: Such treatment doesn’t happen to me for my own sake, but for the sake of my Lord Jesus Christ. It’s aimed at him, not me. If then the world calls me a heretic, there is One on high who knows well that I am called names and condemned by the world because I have preached and confessed him before the world. Apart from that I haven’t done anything to the world; I have in fact done it only good. Therefore the world has nothing on me. And if they are going to condemn and persecute me for preaching and confessing Christ, then the One whose cause I am advocating can lend me his help. So I can easily forgive the world this wrong.”

This is why Christ says, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But since you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world [to believe in me], the world therefore hates you.”1

So he also comforts us in Matthew 5: “Blessed are you when people insult and persecute you because of me, and when they falsely says all kinds of evil against you. Be glad and take heart; you will be well rewarded in heaven. For in this way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

That’s what it means to put the pole in our hand, when Christ puts comfort into our heart so that we say, “Dear Caesar, dear pope, dear princes, if you don’t want to laugh, then go ahead and get mad. The cause isn’t mine, but Christ’s.” For Christ comforts us by saying that people will insult and persecute us because of him. So our adversaries certainly cannot say that we are murderers, thieves, or robbers, or that we are causing war. They may only say that  we are preaching the doctrine that the pope condemns.

So too when Satan engages me in battle and attacks me with his fiery arrows; when my own flesh and conscience accuse me and tell me that I have sinned; when the devil whispers in my ear and continually reminds me of my sin; my flesh is weak and cannot resist him. But here too the devil is contending with Christ. For I am baptized, have the gospel, and believe that Christ is my redeemer and savior. And I have it in pledge and in writing through his word, absolution, and holy supper.

Nevertheless the devil wants nothing more than to ruin all this for me. He wants me to forget that I am baptized and that Christ is my redeemer and savior. Instead he wants to stick the thought in my head that God is my enemy. How do I respond to him? Here Christ give me some good, trustworthy counsel. He teaches me in his word that I should not believe or follow my thoughts, but cling firmly to his word, like he says to the paralytic in Matthew 9, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” And he teaches us in Psalm 42: “Why do you fret, O my soul, and why are you so restless within me? Wait confidently for God, for I will yet thank him that he helps me with his presence.”

The pope and the world wish to scare me away from confessing the pure doctrine and the truth of God. They deputize in the name of God and the Church and say to me, “Why, you are a heretic! You preach against God and his Church! Give it up and go back to your mother, the Roman Church, if you want to find grace.” But when they do, Christ gives my heart some trustworthy counsel and says, “Pay no attention to this outcry. God is not one to scare you away from the truth. Rather, the world and the devil want to make you weak and timid so that you fall away from the faith. Therefore take heart and stand firm.” This is how God comforts the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 1: “Brace up and get up, and preach to them everything I command you. Do not be afraid of them, as if I were going to scare you away. For today I am going to make you into a fortified city, into an iron pillar, into a bronze wall in the entire land, against the kings of Judah, against its princes, against its priests, against the people in the land.”

So now this is why Christ is also called Counsel. He wants to stand by us and comfort us in every difficult situation – when the world persecutes, insults, and slanders us; when the devil frightens us with our sins by shooting his fiery arrows into our heart; or when he attacks us with the name of God through our adversaries, who would gladly tear us away from confessing the truth under the guise of God’s name. It is precisely in such affliction as this that I find counsel and comfort in Scripture, and I should seize it and cling tightly to it. When I do that, I will fear neither my sins nor the tyrants and slanderous yappers of this world nor the evil plans and poisonous arrows of the devil, much less despair or waste away because of them.

This is really why he’s called Counsel, because he gives our heart the good, trustworthy counsel of his holy word. For Christ stands by his own, not with physical strength, but with his word alone. We Christians should learn well what this means for us. When the world persecutes you, don’t restrain their persecution by force as the world does, but take comfort in the Word. For Christ lets his own suffer hardship on earth, lets the devil and the world run all over them, lets them get thrown into prison, and acts as if he were dead and had no ability or power to help. But he gives them his word and says, “There, you have my word. You can take comfort in that. If the world tries to scare you, don’t be scared. If the devil gets after you, take hold of my word and believe it. It will provide you counsel and comfort you in all kinds of difficulty. My word is your true counsel.”

That’s what he says in Isaiah 50: “The Lord has given me an instructed tongue, so that I know how to speak to the weary when the time comes.” It’s as if he were saying, “I am a trustworthy counselor and provide real comfort, and I do this with my tongue, which is instructed by God, that is, which has God’s word. My tongue doesn’t help you by setting you completely free from your affliction. No, it lets you remain in it. But it does put the staff in your hand which you can use to keep yourself steady.”

This is a message for Christians alone, from which they should learn what to do when our Lord God sticks them in danger, shame, misery, and trouble. They should namely not despair, but say, “All of this is happening to me not because of me, but because of Christ. So then I should be patient, cling to God’s word, and take comfort in it.” And it’s true: Everyone calling me a heretic at present does so for no other reason than because of Christ and his gospel. The world is hostile to me, it does me harm however it can, and the devil scares me all in an eager desire to get me to have such faith as the world has.

For the unbelievers this message has no use, for they do not want to be ruled by the first name, Wonderful. They shun the cross, or struggle mightily to get free of it. They do not care for the trustworthy counsel of Christ, who wants to comfort and strengthen them under the cross with his gospel and word. If Christ had the kind of kingdom and gospel where people were giving away plenty of money and affording physical, visible assistance – oh how we would believe ourselves to pieces! Heaven would be jam-packed with believers if Christ were filling our cellars, floors, and coffers. We would have to have another heaven just to make room. With such a message where gold and silver aplenty were being dished out to the people, I would lead everyone in the world to Christendom. But the kingdom and gospel of Christ gives eternal life, and nevertheless teaches that one must let himself be dishonored, hated, imprisoned, beaten, tormented, and killed for the sake of Christ and his word, and so no one wants to step up. Instead our dear God has plenty of room in heaven. No one forces their way forward for it.

But it’s been decided: Christ is called Wonderful, Counsel, and so on. He rules his Church strangely. He covers it with the cross, distress, and suffering. He is also a trustworthy counsel and stands by his Church. Even if he does not afford help in a visible way, he still provides his word, which we can use to keep ourselves steady. Therefore we should respect the Word highly and give it glorious regard. If the world values its things, like money, property, reputation, and power, then we should value the Word much more, since it stands by us in all our troubles. We should not give up that one verse in Matthew 5 for 10,000 worlds: “Blessed are you when people insult and persecute you because of me.” There you find a trustworthy counsel in which you can take comfort in suffering. There you hear that Christ tells you to be glad, calls you blessed, and says all of this happens to you because of him. The world punishes thieves and murderers, but the fact that the devil accuses me of heresy and sin happens only because of Christ. The devil is trying to tear me away from him. If he had already accomplished that, he would certainly leave me in peace.

Therefore, I say, we should value the Word and hold it in high esteem. When hatred, jealousy, and persecution come along, when sin, the devil, and life oppose us, we should take hold of the Word and say, “The words, ‘Blessed are you when people insult and persecute you because of me,’ and, ‘Take heart, I have overcome the world,’ are greater than a hundred thousand worlds, yes, greater than heaven and earth. These words shall be my trustworthy counsel and sturdy pole for supporting myself, so that I can bear and endure it.” If we do not use this pole to support ourselves, our nature is much too weak to withstand the fierce hatred and jealousy of the world and to endure the cunning attacks and fiery arrows of the devil.

I often get so angry and impatient with our peasants, townspeople, and nobles that I think I will not preach another single sermon. For they respond to my preaching so shamefully that one might well despair of living. And the devil does not cease to torment me outwardly and inwardly, so that it would be easy for me to say, “Let some other preacher take my place. I’m just going to let it go its own way. It’s given me nothing but hatred and jealousy from the world and all kinds of torment from the devil.” Flesh and blood keeps tossing back and forth like that, and human nature easily becomes discouraged and timid. Then it is necessary for me to consult God’s word for advice. I must take the rod and staff in my hand, steady myself with it, and say, “Everything is alright now, since the peasants, townspeople, nobles, princes, and sectarians are so willful and thank me for my gospel so shamefully.” I think, “This is how it should be. My Lord Christ said so: ‘If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own.’ ‘Blessed are you when people insult and persecute you because of me.’ ” I hold myself up with that, and I let these words be greater to me than all the world’s malice. So I tell myself, “Okay, back at it, just like you began.”

This is a Christian skill. Others, like the godless bishops, princes, noblemen, townspeople, and peasants, do not know this skill. They also do not embrace the Word, because they are but blocks and stones. And we preach against them like we would to stones, because the Holy Spirit says in Psalm 115 that they are stumps and that he has made them as those “who have ears but do not hear.” For because they make idols for themselves out of silver and gold, and then seek advice with them and put their hope in these things that have mouths but do not speak, have eyes but do not see, and have ears but do not hear, they are just like their idols and can neither see nor hear, though they have eyes and ears. Therefore this message applies to us who believe in Christ and live for him. For us he is Wonderful and Counsel – Wonderful, because he leads us in a strange way, and Counsel, because he comforts and strengthens us through his word.

The third name, “Strength,” shows how this king wants not only to comfort in all suffering, but also to provide a way to overcome it. For if he were Counsel alone, there would only be the Word without any force behind it, and so he would not accomplish anything in the end. But the fact that he does accomplish something means that he is not only called Counsel, but also Strength. So when he has led us into all adversity, lets us be tormented inwardly by the devil and outwardly by the world, and has strengthened us in our suffering with his trustworthy counsel and holy word, he will also at some point powerfully lead us out of it, prevail over it, and maintain justice. He wants to and has to do that so that he preserves his divinity and so that we do not despair. If we were always suffering and God never once intervened, he would lose his divinity in the world’s eyes and we would lose courage and despair, as if the word we had depended on were false. Therefore he is called Strength, because he does intervene in the end.

Thomas Müntzer had taken things so far in the revolt that we thought we were going to run aground at some point and now the time had come. We had nothing except the comfort of our Lord God in his counsel and word. So I held tightly to the Word and said, “Lord, this man is not my adversary, but yours. It is your holy baptism, your gospel and word that is at stake.” Then God came with his strength and told Müntzer to step aside. That’s why he’s called Strength, because today he clears out this guy, tomorrow that guy. He has powerfully demonstrated his strength this whole time, since the gospel has endured. He has taken many people by the hide, so that they have felt it. For the little verse from Psalm 58 must remain: “The people will say, ‘Surely the righteous man will enjoy his own fruit; surely God is still Judge on the earth.’ ”

This certainly happens when the final hour comes and brings an end to our sufferings – an hour which only God knows. We should not prescribe the time or the hour for him, nor set the boundary. He knows the time, hour, and boundary. We do not, nor should we. In the meantime we should cling to his Word and entrust the time and hour to him, that he will step in when it seems good to him. When the time is right we will experience his strength. As the psalmist says, “With your own eyes you will surely see what you desire, and you will behold how the godless are punished.” Just keep your confidence in him, that he will punish the godless. Even if we do not see that all our enemies are punished, our desire will still be realized with some of them, and we will perceive God’s strength.

In short, Christ will put an end to suffering. But he does it in such a way that he alternates between the two, suffering and its end. He always has one follow the other. Just as he makes an end of the night and has the day shine forth only to have it become night again, so he puts an end to our suffering and then some other suffering commences – while at the same time he makes sure that we have peace in the midst of our affliction. But he makes it so that it’s always sweet, sour, night, day, Müntzer, Carlstadt,2 uphill, downhill, one misfortune after another, fortune, misfortune. And it is not always night, nor always day, but one alternates with the other so that now it is night, now it is day. That’s how he rules his Christian Church, as we see in all the historical accounts of the Old and New Testaments. St. Paul saw and experienced plenty of this exchange, as he testifies especially in 2 Corinthians. But St. John experienced it even more, since he lived longer. So too in the Old Testament, when they remained steadfast in the Word in spite of so many afflictions, they found comfort and help.

This is what “Strength” means, that the Lord is not some counselor and comforter who gives us his word and that’s it. No, he also rectifies the matter so that our suffering has an end. When we come into affliction he gives us his trustworthy counsel and strengthens us with his word, so that we may not fall out of weakness, but may stand firm. But when the time is right and we have suffered enough, then he comes with his strength so that we get through it and come out victorious. We must have both – the counsel, so that we are comforted and cheered up in suffering, and the strength, so that we get through it safely. All the Psalms afford Christians a suffering strength. That is, they comfort us in afflictions and sufferings so that our backs don’t break under them, and so that we instead have hope with patience. Then too they ask God to take the affliction away in the end, so that he not only gives a strong back for suffering and enduring through his trustworthy counsel, but also refreshes and revives through his victorious strength. This is how he leads all Christendom; this is his government. The one who does not know this does not know what kind of king Christ is.

So now we have three names. The first is Wonderful, because the Lord goes about with his Christian Church differently than flesh and blood can understand or work out. In short, he does everything against the current. The second name is Counsel, because he counsels and comforts in affliction through his holy word. The third name is Strength, because he also wants to deliver from it. He is Wonderful, leads in a strange way, brings you into cross and suffering; he is full of counsel and comfort; he is powerful and helps you out. Thus you will remain with him in the sacraments and in piety. Thus you will also have his other three names at your disposal, including the next one, that he is a champion, a real giant who arms himself and throws down one bunch here and another bunch there.

Footnotes

1 The bracketed words are Luther’s addition, not the translator’s.

2 Most of Luther’s word pairs symbolize suffering followed by relief or vice versa. But these two are an example of night dragging on for a while, as he also says in the next line, “one misfortune after another.”

Third Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus

By Martin Luther

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Das dritte Theil der Hauspostillen Doct. Martini Lutheri, von den fürnehmesten Festen durchs Jahr, nach der Wittenbergischen Kirchenordnung. Predigten am Weihnachten, oder heiligen Christfest. Von dem Kindlin Jhesu und seinen sechs Namen, aus dem 9. Kapitel des Propheten Isaiä (Vers 1-7) (Part Three of the Devotional Sermons of Doctor Martin Luther, from the chief festivals of the church year, according to the Wittenberg Church Order. Sermons on Christmas, or the Holy Festival of Christ. On the baby Jesus and his six names, from Isaiah 9:1-7), taken from Dr. Martin Luther’s sämmtliche Werke, vol. 6, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt am Main und Erlangen: Verlag von Heyder & Zimmer, 1865), pp. 275-284.

This, the third in a five-sermon series, Luther preached in the Wittenberg parish church in the morning of the Feast of St. Stephen, December 26, 1531. Once again the Weimar edition was also consulted for this translation (see 34/2:515-523), especially the opening paragraphs, where Luther preaches briefly on the Gospel of the day, Luke 2:15-20. These paragraphs are omitted in the Erlangen.

See the “Translator’s Preface” to the First Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus for more information on the sources of these sermons.

God willing, I will translate the remaining two sermons at some point in the future.

May Christ’s name Wonderful give the readers comfort when their Christian life seems to be in vain, yes, when their life calls their own Christianity into question. May we cling to our baptism, to the Holy Supper, to the Word, and conclude against all five of our senses, “The Christian Church is still in my midst, and I too am holy in Christ.”

The Third Sermon

Isaiah 9:1-7. (Luther Bibel 1545, alt.)
But it will not stay dark on those in anxiety. If in former times he has made the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali insignificant, then he will bring it to honor afterward, the way along the sea, the land on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who wander in darkness see a great light, and on those who dwell in the dark land it shines brightly. You make the people great; you make great its joy. Before you people will rejoice, as they rejoice in the harvest, as they are glad when they divide spoils. For you have broken to pieces the yoke of their burden and the rod of their shoulders and the staff of their driver, as at the time of Midian. For all the armaments of those who arm themselves with violence and the bloody garments will be burned up and consumed with fire. For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, whose government is upon his shoulder—his name is Wonderful, Counsel, Strength, Champion, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace—so that his government may become great and there may be no end of peace on the throne of David and in his kingdom, so that he readies and strengthens it with justice and righteousness from now on until forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

They say it’s amazing how quiet the Muslims are in church…1

In the Gospel from Luke 2 we had a fine example of faith from the dear, holy shepherds. They heard the preaching of the angels and hurried off on foot and saw at once what had been announced to them. Their faith was great, first of all, because they did not take offense at the lowly child. Secondly, they were not afraid of Caiaphas or the other bigwigs in Jerusalem and Bethlehem who would punish them as rebels for wanting to make a beggar’s son king. Both are great.

It doesn’t make sense that they heard such a fantastic message from the angels and then went and found the little child in the manger, and yet did not take offense. This child is going to be a king and the redeemer of the whole world? But the shepherds believed it.

That’s not how we would have reacted. Even if we hear the best sermon about faith and eternal life, we regard the good things the world has to offer as a hundred times better. If we were able to believe like the shepherds, if we genuinely believed the words of the creed – “I believe in Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate” – we would have a much different attitude and heart. My heart would not only guard itself against the sectarians, but I would also no longer run after money, property, power, castles, and everything that’s great in the world’s eyes. I would regard it all as nothing but trifles and waste, things that only have use in this life. But since we remain in our original state, that is a sign that we care nothing for Jesus’ birth and think of the words as nothing more than foaming at the mouth.

But the shepherds trust the words so implicitly that they look upon him as their king and Savior and spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child. Where are the things that pertain to a king? Where’s the steed? Where are the bodyguards? And yet contrary to all five of their senses the shepherds conclude, “This is the king, Savior, and joy of the whole world.” So everything in the shepherds’ hearts was small and there was nothing large except the angel’s words, and they saw nothing but his words. They got so full and drunk on them that they preached about Christ the beggar-king and did not shy away from the authorities in Jerusalem in charge of either domain, spiritual or physical. The shepherds were not afraid of them.

It was seditious and heretical enough that they were saying that they had seen an angel who had told them that the Christ had been born. But on top of that, they were claiming that this king and Savior was a little child lying in a manger in Bethlehem. You can imagine Herod, Caiaphas, and the others laughing and saying, “You will not persuade us, dear shepherds, that there is a king in Bethlehem in a manger. We have both kingdoms right here, the physical and the spiritual, the government and the priesthood. And you want to persuade people that you have seen a vision of angels who told you that a king has been born in Bethlehem and is lying in a manger? You are insane.”

What the shepherds said and did was liable to get them crucified and cut up for attacking both kingdoms. But if that’s what became of them, I think they met it bravely and said, “We have certainly earned it well from every angle that we are called such senseless fools. Satan was on the battlefield and they couldn’t have cared less. Whatever happens, heaven will be opened to us.”

Still today some people say, “If it were the true gospel, it would be preached by majority and authority, not by runaway monks and priests.” Yes, dear friends, our Lord God may let Annas and Caiaphas and all the priests keep their seats, but are they the shepherds?

If only we too would follow this example of the shepherds’ faith and let everything else fall on deaf ears, even make it a crime, if only we may cling to the Word! Then, when the absolution is pronounced, when the Lord’s Supper is given, and when the Word is preached, we would receive them wholeheartedly. But the flesh, Satan, and the world make it so that we despise them.

That’s enough about the Gospel. Let’s return to Isaiah. You have already heard his words, “To us a child is born, to us a Son is given, whose government is upon his shoulder,” and we also heard what they mean.

This is a truly golden chapter in which the prophet portrays Christ with choice and glorious words. He tells us that he is the sort of person and lord who carries his government on his shoulder. That means he carries you and me and all who believe in him with all our sins, troubles, and griefs. And he didn’t do that only when he came to us on earth and loaded our sins on himself and bore them on the cross, as St. Peter says in 1 Peter 2, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” No, he also still carries us daily through his word and gospel.

In this way the spiritual and physical kingdoms are carefully distinguished. Worldly government should be and be called the kind of government where we carry lord and king. For the world needs to be pressed and coerced. But the spiritual government and kingdom of Christ should be called and is in fact the kind of government where the lord and king carries us. For as the rough and wild masses in the world need to have the governor sitting around their neck and must fear and carry him, so on the other side troubled hearts and timid consciences need to be carried and relieved of their burden and weight.

That’s the big difference between the two kingdoms. In worldly government thousands of people must carry one head, one worldly king and lord. But in spiritual government one head and king, Christ, carries countless people. Yes, he carries the sin of the whole world, as the prophet Isaiah says in chapter 53, “The Lord cast all our sin on him.” And John the Baptist says, “Look, there’s the lamb of God who carries the sin of the world.” He carried us on the cross and today he carries us through his gentle spirit. He has it preached that he is a king of grace and mercy.

That’s one part of the prophecy. It’s now followed by the six names the prophet gives this king. With these names he further depicts what his kingdom looks like. Up till now he has painted the king as a king and lord who carries his kingdom on his shoulder. But with these six names he teaches us how the holy Christian Church is shaped and colored. If you want to paint the Christian Church correctly, then paint it like this: She rests on Christ’s shoulder and Christ must carry her. But how Christ carries his Church and how the Church is carried by him—that is shown first of all by the first name given to him and his work, Wonderful.

“His name is Wonderful.”

Christ is called Wonderful because of the work he carries out in his holy Christian Church. For he rules it in such a way that no one can conceive with any reasoning or perceive with any of the senses that it is the Christian Church. He does not bind it to any location, time, or person. He does not let it be recognized by anything external like clothing or ritual, so that someone could take note and actually know where it is, and how big or small it is. If you want to meet and find it, it is nowhere else than on Christ’s shoulder. If you want to apprehend it, you must close your eyes and all your senses and just listen to how the prophet baptizes and paints it here.

So now Christ is called Wonderful because he is a wonderful king and has a wonderful kingdom. He is a rejected king before the world, as he himself says in Psalm 22, “I am a worm and not a man, a mockery of the people and contempt of the nation.” And the 118th Psalm testifies, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it is a wonder before our eyes.” And his Church is a rejected people in the eyes of the world, the devil, yes, even in our own eyes, as St. Paul says about the apostles in 1 Corinthians 4, “We have been made a spectacle to the world and to the angels and to men. … We are always like a curse of the world and a scum-offering of all people.”

Holy Christendom certainly is the lovely, pleasing bride of Christ, yet it has to have the appearance and semblance of the devil’s bride. It is the true Christian Church, yet it has to be called misleading and heretical, the church that has revolted against and isolated itself from Christ and the true faith. The world does not let it keep the name of Christ’s bride and Church, but it has to be the devil’s bride and church. The Muslims, for instance, consider Christians to be the most godless and stupidest people on earth, yes, nothing but devils. So do the Jews. And right now the papists think that we are the most cursed and dangerous people that have ever walked the earth. So on the outside the Christian Church does not have the semblance, reputation, trimmings, or appearance of God’s people, but it has to have the reputation of being the devil’s people.

We’d still be able to bear and tolerate that, if that were what it looked like only to the world and the devil. But that it also often looks that way to us—that’s hard to overcome. For the devil knows his craft. He often averts the eyes of Christians so far away from baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Christ’s word, that they plague themselves with the thought that they have been rejected by God, just like David laments over such fear and dread in Psalm 31: “I said in my alarm, ‘I have been cast away from your sight!’ ”

These are the colors of our court. In the eyes of its members, the Christian Church does not look like the Church, and I do not look like a Christian in my own eyes. I should know and believe that this is the holy Christian Church and that I am a Christian. Yet I also have to see that both the Church and I are weighed down with the heavy baggage that we are called heretical and devilish by all the world. Yes, I have to hear my own heart telling me, “You are a sinner.” This heavy baggage of sin, death, the devil, and the world weighs so heavily on the Church and Christians that people can see nothing of the Church or Christians. They see only sin and death, and hear only the slandering of the devil and the world. The whole world and everything wise and intelligent in the world stand against me; my own reason even renounces me. Yet I still have to hold my ground and say, “I am a Christian, and am righteous and holy.”

That’s why Christ is called Wonderful, because the work he carries out in Christendom is so strange and wonderful that no amount of reasoning can comprehend it. The Christian Church is righteous and holy, yet it does not look like it is righteous and holy. Why? Because Christian righteousness stands outside of us. It exists only in Christ and through faith in him. So the Christian Church and every Christian confesses and says, “I know that I am sinful and impure, that I lie in captivity, in danger, in death, in shame and disgrace. I feel in myself nothing but sin alone. Nevertheless, I am righteous and holy, not in myself, but in Christ Jesus, ‘who has been made [my] wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption by God.’ ”

Such Christian righteousness is beyond all reasoning, wisdom, and everything natural, and no one who wants to judge according to reason can come to grips with it. For all the philosophers say that righteousness is a quality or condition, that is, a virtue, a holy or pious quality, that must exist in a righteous and pious person’s soul. Just as white or black is a color on the wall, in bread, smeared or poured on an animal hide or something else, so, they say, righteousness and holiness must stick in the person’s soul as if it were glued in there. Indeed, our own heart can judge no other way according to reason, and so it thinks, “Righteousness needs to be seen and felt, but all I see and feel in myself is wickedness. How then can I be righteous?”

So, like I said, the devil, the world, and my own heart line up against me and say that I am not righteous. Now how should I respond? With nothing else but the words right here in the text: “My Lord Jesus Christ, who is born and given to me, is called Wonderful. He rules his Church and Christians in a mysterious way, so that they are righteous, holy, wise, pure, strong, vibrant, and children of God, even when it looks like the opposite not only to all the world, but also to ourselves.” What should we hold on to in order to prevail over this appearance? The Word. For Christ does things strangely and mysteriously for himself too. When he wants to go to the Father into eternal life, he goes into death; when he wants to take sin, death, and the devil captive, he lets them pounce on him, accuse, slander, condemn, strangle, and kill him. So we too must close the eyes of our heart like shepherds did, so that we don’t classify ourselves according to the outward appearance, but according to the Word.

Therefore I should say, “I regard Christians and myself as holy, not because of my own righteousness, but because of holy baptism, because of the Lord’s holy supper, because of the Word, and because of the Lord Christ in whom I believe.” If inspect myself without baptism, without the Lord’s Supper and the Word, I find only sin and wickedness, yes, the devil himself, who plagues me continually. So too, if I inspect you apart from baptism, apart from the Lord’s Supper and the Word, I see no holiness in you. Yes, even if you are here in church, hearing God’s word and praying, you are still not holy apart from Word and sacrament. Therefore the court colors don’t mean a thing. But this color means something – when I can say, “This person is baptized, gladly listens to God’s word, and believes in Christ.” These are the true signs that let me know that here is a real Christian and a holy man.

The outward form and mask means nothing. But wherever the gospel is clearly and purely preached, wherever the holy sacraments are used the right way, wherever anyone fulfills the office and work entrusted to him in his particular station, there you will certainly find God’s people and real Christians. Therefore you should not judge according to the external colors, but according to the Word. If you judge according to the external colors and not according to the Word, you’re going to be wrong. Why? Because you will find nothing special on the outside of a Christian when compared to any other person. Actually, an unbeliever and heathen will often have a better conduct and more honorable standing than a Christian. Therefore the outward form and colors are deceiving.

Yet the dumb and depraved monks and priests have wanted to paint and color the Christian Church according to the outward form and mask. That’s why so many orders and sects, cowls and tonsures have appeared. They say, “We monks and priests live a special way, wear special clothing, and don’t get married. Therefore we are holy people. But you laypeople lead an ordinary life in the world, get married, and pursue your trade. Therefore you cannot be as holy as we are.” The devil is the one responsible for getting the whole world so moved and excited by the external masks. I know for certain that there would scarcely be ten out of all of you here in Wittenberg who would not be led astray if I once again practiced such holiness as I did in the papacy, when I was a monk. Human reason does not value baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Word as highly as it does the monastic habit and conduct of the Franciscan and Carthusian orders. That’s the side on which reason falls. It says, “This man is a monk. He lives according to a hard monastic order. He has fasted, kept vigil, and prayed so much that he looks like a skeleton. Therefore he is holy. But that man is a common man, a tailor or a cobbler. He has a wife. How can he be holy?”

Therefore we should learn to know the Christian Church the right way and not look to the external mask, but to the Word. A woman who is baptized, listens to the gospel, believes in Christ, has a husband, gives birth to children, and fulfills the duties entrusted to her is holy, even if no one can see her holiness. For with my physical eyes I cannot see her baptism, with which she is adorned before God, or her faith in Christ, which she has in her heart. I only see that she is busy at home washing and bathing the children, spinning and sewing, feeding and cooking. There doesn’t appear to be anything special about her. Yet if she remains in the gospel and faith in Christ and faithfully carries out her duties, then she is holy and a member of the Christian Church – not because of her piety, but because of her baptism and the gospel she has in her heart, and because of the Lord Christ who dwells in her heart.

No one regards such a woman as a Christian and a holy woman. But when a Beguine or some other clumpy nun comes along,2 hunched over and haggard-looking, all human reason considers her to be holy, so that the woman who is baptized and believes in Christ and is faithful to her marriage vows is nothing whatsoever compared to this nun. So our Lord God makes the world a fool. It does not deserve to see or recognize a Christian. Therefore we should be on our guard against the external masks and learn that the Christian Church consists of those who are baptized and have faith in Christ in their hearts, and outwardly go about doing ordinary work, as the station and calling of each one requires. This is how we should regard and recognize the Christian Church. Whoever sees it this way will not go wrong. But whoever doesn’t have this knowledge, which is lacking in the whole world and in all human reason, is always going to be wrong.

So now Christ is called Wonderful because everything that he does in his Christian Church is strange and wonderful. The Christian Church, as mentioned, has a wonderful righteousness and holiness which is hidden from all reason. But when it comes to the cross, then it gets much more strange and wonderful. For a Christian who is baptized and confesses Christ must suffer and be persecuted in the world for the sake of Christ and the gospel. To all the world that makes it look like the Christian has been forsaken by God, and the Christian himself thinks no differently in his heart, according to the way his reason perceives it. So Christ has his Church weighed down with the cross, persecution, and every kind of offense, in order that he may make the unbelieving world into fools.

Here all human reason once again gets stuck and cannot come to grips with this. But a Christian takes hold of the Word and thinks to himself, “Even though I am despised and persecuted, I am still baptized, have the gospel, and believe in Christ. And I regard my baptism, the gospel, and Christ in my heart so highly that, compared to them, the whole world is but a splinter.” It is certainly true that whoever has the gospel and Christ in his heart has such righteousness before God that, even if the sins of the entire world rested on him, they would compare to his righteousness in Christ like a droplet of water compares to an entire ocean. It is no small thing when you respect God’s word and cling to it; it is in fact something so great that all creatures are a tiny speck of dust by comparison.

So now the Christian Church is righteous and holy even though it doesn’t look that way to the world, yes, even though it is also weighed down with the cross and offense. And no one can sufficiently fathom the Church’s righteousness and holiness and grasp it with faith, much less comprehend it with human reason. Whoever wants to recognize the Christian Church and Christians must recognize them by the Word, gospel, faith, and fruits of the gospel and faith. If you have the gospel, are baptized, and believe in Christ, then you are a Christian and holy. Then too, if you do the work of your station, keep your marriage vows, honor your father and mother, obey your masters and mistresses, those are the fruits of the gospel and of faith.

If from time to time a grievous sin dogs your steps, it doesn’t have to harm you. Remember your baptism, cling to the gospel, receive the absolution, take the Lord’s Supper, and say, “I have had evil thoughts. I have stumbled. I did wrong there and there. But I am baptized. I have the Word, the absolution, the holy sacrament. That is a greater holiness to me than the entire world with all its creatures. Christ Jesus is my kindest, most merciful mediator. Even if every demon wanted to terrify me, they are scarcely a spark compared to him. And it is he who helps me.”

So you see why Christ is called Wonderful, namely because everything he does in the Christian Church he tears away from our eyes, reason, and senses, and he conceals it in his Word. Righteousness, holiness, wisdom, strength, life, salvation, and everything the Church has in Christ cannot be comprehended by reason and is hidden from the world. If you want to judge the Church according to reason and the outward appearance, your verdict will be false. For in that case you will see people who are sinful, frail, terrified, troubled, miserable, persecuted, and rejected. But if you take note that they are baptized and believe in Christ, that they prove their faith by producing its fruits and bearing the cross in patience and hope, then your verdict will be true. For those are the true colors by which which the Christian Church can be known.

Reason regards baptism as plain water and the Word as a mere sound. Therefore it cannot know or find the Christian Church, because it has such low regard for baptism and the Word. But we Christians should have such high regard for baptism and the Word that we declare all the treasures of the world as null and void by comparison. When we do that, we can know the Christian Church. We can also comfort ourselves and say, “In myself, I am a sinner. But in Christ, in baptism, in the Word, I am holy.”

So we should make good use of this name Wonderful by not letting ourselves be deceived by the external masks. Then we’ll be able to guard ourselves against all fanatics. This is imperative for us, because in time monks will return, not the monks that we used to have in the papacy, but others. For the world can’t leave it alone; it needs to paint the Christian Church with external manners and masks. But the Church will not let itself be painted except like I said before – with the gospel, the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, faith, and the fruits of faith. Baptism is the true white. For there we put on the truly white and beautiful outfit. The Word is the true and glorious blue of heaven. The fruits of the gospel and of faith are the various other colors in which we are adorned, each in our particular station and calling.

Footnotes

1 Before he begins the sermon proper, Luther takes a (playful?) jab at his audience for not exerting enough effort to control their coughing.

2 A Beguine is a member of a sisterhood founded in the 12th century, active in Holland and Germany at Luther’s time. It is not bound by perpetual vows but was established for devotion and charity. The Rörer copy reads: “Unter des kompt ein Pegin nun…” The Nuremberg copy: “Wyr sehen eyne klumper Nonne…” (WA 34/2:521). The Erlangen edition: “Aber wenn eine Pegina und Klunkernonne daher tritt…” (EA 6:281).

Second Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus

By Martin Luther

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Das dritte Theil der Hauspostillen Doct. Martini Lutheri, von den fürnehmesten Festen durchs Jahr, nach der Wittenbergischen Kirchenordnung. Predigten am Weihnachten, oder heiligen Christfest. Von dem Kindlin Jhesu und seinen sechs Namen, aus dem 9. Kapitel des Propheten Isaiä (Vers 1-7) (Part Three of the Devotional Sermons of Doctor Martin Luther, from the chief festivals of the church year, according to the Wittenberg Church Order. Sermons on Christmas, or the Holy Festival of Christ. On the baby Jesus and his six names, from Isaiah 9:1-7), taken from Dr. Martin Luther’s sämmtliche Werke, vol. 6, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt am Main und Erlangen: Verlag von Heyder & Zimmer, 1865), pp. 266-275.

This, the second in a five-sermon series, Luther preached in the Wittenberg parish church in the afternoon on Christmas Day. According to the Erlangen edition, the year was 1532. But according to the more critical Weimar edition, which was also consulted for this translation, the year was 1531 (see 34/2:508-514).

See the “Translator’s Preface” to the First Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus for more information on the sources of these sermons.

God willing, I will translate the remaining three sermons at some point in the future.

May the good news of the son given to us at Christmas set the reader firmly on his shoulders, that he may bear our sins and sorrows and carry us safely out of this life into the next.

The Second Sermon

Isaiah 9:1-7. (Luther Bibel 1545, alt.)
But it will not stay dark on those in anxiety. If in former times he has made the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali insignificant, then he will bring it to honor afterward, the way along the sea, the land on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who wander in darkness see a great light, and on those who dwell in the dark land it shines brightly. You make the people great; you make great its joy. Before you people will rejoice, as they rejoice in the harvest, as they are glad when they divide spoils. For you have broken to pieces the yoke of their burden and the rod of their shoulders and the staff of their driver, as at the time of Midian. For all the armaments of those who arm themselves with violence and the bloody garments will be burned up and consumed with fire. For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, whose government is upon his shoulder—his name is Wonderful, Counsel, Strength, Champion, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace—so that his government may become great and there may be no end of peace on the throne of David and in his kingdom, so that he readies and strengthens it with justice and righteousness from now on until forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Yesterday you heard how the prophet Isaiah sings us a really fine little song about the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, a song that has remained in Christendom even under the papacy and is still sung by young and old today, except that not all of them know what it means. The prophet, however, insists that we embrace this little child as one who is born to us and who is and is meant to be our child.

We therefore preach and promote this so diligently and continually so that we learn to understand well these two articles: “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,” and to add the little words for us to each one: conceived by the Holy Spirit for us, born of the virgin Mary for us, and so on: “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” For whom? For us. We want to grasp that the entire Christ is and remains ours. The dear church fathers also did not forget this. They placed these words for us and our very earnestly and diligently into the Nicene Creed: “who for us humans and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and became human. Also for us he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death, and was buried.”

The Apostles’ Creed also does this: “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” We should not apply the words our Lord only to Jesus Christ, but also to all the other articles in the creed: Jesus Christ, our Lord, was conceived for us, born for us, suffered for us, was crucified for us, died and was buried for us; our Lord rose from the dead for our comfort, sits at the right hand of the almighty Father for our benefit, will come again to judge the living and the dead for our comfort. This is what the holy apostles and dear church fathers wanted to announce with the words for us and our Lord, namely that Jesus Christ is ours. He has to and wants to help us, and we can say to him, “You are our Lord. You were conceived for us, born for us, suffered for us, were crucified and died for us.”

That’s also what the prophet Isaiah means here when he says, “To us a child is born.” Now just as we repeat the words I believe in the Christian creed and apply them to each person of the Godhead – “I believe in God the Father,” “I believe in Jesus Christ,” “I believe in the Holy Spirit” – we should also always repeat the words our Lord the same way, since they belong to every single article we believe and confess about Christ: I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, our conceived-by-the-Holy-Spirit Lord, our born-of-the-virgin-Mary Lord, the Lord who suffered for us, and so on. This will keep us from skimming or speaking the words mechanically and applying them only to Christ and not also to ourselves. For he would not have needed this for his own person. Even if he had been neither conceived nor born, had neither died nor risen from the dead, he would still be Lord. But that he is conceived and born, suffers, dies, is buried, descends to hell, and everything else that’s said about him in the Christian creed—all of that is called and is ours. And accordingly this is what we preach on this festival, so that we learn well this article’s power and effect and know that Christ is our Lord.

Yesterday we covered the words, “To us a child is born.” The prophet now goes on to say, “To us a son is given.”

When women see a baby, they like to ask, “What is it?” To that the prophet Isaiah answers and says, “It’s a son, and he is ours.” It is certainly strange that you and I and the entire world are made this child’s mother, even though neither you nor I have conceived or given birth to this child. For just like you heard yesterday that this child becomes our blood, flesh, and bone by his birth, so we are all made this son’s mother by the fact that he is given to us. This cannot be described. Judge for yourself: Who can comprehend with their mind, much less put into words, that we miserable, pitiful humans should be so bold and embrace this child, and not doubt but believe for certain that not only is this child born to us, but that this same son is also given to us? No human heart can fathom it, and no human tongue can describe it.

For to give means to freely present something to someone, for nothing and at no cost. And the prophet says that this son is given to us, which is to say that he is our present and gift. He is yours and mine, and yours and mine in such a way that we do not have to buy him or pay anything for him. He is purely a present and gift.

The world is not worthy of hearing a single syllable about this, because of its shameful unbelief. The pious virgin and noble mother does well to bring this son into the world so that he may be your son and gift and mine, just as surely as if he were placed right into your hands and mine. And we have sure and certain signs of this, God’s word and the holy sacraments. The prophet Isaiah also stands there as a witness and says, “This son is given to us.” But we still don’t believe it, nor do we thank God for it. Therefore we are not worthy to hear one syllable of it, because of such great ingratitude and shameful unbelief on our part.

The prophet groups these two things together, born and given. The child is true man, for he is a born and given son. These two ideas stand out in the text – a given son and a born child. Listen to the song Isaiah is singing about him: “A true man has come into the world, born of a virgin. Do you want a sign that this is true? He is a son and is given to us.”

Now hear how he describes him: “Whose government is upon his shoulder.” This is too much for one sermon. You’d be much better off with it in a book than in my sermon. “Do you want to know,” the prophet asks, “what kind of born child and given son this is? Listen up, and I’ll portray him for you. The born child and given son is a governor and has a government, and his government is on his shoulder. That’s the kind of child and son he is.” That’s what he’s called, a lord and governor, who carries his government on his shoulder. That’s how we should portray him if we want to do it right.

The angel of the Lord who appears to the shepherds in the field and preaches to them about the newborn child also portrays him well when he says in Luke 2, “Today the Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” He says that the born Savior is Christ the Lord, not merely like the head of the household is lord over the servants in his house, but also lord over heaven and earth, over what is visible and invisible. For if the angels call him a lord, he certainly must be not just any old lord, but lord over everything. If he were not lord over everything, including the angels, then the angels would not call him a lord. But the angel says to the shepherds, “The newborn child is your Savior. But this same Savior of yours is Christ and Lord of us all.” That’s the right way to portray him, for according to Hebrews 1 this child born in Bethlehem is such a lord whom all God’s angels worship.

But the prophet Isaiah doesn’t go so high in his prophecy as the angel does in his sermon, but he remains down here on earth. The angel sets the newborn child’s government also into heaven. He says that the Savior born in Bethlehem and laid in the manger is Lord of all creatures in heaven and earth. But the prophet has this child’s government stay on earth and says, “The child born to us and the son given to us is indeed a lord and governor, but his government rests on his shoulder.”

Now figure that out, if you’re even able to or even want to try! The child is a governor and has a government, and his government rests on his shoulder. How does that work? To have a government and to be governor of it, but to have to carry that government around on your shoulder? To be a lord, yet at the same time a servant and slave? That must be really be some kind of lord, to carry his government up around his neck! To govern and rule his government, and yet to be his government’s servant and slave, carrying and hauling his government around! How are we to understand this? What’s the prophet trying to show us?

First of all, the prophet wanted to show us that this governor’s government is different from the government of this world. Christ tells us about this world’s government in Luke 22: “Worldly kings exercise lordship, and those with authority are called gracious lords.” That’s how worldly government has to be. Kings and potentates must be strict in their rule, lordship, exercise of authority, and administration of justice. Princes in the country and mayors in the city have their ministers and secretaries of this and that so that the good are protected and the wicked are punished. That’s worldly government, when the government carries the governor. A mayor must sit on the shoulders of the townspeople and say, “Do this.” And the townspeople must carry the mayor and do as he says.

In the same way fathers and mothers must sit around the necks of their children and servants at home, and the children and servants must carry their parents, their masters and mistresses. Worldly government cannot exist unless rulers bear down on their subjects. If they do their subjects harm or wrong, the subjects may address the wrongs. But I’m not talking about such tyranny right now. I’m talking about a proper, organized government, and in a proper, organized government, the government must carry the one governing it. Those subject to the government of the world are not carried by their governor, but they must offer their backs and carry their governor.

But here it’s the complete opposite. A child is born to us and a son is given to us who has a government and is a lord. But here the government does not carry the governor, but the governor carries the government. Now this governor’s government is his kingdom, his people, his Church, you and I and all who are baptized into him and believe in him. So this lord carries us. In worldly government we must carry our kings and lords, and they sit on our shoulder. But in spiritual government, in Christ’s kingdom, this king and lord carries us, and we sit on his shoulder.

Secondly, the prophet wanted to show where the government of this king and lord can be encountered and found. He tells us that his government, that is, his royal realm, his people, his country and citizens—it’s on his shoulder. The government of our ruling princes is in Thuringia, Meissen, Saxony, and so on. But this king’s government and people is all of Christendom. Wherever there are Christians anywhere in the world, that’s where his government is. We and all who believe in him are his government. For that’s what the angel says, “Today the Savior has been born to you.” And we confess in the Second Article of our Christian creed, “I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Now if he is our Savior, like the angel says, and our Lord, like we confess in the creed, then we are his royal realm, government, and people.

Where is Christ’s government and royal realm? “On his shoulder,” the prophet says. That’s something strange and unheard-of, that Christ’s government, kingdom, and people is not under his feet. It is not at Rome, not at Babylon, not bound to any certain location and place. It is on his shoulder. Even if I were a dialectician, I couldn’t define the Christian Church as nicely as the prophet defines it here in this concise way. If someone asks, “Where is the Christian Church?”, here’s the answer: It is not at Rome, nor on the Way of St. James, nor at Nuremberg, nor at Wittenberg, nor among the peasants, townspeople, or nobles. No, it says simply this: His kingdom rests on his shoulder.

When artists want to depict this text, they paint a little child carrying a cross on his shoulder. But if I were to depict this text, I wouldn’t paint a child with a cross, but a child carrying a church on his shoulder. Then this text would be depicted correctly. For the little child carries his government on his shoulder, and his government is the Church and all of Christendom. If you want to find the Christian Church, you will never succeed unless you look at Christians who are on Christ’s shoulder.

The pope and the sectarian fanatics have this text just as much as we do. They too bear the title and name of the Church and take pride in calling themselves Christians. We must tolerate that. But they will not remain the Christian Church or Christians for long that way. For no one is a Christian unless he is on Christ’s shoulder, that is, unless he trusts and places his heart’s confidence in Christ and lets himself be carried by him, as a stray sheep must let itself be carried by its shepherd if it’s going to survive, as the parable in Luke 15 teaches. To sum it up, there may be faith all over in the world, be it Jewish, Muslim, or Roman Catholic, but no one is a Christian unless he rests on Christ’s shoulder.

This is what the prophet Isaiah saw and wanted to show with these words, that the Christian Church is on Christ’s shoulder and that a real Christian and true member of the Church is someone who believes that he is on Christ’s shoulder, that is, that all his sins lie around Christ’s neck, so that his heart says, “I know no other comfort than that all my sins and misdeeds rest on Christ’s shoulder.” Those who sit on Christ’s shoulder and let themselves be carried by him this way are called and are the Church and genuine Christians.

This text needs to be diligently preached and well promoted so that people really grasp it. Christ must carry us, must pay and make satisfaction for our sin, or else we are lost. He had to carry us on the cross, and still must carry and bear patiently with us all the time. We neither can nor should carry him; he must carry us. We will earn nothing from him, but still he speaks to me, “I will forgive you all your sins. Your guilt rests on my shoulder. Yes, my entire government and all my people rest on my shoulder, no matter who they are—Isaiah, Peter, Paul, everyone from the greatest to the least. Those whom I carry are my country, people, and royal realm. Those I do not carry are not my royal realm, Church, or people.”

So now we hear how the prophet Isaiah describes Christ with such magnificence and charm. He is a child and son, he says. He is born and given to us, is a governor and has a government. And what sort of governor is he? He is a governor and lord who carries us, and we sit on his shoulder. If he does not carry us, then we are lost. If the pope, bishops, monks, and priests believed this, they would take a very different view of the matter than they do now. But they do not want to be carried by Christ. Instead, they carry Christ, or so they think, and Christ is for them only a canvas Christ. For they think, “I have to live such-and-such a way, have to fast this many times, pray to this and that saint, so that I can make satisfaction for my own sins and appease God’s wrath.”

But that will be an unequal carrying and will prove too difficult. If a lost and stray sheep were to say to its shepherd who wanted to carry it, “No, my dear shepherd, you don’t need to carry me. I will carry you. Go ahead and climb on!”, I think that stupid sheep would have quite a time of it. But if the sheep is going to get help, he has to say, “Thank you, dear shepherd, for looking for me and being willing to carry me. I cannot carry you, but I will gladly let myself be carried by you.” That’s also how it is in Christ’s kingdom. Christ wants to carry his Christians as a shepherd carries a poor, pitiful, stray sheep. He says to the poor sinner, “You have been conceived and born in sins. You have kindled God’s wrath with many sins and are condemned to death. But this won’t be any trouble for you. Your sins shall be forgiven. Just set yourself on my shoulder and I will carry you before God.”

We should embrace this message with all joy and thank God for it from our hearts. But the unfortunate reality is that most of the people in the world not only don’t receive this message, but they also despise and deride it. Now it is certainly no lie, but the eternal, divine truth. The prophet Isaiah announced it before the fact through the Holy Spirit. God faithfully kept his promise and richly fulfilled it. Christ has come, has carried us, and carries us still. The apostles and the entire New Testament testify to this, and the work itself stands there for all to see. Therefore let us receive this message, thank God for it, and have such confidence in Christ that he will intercede for us and speak in our defense so that our sins will neither accuse nor condemn us before God. For, like I said, this message gets around in the world just fine, but we can see for ourselves how it is received.

Now after the prophet has said that Christ carries his government on his shoulder, he continues and further shows how such carrying takes place. He has said that the child is born to us and the son given to us, and that all our sins, distress, misery, sorrow, and grief are upon him, and that he wants to help us out of all of them by his carrying. But he explains how this takes place through the following six names he gives to this child and son. We will save them for later.

First Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus

By Martin Luther

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Das dritte Theil der Hauspostillen Doct. Martini Lutheri, von den fürnehmesten Festen durchs Jahr, nach der Wittenbergischen Kirchenordnung. Predigten am Weihnachten, oder heiligen Christfest. Von dem Kindlin Jhesu und seinen sechs Namen, aus dem 9. Kapitel des Propheten Isaiä (Vers 1-7) (Part Three of the Devotional Sermons of Doctor Martin Luther, from the chief festivals of the church year, according to the Wittenberg Church Order. Sermons on Christmas, or the Holy Festival of Christ. On the baby Jesus and his six names, from Isaiah 9:1-7), taken from Dr. Martin Luther’s sämmtliche Werke, vol. 6, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt am Main und Erlangen: Verlag von Heyder & Zimmer, 1865), pp. 253-265.

This translation was prepared and presented as a devotion for a pastoral circuit meeting.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was always in fine form at Christmas. The significance of the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God was never lost on him. He ran to it again and again year after year, and it never got old for him. And it should never get old for us.

This, the first in a five-sermon series, Luther preached in the Wittenberg parish church on Christmas Eve. According to the Erlangen edition, the year was 1532. But according to the more critical Weimar edition, the year was 1531 (see 34/2:490-500). We owe the preservation and transmission of these sermons to George Rörer and an anonymous copier whose work resides in the Nuremberg City Library. The Erlangen edition relies heavily on Rörer, one of two deacon assistants to Pastor Johannes Bugenhagen in Wittenberg. Rörer was called and ordained in May 1525 and became a tireless copier of Luther’s sermons and lectures.

At the time this was preached, Bugenhagen was on an extended leave of absence to introduce the Reformation in Lübeck. Luther took over his duties in the meantime. It was an exacting time for him. He was weighed down with work and frequently ill. During most of December and through January he had to give up his weekday preaching due to hoarseness. In addition, his relationship with the Wittenberg congregation was not particularly warm. There had, for example, been an increase in adulterous relationships in 1531.

Yet Luther would not forego preaching the Christmas gospel. He was still certain that his “labor [was] not in vain and for nothing, and that it still result[ed] in comfort and joy for some.”

God willing, I will translate the remaining four sermons at some point in the future. I attempted to keep footnotes to a minimum. For whatever degree they distract the reader from his or her pious meditation, I apologize.

It is my prayer that through reading and digesting this fresh translation, the Holy Spirit would make Luther’s childlike awe, conviction, and personal application of the prophet Isaiah’s words the reader’s own—yes, that he would make the reader’s even greater.

The First Sermon

Isaiah 9:1-7. (Luther Bibel 1545, alt.)
But it will not stay dark on those in anxiety. If in former times he has made the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali insignificant, then he will bring it to honor afterward, the way along the sea, the land on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who wander in darkness see a great light, and on those who dwell in the dark land it shines brightly. You make the people great; you make great its joy. Before you people will rejoice, as they rejoice in the harvest, as they are glad when they divide spoils. For you have broken to pieces the yoke of their burden and the rod of their shoulders and the staff of their driver, as at the time of Midian. For all the armaments of those who arm themselves with violence and the bloody garments will be burned up and consumed with fire. For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, whose government is upon his shoulder—his name is Wonderful, Counsel, Strength, Champion, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace—so that his government may become great and there may be no end of peace on the throne of David and in his kingdom, so that he readies and strengthens it with justice and righteousness from now on until forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

We are now celebrating the beautiful and cherished festival of the Holy Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is certainly fitting that we celebrate and ponder well such a great grace of God with such a glorious festival, so that the article which we confess and pray in our Christian creed – “I believe in Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary” – may not only continue to be known by Christians, but also so that troubled and saddened hearts may be comforted and strengthened by it in the face of the devil and every misfortune.

We observe this festival, first of all, for the sake of the article in the creed. For it is a great and inexpressible skill for us to believe and to consider it to be the most profound wisdom that God, who created the heavens and the earth, is born of a virgin. This was particularly a foolish message to the Jews and gentiles to whom it was first preached in the world. It was absurdly ridiculous, just as it is still ridiculous to many today, that the high divine Majesty, God himself, stoops so far down, and not only creates, feeds, and preserves humans, but also becomes human himself. In short, it does not jive with human reason, but the devil, world, and reason set themselves against it and say, “I’ve never heard anything so absurd!”

Therefore this article must be diligently preached and promoted, so that we are well-trained and strengthened in it. Then we will not doubt but be certain, and become ever more certain, that God has sent his Son into the world to become man, born of a natural female. For this alone is our skill and wisdom, we who are Christians and who say that no greater wisdom has come into the world and no finer teaching has arisen than this, that God, who has created the heavens and the earth, was born of a virgin so that he had the same exact members, eyes, ears, hands and feet, body and soul as any other man. It sounds truly ridiculous to our reason, but we observe this festival in order to get this article firmly into our heads, so that we have no doubt about it.

Secondly, we also observe this festival because of the great usefulness it has. For when we firmly believe and want to know nothing better than that God is born of the virgin Mary, has sucked his mother’s milk, has eaten from her hands, and has had from her the care and attention that any child is accustomed to having, and when such is our greatest skill and wisdom, then the use follows as a matter of course and we draw this comfort from it, that we grab onto, feel, and sink our claws into this tidbit: God is not against us humans. For if God were against and hostile to us humans, then he would surely not have assumed the miserable and pitiful human nature. But now he has not only created the human nature, but he himself also becomes such a creature which is called and is true man. Since he does this, there is certainly not merely wrath and disfavor with him. For if he were the enemy of the entire human race, as he is to a portion of the angels and humans (namely the evil angels and godless humans), then he would have assumed angelic nature (which is closer to God than human nature), and he would not have become human, but an angel.

But now God leaves the angels, which are of a holier and higher nature than we humans, we who are a vile, putrid, stinking sac of maggots, and he assumes not angelic, but human nature, and becomes man. The Letter to the Hebrews extols this in chapter 2, where it says, “Nowhere does he take the angels to himself, but the seed of Abraham he takes to himself. For this reason he had to become like his brothers in everything, in order that he might become merciful and a faithful high priest before God, to atone for the sins of the people.”

The heathens have taken offense at this and have said, “Would the pure nature, God himself, really have sunk to such filth, misery, and poverty? That cannot be.” True, God would not have needed to stick himself into such misery and poverty. He could just as well have assumed angelic nature, or he could have created some nature that was neither God nor man and assumed that. But he didn’t want to do that. Instead he assumed human nature and became man, just as you and I are men. He sucked milk from his mother, the virgin Mary, just as you and I once did when we were laid at our mother’s breast. Such knowledge should make every Christian who believes it joyful and say, “This God and Lord of mine has assumed my nature, flesh, and blood, the same as I have, and he has been tempted and has suffered in every way, just as I have, yet without sin. Therefore he can sympathize with my weakness,” as Hebrews 4 tells us.

Faith may then venture even further and consider, “If it’s true that God became man, like us in every way, only without sin, then it follows that as much as God and man were separated from each other before, namely farther than heaven and earth, just as much they now belong together, so that no relative, though it be a cousin, brother, or sister, is as closely related to me as Christ, the Son of the eternal Father.” For it is certainly true that, if we measure how far God and man are from each other apart from Christ, we find that they are farther from each other than heaven and earth. But if we measure in Christ, true God and true man, then we find that they are more closely and dearly tied than one brother to another, since God, creator of heaven and earth, has become true and natural man. The eternal Father’s Son has become the mortal virgin’s son.

So it happens often in Holy Scripture that Christ calls himself our cousin and brother. The Letter to the Hebrews cites some good examples from the Psalms and Prophets when it mentions in chapter 2: “He is not ashamed to call them brothers, and he says, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the Congregation I will sing your praises.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘See here, I and the children God has given me.’ ” And St. John writes in chapter 20 that soon after his resurrection Christ told Mary Magdalene to make an announcement to his disciples: “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

Yes, what is more, Scripture says that Christ, God’s eternal Son, is not only our brother, but also our flesh and blood, in Ephesians 5: “He who loves his wife loves himself, for no one has ever hated his own flesh, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the Congregation. For we are members of his body, from his flesh and from his bone.” That is certainly a close relationship. Husband and wife are one body, one flesh, are more closely and dearly tied than father and mother, son and daughter, brother and sister. Scripture teaches this in Genesis 2: “A man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they will be one flesh.” So closely is Christ also related to us, yes, even more closely than husband and wife are related to each other. For God and man is here united in one Person. So now Christ speaks to us: “My body is your body, and your body is my body. My bone is your bone, and your bone is my bone.” He considers himself and us to be one body, blood, flesh, bone, soul.

This is a great, certain, immeasurable comfort. Whoever could grasp it and be so certain of the facts that he had no doubt about them would get along well indeed. For whoever does not doubt, but believes as certain that this child, Mary’s son, is true God—he must be joyful and think, “This benefits me, for he has come into my skin, flesh, and blood. I have not come to him, but he has come to me. He came down from heaven, and did not come into hell to the demons, nor into a forest or wilderness to the wild animals, but into the world to us humans, as St. John says, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’ He has assumed everything that I am and have, yet without sin.”

Thus St. Augustine says, “In Jesus Christ our Lord there is a portion of each one of us, namely flesh and blood. Therefore where my body rules, there I believe that I myself rule. Where my flesh is glorified, there I believe that I myself am glorious. Where my blood holds sway, there I consider it to be the case that I myself hold sway. For even though I am a sinner, yet I have no doubt in the participation of this grace.”1

This is a close and dear relationship indeed, when one considers how far God was separated from us before Christ became man. And so we celebrate this festival so that we might learn to know for certain and tightly grasp this relationship that we have with God and he with us, and the participation we have in such great grace, and that we might take comfort and find joy in it. The philosophers and epicureans have no regard for this. Even when they hear over and over that God has become man, as the Christian creed testifies, they say, “Well, if nothing else is written in the Christian creed than that God became man and was born of a virgin, then Christianity is a rather plain affair.” For the world never ceases to laugh that God has become our flesh and bone and was crucified for our sin, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and a piece of folly to the Greeks.”

So the dear world goes along and lets us continue to preach, all the while thinking, “As long as I have my belly full of beer, food to gorge myself on, and drinks to guzzle down.” This is how it will always be; all the world will laugh and have a good time over this birth. The dear holy angels do differently. They consider it something great and are never sufficiently astonished by it. It would not be surprising at all if the dear angels were resentful of us and hostile to us. For if God had assumed another creature, they would have gotten cross-eyed. If, for instance, he had assumed the nature of an eagle or a lion, they would have gotten angry and said, “Why would God take on such an insignificant nature?” But since he takes on human nature and becomes human, they do not get angry, and they do not begrudge us humans such an honor. Instead they sing and laugh about it and exalt Christ as our Savior, even though they have no need of him. And we scumbags hear it, are baptized into it, and are called by the gospel to receive this treasure and rejoice over it. Yet we go right along despising the treasure, take a drink of beer instead, and heap much abuse on it among ourselves besides.

Therefore I have now selected this text from the prophet Isaiah for myself. In it we see how the prophet speaks so surely about this article and preaches about it such a long time before the fact, just as if Christ were already born. He rejoiced over it and so anxiously longed for it. He did all this so that we for our part might recognize what wretched people we are, for whom this treasure is set before our eyes, so that when we hear how the mother bathes and attends to this child, we might not be such ungrateful clods that we throw it to the wind, disregard it, and derive no joy from it.

Let such useless clods go their own way, for this article must still be preached for the sake of those who do derive pleasure and joy from it. The great multitude hears it, yet does not hear it, gropes for it, yet does not feel it. Therefore just as they are proud and despise our message, so our message is proud in return and also despises such proud despisers. But the dear prophets have had a heartfelt pleasure and joy in it, and all genuine Christians still derive pleasure and joy from it. It is for their sake that it is preached; let the other masses of epicureans and sows go their own way.

There are beautiful and choice words in this text, so beautiful and choice that none quite so beautiful are found in any of the Gospels. For the dear prophets have licked off the best of the promises about Christ as those who have had a great yearning and heartfelt longing for them. You’ve heard it said that hunger is good cook and thirst is a good waiter. But the one who is full gets tired and bored, just as the full and fattened sows get bored with the slops. Now since the prophet has a great yearning and longing for Christ, he also sings out so sweetly, such an excellent song that none of the Evangelists have written about it with such clear, beautiful, and happy words. This is entirely fitting; the little child is worth being written about this way.

The prophet gives this child the finest and most beautiful names, so that we not only look at him in his mother’s lap and see how he has body, eyes, ears, and members and looks like any other human, but also that we regard and recognize him as true and eternal God. It’s as if the prophet were saying, “Turn your ears here and take note; I will tell you what sort of child this really is.” Nobody should cast an ordinary glance at this little child, so that he only sees how he is born of a female and the son of a natural mother. That’s how the Jews have looked at him, and many of them have said, “Okay, so, what else? I too have seen this child; other children are exactly the same. He is wrapped in strips of cloth and circumcised on the eighth day; this happens with other children too. What’s so special?”

So the prophet wants to wake us up, so that we learn to regard and recognize this child the right way. Therefore we should also open up our ears and hear what the prophet prophesies about this child. For he praises him so highly that, compared to him, heaven and earth are a mere nothing. He draws everything into this little child, all creatures, yes, God himself. To our eyes there does not seem to be anything special here. This child needs to be treated just like other children. Someone needs to mush up his food, bathe him, wrap him up, sing to him, rock him to sleep, attend to him, and so on. Nevertheless this child is much greater than other children. True, says the prophet, he is born a little child, but he is such a child whose government rests on his shoulder and has six titles and names – Wonderful, Counsel, Strength, Champion, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.2

These are also familiar words in the papacy, for they have been read and sung in the mass for the Epistle.3 But no one has understood a single letter or title from them. We are now preaching about them – thank God! – and are continually promoting their true meaning. But no one pays attention. The vast majority keep going along and do not take it to heart. Yet we must not abstain from such preaching just because of these despisers and sows.

The first thing in this prophecy by the prophet Isaiah is that you learn that the child who is born is born for you and is your child, just like we sing: “For us today is born a child— Accord him acclamation!” Isaiah’s words to us you must use well to your advantage and diligently flesh them out. Therefore when you hear, “To us a child is born,” make the four letters  T-O  U-S  as large as heaven and earth, and say, “The child is born, that is true. But for whom is he born? To us, to us he is born, the prophet says. He is not only born to his mother, the virgin Mary. Nor is he born only to his relatives, to his brothers and cousins, to the Jews. He is especially not born to God in heaven, who does not need the birth of this child. No, he is born to us humans on earth.”

So now the prophet wants to say to me and to you, to all of us in general and to each one individually, “Listen, brothers, I want to sing you a happy little song and proclaim some joyful news to you. Over there is a young child, a fine little boy lying in the manger in Bethlehem. This same little child is yours, a present and gift to you.”

O Lord and God, who now could possibly hold out his hands, take hold of this child and joyfully enfold him in his arms, the same child whom the virgin Mary carries, nurses, cares for and attends? For here I have become such a lord that the noble mother, who comes from a royal family, yes, who is the very mother of God, must be my maid and servant. How little I could already brag and gloat about it when the prophet says that this child is mine, is born for my sake and the sake of all, so that he is my Savior and the Savior of all! And now to top it off, this mother serves me and all of us with her own body. We should all rightly feel embarrassed in our hearts. For what are all the maids, servants, lords, ladies, princes, kings, and monarchs on earth compared to the virgin Mary, who is born of royal blood and the mother of God to boot, the greatest woman on earth? After Christ she is the most precious jewel in all of Christendom. And this greatest woman on earth should serve me and all of us by giving birth to this child and giving him to be our own.

This is well preached and sung during this festival:

For us today is born a child—
Accord him acclamation!—
Of Mary, virgin meek and mild,
To cheer a cheerless nation.
Were he not born, we all had dwelled
In fire, fore’er from God expelled;
But now all have a Savior!

This is a fine hymn and well composed, taken right from the prophet Isaiah. It is also sung many times and often, but no one, or very few, know what it is they’re singing.

The prophet’s prophecy and the Christmas hymn say, “To us a child is born.” Who are the us to whom this child is born? Or what are we humans, we who should embrace this child? A professional philosopher will say that homo est animal rationale, the human is a rational animal. So we humans classify ourselves by comparing ourselves with the sows. But what is the human before and in comparison with God and with the angels? If we rightly size up and describe humans using this standard, then we’ll really learn what the human is. Certainly, to classify by comparison with the lions and sows, the human is a higher and better animal. We’ll leave that to the heathen philosophers and the other scholars in the schools. But in theology we must classify humans by comparing them with God. So we find this: God is eternal, righteous, holy, truthful. In short, God is everything good. Man, on the other hand, is mortal, wicked, deceitful, full of vice, sin, and depravity. With God is everything good; with man is death, the devil, and hellfire. God is from eternity and remains into eternity; man is stuck in sins and lives every moment in the company of death. God is full of grace; man is full of displeasure and is under God’s wrath. That’s how man compares with God.

When one compares God and humans this way and rightly sizes up and describes what God is and what man is, then the little words to us will become great, and the comfort will also become great. For when we humans rightly portray ourselves, as we are before and in comparison with God, we will discover that between God and us humans there is a big difference, bigger than between heaven and earth. Indeed, no comparison can be given. This is exactly the realization the prophet Isaiah wanted to lead us to, so that we recognize and ponder just how far down God stoops to us miserable humans, and how fatherly and tenderly he embraces us.

Therefore we should note well what the little words to us,  to man, mean here. The world views humans from above, as the heathen poet says:

And where all other beasts behold the ground with groveling eye,
He gave to man a stately look replete with majesty.
And willed him to behold the Heaven with countenance cast on high…4

The world notices that the human walks about upright, as opposed to an animal, and is a rational, wise, intelligent being. But according to Holy Scripture the human is a creature that has turned away from God, is godless and wicked, under the control of the devil, deserving of the wrath of God and eternal death. It is for the benefit of such hopeless scoundrels, humans, who are lost and damned, that Christ is born.

So now take hold of the child if you can. I’ll say it again: God causes this child to be born for those who are damned and lost, so hold out your hands and take hold of him and say, “I am certainly godless and wicked. With me is nothing good, but only vice, sin, depravity, death, the devil, and hellfire. But against all of this I set this child whom the virgin Mary has in her lap and at her breast. For since he is born for me in order to be my treasure, I embrace this little child and set him against everything that I do not have. Though I am not righteous and pious, I find in this child nothing but righteousness and piety. Though with me is death and every misfortune, I find with this child life and everything good. And this is as certain as if I saw it right in front of me with my own eyes.” This is what it means to take hold, when we use this treasure to our advantage through faith.

But unfortunately such faith is lacking everywhere. If you owed ten million dollars and were not able to pay, and someone wanted to give you so much that you could not only pay but also have something left over, people would snatch up sack and bag and open wide. But here, when the treasure is so great that it could not be any greater, there is no one who takes hold and holds the sack open. Worse yet, there are many who despise and deride it. Only genuine Christians embrace this little child and say from the heart, “I am a damnable human; I owe God my body and soul for all eternity. But I know that Mary, this child’s mother, is happy to bestow me this treasure from the heart. She even helps with her virgin body and all her members. She carries the child in her body, brings him forth into the world, and once he is born she feeds and cares for him. In short, she does everything that a mother should do. So the child is born for my sake, that I and all of us might be saved.”

This is what real Christians do. But shame on the world for having such rogues who couldn’t care less about this treasure, even though they need it in the worst way. All the world should get down on all fours and crawl to it if they can’t walk. Still, our Lord God must be glad that there are some who do desire this treasure. It is nothing but sin and shame that one should have such a message fall to sows and dogs who despise, ridicule, and deride it, not to mention that they fail to hear and receive it. If someone preached to such people about a rich man who wanted to give anyone tons of money who just came and brought a bag with him, all the world would come running from every corner. But since the message is about the baby Jesus, who offers the entire world eternal life and salvation, no one can be found who scarcely desires such treasure.

But whoever wants to be a Christian should joyfully hear this message and believe that what the prophet Isaiah says is certainly true: “To us a child is born.” For what harm can the devil do, even with all his evil tricks, to any Christian who earnestly grasps these words with firm faith? For even if such a Christian is tempted by the devil, he can still easily confront the devil and say, “Have you heard, devil? Do you know that a child is born?”

“Yes.”

“Do you also know, then, that he is born to us, that is, for me?” Then the devil has to retreat.

Therefore we should pay careful attention to the little words to us, so that we nicely join the child and born to us in faith. Then we will be well armed against all the attacks of the devil.

In the papacy the mother Mary alone is praised and glorified. Certainly she is worthy of praise, and can never be praised and glorified enough. For the honor is too great and glorious that out of all the women on earth she is this child’s mother. But this is how we should laud and praise the mother, by not letting this baby that she has borne be ripped away from our eyes and hearts, nor regarding this treasure who is born to us as more insignificant than his mother. If one praises the mother, she should be a raindrop; this little child, on the other hand, should be a great wide ocean. If one thing had to be forgotten, it would better for us to forget the mother than to forget the child. That is what has happened in the papacy: People have completely forgotten the child and have thought only of the mother. For the mother is not born to us; she does not help us from sins and death. She has indeed given birth to the child and Savior of all the world for us, but she is not the child and Savior herself. Therefore we should wean ourselves off the mother and bind ourselves firmly to the child.

Let this suffice for now regarding the words, “To us a child is born.” We should learn from them to embrace this little child much more than our own body and life. For he is just as close to us as our body and soul. How blessed and doubly blessed is the one who is well instructed and firmly grounded in this wisdom! But if we take no comfort or joy from it, that is a sure sign that we either don’t believe it at all or that our faith is small and weak. We celebrate this festival and preach about it so that people may learn it, and we are certain that our labor is not in vain and for nothing, and that it still results in comfort and joy for some.

Footnotes

1 In the Erlangen edition, this quote is cited thus: “Augustin. lib. meditat. cap. 14 [i.e. book of meditations, chapter 14].” In The Works of John Jewel, Bishop of Salibury, ed. Rev. John Ayre (Cambridge: The University Press, 1848), p. 592, the Latin quote is given thus: Est enim in ipso Jesu Christo Domino nostro uniuscujusque nostrum portio, caro et sanguis. Ubi ergo portio mea regnat, ibi [ego] me regnare credo. However, a footnote on the quote reads: “August. Op. Lib. Medit. cap. xv. Tom. VI. Append. col. 113. These meditations are not by Augustine.” See also the footnote in Rev. Joseph Milner, History of the Church of Christ, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Hogan and Thompson, 1835), p. 435, col. 2.

2 Interpreters and translators throughout the years have almost invariably taken Isaiah 9:6 (9:5 BHS) in one of two ways: 1) They have grouped the names in pairs, like the NIV, or 2) they have understood each of the names separately, like Luther. The masoretic accenting actually supports neither, putting a disjunctive accent on פלא, but a conjunctive accent on אל, yielding five names. Ironically, Luther, a champion of Christ’s divinity, takes אל in the sense of strength (cf. Brown-Driver-Briggs, p. 43, col. 1, def. 7), rather than according to its more common meaning, God (cf. BDB, p. 42, col. 2, def. 6).

3 Isaiah 9:2-7 was the “Epistle” for Christmas Day.

4 Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Arthur Golding (1567), I.84-86, adapt.; obtained from www.perseus.tufts.edu on December 1, 2011.

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