Christmas and Vocation

I believe my friend, Dr. Gene Edward Veith, will appreciate how Luther uses the narrative of our Lord’s birth to make good points about the doctrine of vocation. I found this quote and its accompanying footnote in an article by Professor John Pless. Here is what Luther had to say:

Here is another excellent and helpful lesson, namely, that after the shepherds have been enlightened and have come to a true knowledge of Christ, they do not run out into the desert-which is what the crazy monks and nuns in the cloisters did! No the shepherds continue in their vocation, and in the process they also serve their fellow men. For true faith does not create people who abandon their secular vocation and begin a totally different kind of living, a way of life which the totally irrational monks considered essential to being saved, even though it was only an externally different way of existence. [Klug, Luther’s House Postils, Vol. 1:48]

Professor Pless comments:

In Luther’s homiletical treatment of the shepherds, we are given an excellent window into his doctrine of vocation-a doctrine that contemporary Lutheranism desperately needs to recover in light of the “neomonasticism” of contemporary American Evangelicalism. One may see Harold Senkbeil, Sanctification: Christ in Action (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1989), 12-15. In his treatise of 1520, “On the Freedom of a Christian,” Luther writes (LW 31:371): “We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in Himself, but in Christ and in the neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor.” This is expressed liturgically in the Post-Communion Collect “We give thanks to you, almighty God, that you have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore you that of your mercy you would strengthen us through the same in faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another. . .” Homiletically, Luther gives expression to this in his Christmas sermons. For example in a 1521 Christmas sermon Luther says (Lenker, 146): “These are the two things in which a Christian is to exercise himself, the one that he draws Christ into himself, and that by faith he makes him his own, appropriates to himself the treasures of Christ and confidently builds upon them; the other that he condescends to his neighbor and lets him share in that which he has received, even as he shares in the treasures of Christ.” Contra Richard Caemmerer’s distinction of “faith-goal sermons” from “life-goal sermons” (Preaching for the Church [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 19591,179-190), Luther preaches faith which is active in love.

John T. Pless, “Learning to Preach from Luther in Advent and Christmas,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, Fort Wayne: Indiana, Volume 62, No. 4, October 1998, pg.

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