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Luther on the Lectionary

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Posted by Chris Henderson, 27 Nov 2018

Chris Henderson reviews a new volume of Luther's sermons on the gospel readings for Advent and Christmas.

Sermons for Advent and Christmas Day, Martin Luther (Peabody: Hendrickson)

Cover of Sermons for Advent and Christmas Day

This is ‘Luther on the Lectionary,’ the first of three volumes from Hendrickson, with this volume comprising six expository studies on lectionary readings from the Gospels for Advent and Christmas. These have been selected from Luther’s Church Postils, which were produced to help pastors in the preparation of their own preaching. The readings in this volume are in very close alignment with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer readings, and close enough to the Church of England Common Worship lectionary to be of significant help there, though of course the themes which emerge from these sermons will stimulate thinking for preaching throughout these seasons.

As someone who has read a bit of Luther, though a tiny percentage of the whole, and as someone who feels that one cannot get to know a theologian better than through their preaching, I enjoyed this volume thoroughly. There were some surprises; for instance, I had no idea that Luther would make extensive use of allegorical interpretations, (headed ‘The spiritual interpretation of this Gospel’). Not every sermon has such a section, and they vary in length, but it is at the very least entertaining to see how such a methodology takes on a Lutheran edge. I did not realise, for example, that every time a star falls, it signifies that someone has just become a priest, a monk, or a nun! (from the sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent).

The literal interpretations that Luther gives for each reading are thoroughly interesting and stimulating. At times, when Luther has the law-gospel bit between his teeth, one can forget what the passage was that he began with, but on such occasions I was at least encouraged by his example of preaching the gospel from the Gospels, and given the spur to make sure I keep doing the same. Mostly, though, these studies show the nuances of Luther’s thought, and the impressive breadth of his scholarship. The final sermon in the volume, on John 1:1-14, is the highlight, and deserves to be read alongside any of the major contributions on this text made before or since, particularly as Luther combats interpretations overly influenced by Greek philosophy.

This, then, and I trust the following two volumes, is an excellent resource for becoming better acquainted with Luther. One is treated to a good overview of Luther’s theology, some interesting comments on the times he lived in, comprehensive dismissals of opposing views, much material to appreciate his considerable gifts, and plenty to stimulate one’s thinking on the glorious events upon which he expounds.

Chris Henderson is Curate at All Saints Little Shelford

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