Martin Luther's Christmas sermon is not one
sermon. He preached on the nativity for a period for 30 years, and often a
dozen times a year, beginning with Advent and carrying through to Epiphany. And
sometimes we have three versions of one sermon. On Saturday, he wrote what he
intended to say. On Sunday, his students took down what he did say. And on Monday,
he wrote out what he wished he'd said.
I've gone through the whole body of that
material and selected a paragraph here and a paragraph there, and weaved them
together. Luther strips away all the legendary accretions of the Middle Ages. A
very lush growth had attached itself to the Christmas story throughout the
centuries. For example, on Christmas Eve at midnight, all the animals in the
wood knelt in honor of the CChild. That in , there was a rose
blooming. That when the holy family went down into Egypt, the palm trees bent
over so that Joseph could more readily pick the grapes. That instead of one
star, there appeared three in the sky in honor of the holy trinity. And that
angel Gabriel brought a wedding contract from God the Father Almighty to be
signed by the Virgin Mary.
Legends were built up also in regard to
the wise men. In our first pictorial representation, there are two. In the
next, four. And then the number becomes stereotyped at three. At first they
ride on camels. But after they moved west, they had horses. And when stirrups
were introduced in the eighth century, the wise men are properly equipped. Then
they turn into kings, and their feast was called "The day of the three kings."
In the period of the Renaissance, when it was discovered that Africa
was a continent, the three continents, Africa, Asia and Europe were divided
between the ...
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