To You is Born a Savior: Martin Luther on the Good News of Great Joy

On Christmas day in the year 1530, Martin Luther preached a powerful sermon in which he reflected on the infinite treasures contained in the “good news of great joy” proclaimed to the shepherds near Bethlehem. As Luther made abundantly clear, it is nothing less than the whole of our faith that is contained in the simple phrase: “To you is born a Savior”:

Therefore this is the chief article, which separates us from all the heathen, that you, O man, may not only learn that Christ, born of the virgin, is the Lord and Savior, but also accept the fact that he is your Lord and Savior, that you may be able to boast in your heart: I hear the Word that sounds from heaven and says: This child who is born of the martin-luther-in-his-study-american-schoolvirgin is not only his mother’s son. I have more than the mother’s estate; he is more mine than Mary’s, for he was born for me, for the angel said, “to you” is born the Savior. Then ought you to say, Amen, I thank thee, dear Lord.

But then reason says: Who knows? I believe that Christ, born of the virgin, is the Lord and Savior and he may perhaps help Peter and Paul, but for me, a sinner, he was not born. But even if you believed that much, it would still not be enough, unless there were added to it the faith that he was born for you…Take yourself in hand, examine yourself and see whether you are a Christian! If you can sing: The Son, who is proclaimed to be a Lord and Savior, is my Savior; and if you can confirm the message of the angel and say yes to it and believe it in your heart, then your heart will be filled with assurance and joy and confidence, and you will not worry much about even the costliest and best that this world has to offer…You see how a person rejoices when he receives a robe or ten guldens. But how many are there who shout and jump for joy when they hear the message of the angel: “To you is born this day the Savior?”…For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know and feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart…

You can see what our papists and Junkers, who have chosen innumerable saviors, have felt about this faith. Indeed, the papists still want to retain the mass, the invocation of saints, and their invented works by which we are to be saved. This is as much as to say, I do not believe in the Savior and Lord whom Mary bore; and yet they sing the words of the angel, hold their triple masses [at Christmas] and play their organs. They speak the words with their tongues but their heart has another savior…But then what is left of the honor of the child who was born this day, whom the angel calls Lord and Savior, and who wants to keep his name, which is Savior and Christ the Lord. If I set up any savior except this child, no matter whom or what it is or is called, then he is not the Savior. But the text says that he is the Savior. And if this is true—and it is the truth—then let everything else go.[1]

Luther hits on something here which is vitally important if we are not simply to comprehend the birth of Christ as “good news” but also experience it as “great joy”. It is not enough to hear the words “a Savior is born” as a historical occurrence or a generic truth. Rather, we must hear those words as having been spoken to each one of us, personally and individually: “To you [insert your name here!] is born a Savior”. When we begin to truly wrap our minds and our hearts around that fact, we cannot but rejoice! To know, as Luther reminds us, that in Christ we don’t find an angry deity to be placated but a loving Father who has nothing but “laughter and joy” in his heart over us, how can we ourselves not be filled with “assurance and joy and confidence”? How can we not “shout and jump for joy”? Fear and despair and uncertainty are the marks of those who look to other saviors who in the end will prove impotent and futile. Those who have instead heard and embraced the truth that “To you is born a Savior” have no need of the “costliest and best that this world has to offer” but are rather liberated to “let everything else go” for the sake of Christ. What a witness to the world we would be were we to really live like that, sacrifice like that, rejoice like that!

So this Christmas, may we meditate deeply on the “good news” that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds, knowing that their message is intended just as much for us as it was for them. As we meditate on the fact that because of our Savior nothing will ever separate us from the love of our heavenly Father, may we truly experience the “great joy” that nothing can ever destroy.

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[1] Luther, M., 2012. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings Third Edition. W. R. Russell & T. F. Lull, eds., Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. pp.173-175.

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