How Martin Luther ended his sermons: Advent » Christmas


(singingly…) “Hide it under a bush— oh, no! I’m gonna let it shine…”

I’ve been working on a little research-project lately. Keeping in mind the sage advice of my undergraduate history professors at Hillsdale College, I’m narrowing the focus of my research to an almost absurd degree. Keeping in mind the fact that I don’t currently have time to formulate a thesis regarding my findings, I’m just providing excerpts from my primary sources.

My project? I’m researching Luther’s sermons, specifically with a view towards how he ended them. My tentative findings are as follows:

  • Luther didn’t always end with the Gospel.
  • Luther didn’t always end with the Law.
  • …because often Luther’s ending was not clearly Law or Gospel.
  • Luther preached the text; he also preached on the text.
  • Luther probably would have found the homiletical fruits of modern speech-act theory a bit ridiculous.
  • Even when “ending with the Gospel”, Luther wasn’t one to lob “Gospel application” benedictions.

An essay I wrote on the homiletical use of the Law according to Luther, Walther, and Marquart can be found here.

For each day in the temporal cycle, I tracked down the Gospel sermon and, if available, the Epistle sermon. There are several sermons for Christmas. All of the sermon texts are in the public domain and can be found here.

Without further ado, here is the first set, Advent I through Christmas Day.

Advent I (Ad Te Levavi)

Gospel – Matthew 21:1-9

Mark proves clearly that they meant his kingdom when he writes expressly in Mark 11:10, that they said: “Blessed is the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest.” When some in the churches, read it “Osanna”, it is not correct, it should be “Hosanna.” They made a woman’s name out of it, and her whom they should call Susanna they call Osanna. Susanna is a woman’s name and means a rose. Finally, after making a farce out of baptism, the bishops baptize bells and altars, which is a great nonsense, and call the bells Osanna. But away with the blind leaders! We should learn here also to sing Hosanna and Hazelihana to the son of David together with those multitudes, that is, joyfully wish happiness and prosperity to the kingdom of Christ, to holy Christendom, that God may put away all human doctrine and let Christ alone be our king, who governs by his Gospel, and permits us to be his colts! God grant it, Amen.

Epistle – Romans 13:11-14

[Y]ou will note here Paul does not sanction the fanatical devotion of certain effeminate saints who set apart to themselves particular days for fasting, as a special service to God, one for this saint, another for that.

These are all blind paths, leading us to base our blessings on works.

Without distinction of days and meats, our lives should be temperate and sober throughout. If good works are to be our armor of light, and if the entire life is to be pure and chaste, we must never lay off the arms of defense, but always be found sober, temperate, vigilant, energetic. These fanatical saints, however, fast one day on bread and water and then eat and drink to excess every day for one-fourth of the year. Again, some fast from food in the evening but drink immoderately. And who can mention all the folly and works of darkness originating from regarding works for the sake of the efforts themselves and not for the purpose they serve. Men convert the armor of good works into a mirror, fasting without knowing the reason for abstinence. They are like those who bear a sword merely to look at, and when assailed do not use it. This is enough on today’s epistle lesson.

Advent II (Populus Sion)

Gospel – Luke 21:25-36

The parable of the fig tree seems to me to signify that the fig tree is the Holy Scriptures which have so long been hidden in obscurity. They are now budding forth and taking leaves, their word is breaking forth into fruitage. For twelve centuries it has not been so well known, nor have its languages been so well known. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that the Scriptures are a fig tree which is easily preserved. It was fig leaves with which Adam and Eve covered their nakedness; for the old Adam always uses the Scriptures to adorn himself. Therefore the book must come forth, its leaves must become green, in spite of all the movements of the planets. The summer is not far distant — would to God that the fruit would also follow the leaves. I fear that there will be nothing but leaves, for we talk much about true faith but bring forth no fruit.

Enough has now been said concerning these signs; if anyone desires to consider the matter further, to him has been given here the impulse and a start. But the planets with their factious spirit will not believe in them, in order that the Scriptures may still be true in this, that they give these people great security and contempt for the word, works, and signs of God.

Epistle – Romans 15:4-13

The apostle says, in effect; “May God, who through the Gospel effects hope, grant you grace, enabling you to appropriate the Gospel and believe.

Through believing, you first perceive Christ. Thereupon follow perfect peace and an assured conscience. These are blessings common to all, and you will have harmony among yourselves.” The Christian’s peace and joy is something received, not as the gift of the world is received, through mortal sense, but through faith. He who is the source of your good, and from whom you derive your peace and joy, is not recognized by sight or touch. However, in the world you will have disquietude and grief. But learn that Christ is the common blessing of all and you will enjoy blessed peace. For all being alike rich, no one can begrudge another anything. This is what it means to have peace and joy through faith or in faith.

“That ye may abound in hope,” continues the prayer. In other words, “that your hope may ever increase.” Now, suffering and persecution contribute to the increase of hope. We are not given increased hope to decrease adversity; no, adversity is increased that hope may not rely on human power, but be established through the power of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit aids us, fortifying our hope and enabling us not to fear nor to flee from the disasters of the world; but to stand firm even unto death, and to overcome all evil; so that evil must flee from us and cease its attacks. Remember, it is hope in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in human weakness, that must do all this through the medium of the Gospel. As before said, “Through patience and through comfort of the Scriptures we have hope.” Where the Gospel is not, there is neither hope, comfort, peace, joy, faith, love, Christ, God, nor anything good. Evidence of this fact is before us in the wretched, spiritless, carnal clerical orders, notwithstanding their much praying and holding of masses. From these things, O thou God of hope, of patience and of comfort, graciously preserve us. Amen.

Advent III (Gaudete)
(Erl. 10:83; W. 11:99; St. L. 11:72)

Gospel – Matthew 2:2-10

Thus we see in this Gospel how difficult it is to acknowledge Christ.

There is a stumbling block in the way, and one takes offense at this, another at that. There is no headway, not even with the disciples of John, though they plainly see Christ’s works and hear his words.

This we also do. Though we see, hear, understand and must confess that Christian life is faith in God and love to our needy neighbor, yet there is no progress. This one clings to his religious ceremonies and his own works, that one is scraping all to himself and helps no one. Even those who gladly hear and understand the doctrine of pure faith do not proceed to serve their neighbor, as though they expected to be saved by faith without works: they see not that their faith is not faith, but a shadow of faith, just as the picture in the mirror is not the face itself, but only a reflection of the same, as St. James so beautifully writes, saying, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was,” James 1:22-25. So also there within themselves many behold a reflection of true faith when they hear and speak of the Word, but as soon as the hearing and speaking are done, they are concerned about other affairs and are not doing according to it, and thus they always forget about the fruit of faith, namely, Christian love, of which Paul also says, “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power,” 1 Corinthians 4:20.

Epistle – 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Now, according to our secret motives so are our thoughts good or evil. Our motives and desires control our aims, decisions and reasonings.

These latter Paul terms “counsels of the heart”— the thoughts we arrive at in consequence of our secret motives and desires.

Of these two, Mary hints in her song of praise (Luke 1:51): “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.” She calls intent or motive of the heart the “hidden things of darkness” her desire, while the “counsels” and imaginations are the heart’s expression. Moses, referring to man’s heart, says (Genesis 6:5): “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And Christ ( Matthew 6:22-23) earnestly warns us against the same false motive: “The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness!” The reference in this whole quotation is to the secret workings of darkness, which are not to be overcome in any way but by despair of our own works, and strong faith in the pure grace of God. Nothing is more conducive to this end than sufferings severe and many, and all manner of misfortunes. Under such influences man may learn, to some extent, to know himself; otherwise all is lost.

Advent IV (Rorate Cœli)

Gospel – John 1:19-28

Now, if you are able to believe that this voice of John speaks the truth, and if you are able to follow his finger and recognize the Lamb of God carrying your sin, then you have gained the victory, then you are a Christian, a master of sin, death, hell, and all things. Then your conscience will rejoice and become heartily fond of this gentle Lamb of God. Then will you love, praise, and give thanks to our heavenly Father for this infinite wealth of his mercy, preached by John and given in Christ. And finally you will become cheerful and willing to do his divine will, as best you can, with all your strength. For what lovelier and more comforting message can be heard than that our sins are not ours any more, that they no more lie on us, but on the Lamb of God. How can sin condemn such an innocent Lamb?

Lying on him, it must be vanquished and made to nothing, and likewise death and hell, being the reward of sin, must be vanquished also. Behold what God our Father has given us in Christ.

Take heed, therefore, take heed, I say, lest you presume to get rid of the smallest of your sins through your own merit before God, and lest you rob Christ, the Lamb of God, of his credit. John indeed demands that we grow better and repent; but that he does not mean us to grow better of ourselves and to strip off our sins by our own strength, this he declares powerfully by adding, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” As we have said above, he means that each one is to know himself and his need of becoming a better man; yet he is not to look for this in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone. — Now may God our Father according to his infinite mercy bestow upon us this knowledge of Christ, and may he send into the world the voice of John, with great numbers of evangelists! Amen.

Epistle – Philippians 4:4-7

[F]or him who rejoices in God and exercises forbearance in his life, the devil will raise up a cross calculated forcibly to turn his heart from that way. The Christian should therefore be well fortified, placing his peace beyond the devil’s reach in God. Let him not be anxious to rid himself of what the devil has forced upon him. Let him suffer Satan’s wantonness until God’s coming shall exterminate it.

Thus will the Christian’s heart, mind and affection be guarded and preserved in peace. His patience could not long endure did not his heart exist above its conditions, in a higher peace ¾ were it not satisfied it has peace with God.

“Heart” and “mind” here must not be supposed to mean human will and understanding. We are to take Paul’s explanation of heart and mind in Christ Jesus; in other words, the will and understanding resultant in Christ, from Christ and under Christ. Faith and love are meant ¾ faith and love in all their operations, in all their inclinations toward God and men. The reference is simply to a disposition to trust and love God sincerely, and a willingness of heart and mind to serve God and man to the utmost. The devil seeks to prevent this state by terror, by revealing death and by every sort of misfortune; and by setting up human devices to induce the heart to seek comfort and help in its own counsels and in man. Thus led astray, the heart falls from trust in God to a dependence upon itself.

Briefly, this text is a lesson in Christian living, in the attitude of the Christian toward God and man. It teaches us to let God be everything to us, and to treat all men alike, to conduct ourselves toward men as does God toward us, receiving from him and giving to them. It may be summed up in the words “faith” and “love.”

Christmas Eve

Epistle – Titus 2:11-15

Through the mouth of Isaiah, God has more than once said, “My glory will I not give to another,” and yet here he shares it with Christ. Hence Christ can be no other than God. The glory of God is his. Yet he is a person distinct from the Father.

Once more, a strong argument against human doctrine is afforded us in Paul’s words, “These things speak and exhort.” Had Paul designed anything further to be taught than the things he mentions, he surely would have said so. Our bishops and popes today think they have done enough when they permit these Paul’s injunctions to be written in books and on slips of paper, enforcing them by no commands of their own; but the fact is, their own voices should be heard in constant preaching and enforcing of the Gospel. Wo unto them!

Christ Mass, Early Morning

Epistle – Titus 3:4-8

This epistle lesson forcibly and in express terms contends against all humanly-devised righteousness, as well as against all human powers and free will. These are plain words, “Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us.” In fact, the words of the whole lesson oppose the righteousness of man. Paul attributes all efficacy to the washing of regeneration, to the renewing of the Holy Spirit, to Jesus Christ and his grace. In the face of such thunderbolts, how can there remain in us the least trace of presumption?

It matters not how brilliant may be secular and ecclesiastical laws; how attractive the station of priests, monks and nuns; how dazzling the titles of gentlemen of honor and ladies of uprightness, even if the wearers of them could raise the dead: without faith in Christ all is vain. Such hypocrisy as that just mentioned blinds and misleads the whole world, and obscures for us the holy Gospel and the Christian faith.

These brilliant works and attractive stations of men assist as little in procuring our salvation as do the works of beasts or the common trades of mankind. Indeed, they perniciously obstruct salvation. Therefore, you should guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing, and learn to cleave to Christ in true and firm faith.

Christ Mass, Mid-Morning

Epistle – Hebrews 1:1-12

“And thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth,” etc. The psalmist’s evident conclusion is: The King whose servants have favored the stones of Zion, who is proclaimed worldwide and commands the fear of the heathen and all the kings of the earth, is the God who created the earth and is in him. self unchangeable.

No earthly king has ever been proclaimed among all the heathen as Christ has been proclaimed. Christ, then, is true God and true man. What further comment the subject demands I leave for keener minds.

So we see this whole epistle lesson is simply armor to clearly maintain the article of faith that Christ is God, and Lord over all things even in his humanity. We note with amazement the perfect clearness of the Scripture teaching and that the defect is in ourselves, unperceived. Well does Luke speak ( Luke 24:32) of Christ’s opening the understanding of the disciples to comprehend the Scriptures. It was not the Scriptures he opened, but their understanding; the former is plain, but our eyes are not fully open.

Christ Mass, First Chief Service

Gospel – Luke 2:1-14

In olden times it was also proclaimed by patriarchs and prophets; as when God says to Abraham, Genesis 22:17: “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Again he says to David, Psalm 89:4, and Psalm 132:11: “Jehovah hath sworn unto David in truth; he will not return from it; of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.” But those are obscure words compared with the Gospel.

Again it is also represented in many figures, as in the rod of Aaron which budded in a supernatural manner, although a dry piece of wood, Numbers 7:5. So also Mary, exempt from all natural generation, brought forth, in a supernatural manner, really and truly a natural son, just as the rod bore natural almonds, and still remained a natural rod. Again by Gideon’s fleece, Judges 6:37, which was wet by the dew of heaven, while the land around it remained dry, and many like figures which it is not necessary to enumerate. Nor do these figures conflict with faith, they rather adorn it; for it must at first be firmly believed before I can believe that the figure serves to illustrate it.

There is a great deal in this article, of which, in time of temptation, we would not be deprived, for the evil spirit attacks nothing so severely as our faith. Therefore it is of the greatest importance for us to know where in God’s Word this faith is set forth, and in time of temptation point to that, for the evil spirit can not stand against God’s Word.

There are also many ethical teachings in the Gospel, as for example, meekness, patience, poverty and the like; but these are touched upon enough and are not points of controversy, for they are fruits of faith and good works.

Christ Mass, Second Sermon

Gospel – Luke 2:15-20

[I]t is unsafe and false that the pope or a bishop wishes to have himself alone believed, and that he poses as a master; for they all err and are inclined to err. But their teaching should be subject to the congregation of believers. The congregation should decide and judge what they teach; their judgment should stand, in order that Mary may be found before Joseph, the church be preferred to the preachers. For it was not Joseph but Mary who retains the words in her heart, ponders them, gathers them together and compares them. The apostle also taught this in 1 Corinthians 14:29-80 when he says: “And let not the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern. But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence.”

But at present the pope and his followers have become tyrants, have reversed this Christian, godly and apostolic order, established an entirely heathen and Pythagorean order of things, that they may say, lulaffen and alfenzen, that is, they talk silly about whatever they wish. No one criticizes them, no one will oppose them, no one tells them to be quiet. And in this way they have quenched the Spirit so that among them one finds neither Mary, nor Joseph nor Christ; nothing but the rats, mice, vipers and serpents of their poisonous doctrines and hypocrisy.

This is not a Gospel of strife; for it teaches Christian morals and works, it does not clearly and publicly establish the different articles of faith. Although in its spiritual teachings, (mysteriis), as has been shown, it is strong enough; but the spiritual teachings (mysteria) do not strive and contend. There must be clear, public passages that plainly publish the articles of our faith.

Christ Mass, Third and Principal Sermon

Gospel – John 1:1-14

This passage is opposed to the presumptuous Papists and Pelagians, who find something outside of Christ, which they claim is good and true; and yet in Christ alone is grace and truth. It is indeed true, as has been said above, that there are some things outside of Christ which are true and pleasing, as the natural light, which teaches that three and two are five, that God should be honored, and the like.

But this light never accomplishes its end; for as soon as reason is to act, and make use of its light, and exercise it, it confuses everything, calls that which is good bad, and that which is bad good; calls that the honor of God which is his dishonor, and vice versa. Therefore man is only a liar and vain, and unable to make use of this natural light except against God, as we have already said.

It is unnecessary to look for the armor in this Gospel; it is all armor and the chief part, upon which is founded the article of faith that Christ is true God and true man, and that without Grace, nature, free will, and works are nothing but deception, sin, error and heresy in spite of Papists and Pelagians.