Monday, August 30, 2010

A Bit from Luther Based on Luke 2:42-52

This is a Gospel that presents to us an example of the holy cross, showing us what experiences those who have to pass who are Christians, and how they ought to bear their sorrow. For he who desires to be a Christian must expect to help to bear the cross. For God will place him between the spurs and thoroughly test him that he may be humble and no one will come to Christ without suffering. Of this we have here an example, which we ought to imitate and shall now consider.

Although the holy mother Mary, who was highly blessed and upon whom many favors were bestowed, had undoubtedly the greatest delight in her child, yet the Lord so ruled that that her joy was not without sorrow and like all others she did not attain complete blessedness until she entered heaven. For this reason she had to suffer so much sorrow, pain and anguish on earth. It was her first great sorrow to give birth to her child in Bethlehem, in a strange town, where she found no room with her babe except in a stable. Then her second sad experience was that soon after the six weeks of purification she was compelled to flee with her child into Egypt, a strange country, which was indeed a poor consolation. She undoubtedly experienced many more like trials, which have not been recorded.

One of them is related here, when her Son caused her so much anxiety, by tarrying behind in the temple and letting her seek Him so long, and she could not find Him. This alarmed and grieved her so that she almost despaired, as her words indicate: “Behold, thy father and I sought thee sorrowing.” For we may well imagine that thoughts like these may have passed through her mind: “Behold this child is only mine, this I know very well, and I know God has entrusted Him to me and has commanded me to take care of Him; why is it then He is taken from me? It is my fault, for I have not sufficiently taken care of Him and guarded Him. Perhaps God does not deem me worthy to watch over this child and will take Him from me again.” She was undoubtedly greatly frightened and her heart trembled and was filled with grief.

Here you see what she experienced. Although she is the mother of a child in whom she might have gloried before all mothers, and although her joy was immeasurably greater than any she had ever felt, yet you perceive how God deprives her of all happiness, in that she can no longer call herself the mother of Jesus. In her great dismay she probably wished she had never known her child and was tempted to greater sins than any mother had ever committed.

In the same manner the Lord our God can take from us our joy and comfort, if He so desires, and cause us the greatest sorrow with the very things that are our greatest joy, and, on the other hand, give us the greatest delight in the things that terrify us the most. For it was the greatest joy of Mary that she was the mother of this child, but now He has become the cause of her greatest sorrow. Thus we are afraid of nothing more than sin and death, yet God can comfort us so that we may boast, as St. Paul says in Rom. 7, that sin served to the end that we became justified and that we longed for death and desire to die.

The great sorrow of the mother of Christ, who was deprived of her child, came upon her in order that even her trust in God might be taken from her. For she had reason to fear that God was angry with her and would no longer have her be the mother of His Son. Nobody will understand what she suffered who has not passed through her experiences. Therefore we should apply this example to ourselves, for it was not recorded for her sake, but for our benefit. She is now at the end of her sorrows; therefore we should profit by her example and be prepared to bear our sorrow if a similar affliction befall us.

When God vouchsafes to us a strong faith and a firm trust in Him, so that we are assured He is our gracious God and we can depend on Him, then we are in paradise. But when God permits our hearts to be discouraged and that He takes from us Christ our Lord; when our conscience feels that we have lost Him amidst trembling and despair our confidence is gone, then we are truly in misery and distress. For even if we are not conscious of any special sin, yet in such a condition we tremble and doubt whether God still cares for us; just as Mary here doubts and knows not whether God still deems her worthy to be the mother of His Son. Our heart thinks in the time of trial thus: God has indeed given me a strong faith, but perhaps He will take it from me and will no longer want me as His child. Only strong minds can endure such temptations and there are not many people whom God tests to this degree. Yet we must be prepared, so that we may not despair if such trials come upon us.

. . . God does all this out of His superabundant grace and goodness in order that we might perceive on every hand how kindly and lovingly the Father deals with us and tries us, so that our faith may be developed and become continually stronger and stronger. And He does this especially so as to guard His children against a twofold danger which might otherwise threaten them. In the first place, being strong in their own mind and arrogant, they might ultimately depend upon themselves and believe they are able to accomplish everything in their own strength. For this reason God sometimes permits their faith to grow weak and to be prostrated, so that they might see who they are and be forced to confess: Even if I would be believe, I cannot. Thus the omnipotent God humbles His saints and keeps them in their true knowledge. For nature and reason will always boast of the gifts of God and depend upon them. Therefore God must lead us to a recognition of the fact that it is He who puts faith in our heart and that we cannot produce it ourselves. Thus the fear of God and trust in Him must not be separated from one another, for we need them both, in order that we not become presumptuous and overconfident depending on ourselves. This is one of the reasons God leads His saints through such great trials.

First Sunday after Epiphany, Wittenberg, 1523

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