As I mentioned, we had our Christmas Eve Candlelight Worship last night. And I did present a message. But it wasn't my message.
Instead, I resumed an old practice of mine, presenting an adaptation of something put together years ago by the late Roland Bainton. Bainton was a Yale history professor whose specialty was the Reformation. (He was also a fine caricaturist and a collector of Reform-era prints, by the way.) Bainton collected all of the Christmas sermons preached by Martin Luther and distilled them into a single, seamless sermon. Bainton's finished product was rather long. So, about twenty years ago, I pared it down for use on Christmas Eve. Except for about three Christmas Eve celebrations in the intervening years, I've used it ever since.
Even though Luther died in 1546, his preaching still works because of his particular genius as a communicator: the capacity to take sometimes complicated truths and make them accessible, rooting them in the daily experiences of people.
This ability, of course, was closely related to the entire project of his life as a theologian, pastor, and thinker. Luther wanted all to know that God had made Himself accessible and known ultimately through Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ, all can know peace with God and have life with God forever.
Making Christ accessible to all, no longer the exclusive purview of theologians or priests, is what lay behind so much of Luther's work, including The Small Catechism, explaining the faith to families; his translation of the Bible into German, the catalyst behind standardizing the German language; and his reform of the Mass, making it what worship was intended to be, the work of God's people. (The term from which we get the word liturgy means work of the people, indicating that worship isn't a spectator sport, but something in which all of God's people are to be involved. And, of course, worship is meant to be the Jesus-Follower's way of life, not just something done once or twice a week.)
Of course, this emphasis was wedded to the Reformation Martin Luther set off in the Church when He insisted that God's favor, forgiveness of sin, and eternal life cannot be earned. They are free gifts from a gracious God to all who believe in Christ. (See here, here, and here.) (Without Christ, there would be absolutely nothing to celebrate at Christmas!)
I first did my distillation of the Bainton adaptation of Luthers Christmas sermons on a typewriter, long before I owned or had access to a computer. It's from the same typewritten sheets I produced back then that I read last evening's message.
Maybe one day, I'll re-key it and post it here.
[To get to my multi-part series on the basics of Christian faith, based on Martin Luther's Small Catechism, see here. To see The Small Catechism, go here.]