Advent. Jesus came humbly to Jerusalem, and suffered the humiliation of the cross, for us. And Jesus continues to come to us, humbly in his Word—in a word of absolution, in a handful of water, and in bread and wine.
Martin Luther preached thousands of sermons. While he was still alive they began to be collected into books of sermons for each Sunday of the Church Year. They were called “Postils” from the Latin words post ille, or “after this.” “This” was the Holy Gospel for the day. “After” the text came the sermon. Luther’s House Postils are especially significant. They are sermons for the Church Year, each preached by Luther and carefully written down. They were preached at Luther’s house in Wittenberg where he’d gather friends and family for services other than the main service at church Sunday morning.
Luther’s sermons are ever fresh and full of life. They are pulsating with stern, damning Law, and sweet, forgiving Gospel. Luther talks directly to his hearers, never over their heads or simply “at” them. He was convinced above all that it is the preacher’s sacred task to step into the office of Christ to which he’s been called, and to let fly with the Word of God in full force—the word doing exactly what it says and promises.
For centuries Lutheran pastors and laypeople alike have been consoled by Luther’s clear explication of the Gospel of Jesus. For centuries people have learned from these sermons what a Lutheran sermon is. For centuries pastors have learned how Lutherans preach from these sermons. As much flexibility as there is in preaching, there is finally a biblical and Lutheran content.
Lutheran preaching does not merely talk about the Law and the Gospel or this or that teaching. Lutheran preaching delivers the goods. It actually speaks the very word of God which kills and makes alive. Lutheran preaching dares to say “you are the man” to sinners, and “Christ came for you” to penitent sinners!
Aside from constant study of the Bible, I could hardly commend any reading more highly than Walther’s Law and Gospel, and Luther’s House Postils. Enjoy the excepts below from Luther’s sermon for the First Sunday in Advent.
Blessed Advent! Come Thou blessed Savior come!
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee.” [Zechariah 9:9] Don’t gawk with your eyes but let your ears give insight to your eyes. Your King has no great stallion, no spurs, no saddle; he is poor and rides a donkey. And yet there’s no king like him; he removes your sin, rescues you from death and hell, and gives you everlasting holiness and righteousness, eternal life and blessedness. So don’t pay any heed to the wretched way in which he comes and then later also shamefully dies on the cross. For he does this all for your sake as Savior to help you, to sanctify you and rescue you from death.
If we don’t want to understand this with our ears, but accept only that which our eyes see and our hands touch, we will miss our King and be lost. There’s a big difference between this King and other kings. With the latter everything is outward pomp, great and gallant appearance, magnificent air. But not so with Christ. His mission and work it is to help against sin and death, to justify and bring life. He has placed his help in baptism and the Sacrament, and incorporated it in the Word and preaching. To our eyes Baptism appears to be nothing more than ordinary water, and the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood simple bread and wine, like other bread and wine, and the sermon, hot air from a man’s mouth. But we must not trust what our eyes see, but listen to what this King is teaching us in his Word and Sacrament, namely, I poured out my blood to save you from your sins, to rescue you from death and bring you into heaven; to that end I have given you baptism as a gift for the forgiveness of sins, and preach to you unceasingly by word of mouth concerning this treasure, sealing it with the Sacrament of my body and blood, so that you need never doubt. True, it seems little and insignificant, that by the washing of water, the Word, and the Sacrament this should all be effected. But don’t let your eyes deceive you. At that time, it seemed like a small and insignificant thing for him to come riding on a borrowed donkey and later be crucified, in order to take away sin, death, and hell. No one could tell this by his appearance, but the prophet foretold it, and his work later fulfilled it. Therefore we must simply grasp it with our ears and believe it with our hearts, for our eyes are blind . . .
Dollars, crowns, castles, and vast kingdoms don’t constitute his mission. For if we depended on that and died, our life would be nothing. But it is his office and work that we know that through his suffering and death we are redeemed. On this we rest and can say: through the righteousness of my King, the Lord Jesus Christ, I am justified. For that purpose he became poor and wretched, let himself be nailed to the cross, to make me holy and to drown sin and death in me. Whoever believes what the gospel declares has what it says. For that purpose Christ instituted holy baptism, thereby to clothe you with his righteousness. It is a tantamount to his saying, My righteousness shall be your righteousness; my innocence, your innocence. Your sins indeed are great, but by baptism I bestow on you my righteousness; I strip death from you and clothe you with my life. That’s Christ’s true regimen; his office and mission are summed up in this, that he daily strips away our sin and death and clothes us with his righteousness and life . . .
Therefore I exhort that you listen eagerly and lovingly to this Word, receive it with deep gratitude, and beseech the Lord God from the bottom of your heart for a firm faith to cling to this teaching. You may be certain that this will bear fruit day by day, as you become more humble, obedient, loving, chaste, and godly, for it is in the nature and art of this teaching to create godly, decent, obedient and pious people.
Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent
Second Sermon (1533)
The Sermons of Martin Luther: The House Postils (Baker, 1996), 1:27 ff.