Reflections from Luther’s Sermons
The following sermon was not given during advent but it speaks to the heart of the advent: Emmanuel, God with us! In this sermon Luther reminds us that throughout the history of mankind God has not shied away from visitations. However, those visits have not always gone so well nor have they always featured God/YHWH as a benevolent Savior arriving to “seek and to save the lost.” Luther’s point is this: when God comes to visit he does so to be with us and he does so for our benefit, regardless of our experience of the visit.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” Luke 1:68
In his first advent God came in a cruel, thick, black cloud with fire, smoke, and thunder, with a great sound of trumpets, so fierce that the children of Israel were filled with fear and dread, and said unto Moses (Ex. 20:19), “All that the Lord has spoken we will do. But speak with us yourself . . . but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” At that time He gave them the Law. The Law is cruel; we do not like to hear it. The Law is such a terror to our reason that at times we fall into instant despair. It is so heavy a burden that the conscience knows not where to turn, or what to do.
Christ in His advent is not terrible like that, but meek; not fierce like God in the Old Testament, but meek and merciful like
a human being. He does not come on the mountain, but in the city. On Sinai He came with terror, now He comes with meekness. There He was to be feared, there He came with thunder and lightning; here He comes with hymns of praise. There He came with the great sound of trumpets, here He comes weeping over the city of Jerusalem. There He came with fear, here He comes with consolation, joy, and love. There He spoke: “Whosoever touches the mount shall be surely put to death,” here He says: “Tell the daughter of Zion, her king comes unto her.”
Behold, herein you find the difference between the Law and the Gospel, namely, that the Law commands while the Gospel gives all things freely. The Law causes anger and hate, the Gospel gives grace. At the first advent the children of Israel fled before the voice of God, but now our desire to hear it cannot be stilled, because it is so sweet. Therefore, when you are in anxiety and tribulation, you shall not run to Mount Sinai, that is to say, look to the Law for help, neither shall you think that you yourselves have power to atone, but rather shall you look for help in Jerusalem, that is to say, in the Gospel which says: “Your sins are forgiven you; go your way, from henceforth sin no more.”