As I write this, we are still in the last weeks of the Church Year, a time in the Church focused on the End Times and Last Things, when Jesus will come again in power and glory. Advent is, in part, a looking forward to Christ’s glorious return, and so in that sense the beginning of the new church year is a continuation of the end of the previous church year. Think of it as living in the reality of our Lord’s statement in the last chapter of the Bible: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev 22:13).
As I pondered the near-future celebration of our Lord’s birth, and as we wrap up this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, I decided to turn to the past, to the Reformer himself, whose preaching of Christmas is ever lively and fit for the present. What does the prophet Haggai have to say about Christmas? Amazingly (or not), Luther finds it:
It is written in Haggai 2:6-7, that God says, “I will shake the heavens; and the precious things of all nations shall come.” This is fulfilled today, for the heavens were shaken, that is, the angels in the heavens sang praises to God. And the earth was shaken, that is, the people on the earth were agitated; one journeying to this city, another to that throughout the whole land, as the Gospel tells us. It was not a violent, bloody uprising, but rather a peaceable one awakened by God who is the God of peace.
Meditate deeply upon the Christmas Gospel, he says, “and you will see miracle upon miracle.” “First, behold how very ordinary and common things are to us that transpire on earth, and yet how high they are regarded in heaven.” Ordinary and common things, and even things despised on earth. Yet it inspires such high and beautiful song from no less than the heavenly angels!
But what happens in heaven concerning this birth? As much as it is despised on earth, so much and a thousand times more is it honored in heaven. If an angel from heaven came and praised you and your work, would you not regard it of greater value than all the praise and honor the world could give you, and for which you would be willing to bear the greatest humility and reproach? What exalted honor is that when all the angels in heaven cannot restrain themselves from breaking out in rejoicing, so that even poor shepherds in the fields hear them preach, praise God, sing, and pour out their joy without measure.
And let us end this brief meditation with Luther with a stanza from one of his Christmas hymns, “We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth” (LSB 382.6 [© 2006 CPH]):
In poverty He came to earth Showing mercy by His birth;
He makes us rich in heav’nly ways As we, like angels, sing His praise. Alleluia!
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth Peace, good will to you,