To Bring Us Back to the Divine Light

From “On Holy Christmas Day IV” Postils (1613)

The Son of God is the self-sustaining Light, the express image of the Father and “the lustre of his glory” (Heb. 1:3). He had compassion on us in that we so miserably lay in our darkness, and he wanted to once again bring us to the Light. But how did he initiate it?

If he had come to us in his unadulterated divinity, then we could not have tolerated his divine light, just as we hear in the story of the birth of Christ that the shepherds, as they saw how the brightness of this Lord shined forth around the angel, were very much terrified. In the same way, and even much more, we would have been terrified if without means this divine Light had appeared to us, especially since it is the kind of light that “no man can come near” (1 Tim. 6:16). That’s why this Light clothes itself and conceals itself in our flesh and blood, as in a lantern, so that then it might be carried by us.

Through this Son of God revealed in our flesh, through this divine Light concealed in our flesh, we are once more helped to the true light, especially since this Son of God has revealed to us the counsel of the Holy Trinity concerning our salvation, which we could never ever have been able to find by the light of our reason.

This is that true light which shined in the darkness, says John in 1:5, and, as Christ himself says in John 8:12 and 12:35, he is the light of the world. Whoever follows him does not walk in darkness, rather he will have the Light of Life. That’s why he also was called the “star from Jacob” by Balaam in Numbers  24:7, because he is the “bright Morning Star” in Revelation 22:16, who was born of God the Father as Light of Light. Thereafter, as  he was born of Mary in the fullness of time as true man, he brought forth the true light to us poor humans who sat in darkness. And, as this light shined in the dark places, “the Morning Star” of the knowledge of God arose in our hearts (1 Pet. 1:19). That’s why Christendom joyfully sings:

The eternal light enters in there,

Gives the world a new gleam,

It illuminates well in the midst of night

And makes us children of Light. Kyrie eleison.

Accordingly, as God the Father in former times divided the light from darkness in the creation through his Son, so he especially in redemption wanted to bring us back to the divine light through this Son whom he sent in the flesh, as St. Paul beautifully speaks of it in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God, who called the light to shine forth out of the darkness, has given a bright light into our heart so that the illumination concerning the brightness of God in the face of Jesus Christ might be begun within us.”…

Furthermore, just as through the essential light and autonomous image of the Father by this his Son, God the Father created man in the beginning with the image of God, so that the true knowledge of God fully shined in him (“in him was life,” says John 1:4, “and that life was the light of men”), so it pleased God that we, after we had fallen into the darkness of ignorance, sin, and eternal death, would again, through his Son, revealed in the flesh, be brought to the true life.”

Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) was among the most influential theologians of classic Lutheran Orthodoxy. He became superintendent (bishop) of the Lutheran Church in the Duchy of Coburg in 1606, and during this time he wrote a series of Postils, model sermons on the Sunday liturgical texts for the pastors under his care. In 1616, Gerhard became senior professor of theology at the University of Jena, a post he held for the rest of his life. The hymn text quoted in this excerpt is from Luther’s 1538 Christmas hymn, Gelobet siest Du. The translation is adapted from Elmer L. Hohle (Center for the Study of Lutheran Orthodoxy, 2011).

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