Sermon on 1. John 4:9 at Christmas Eve, 24th December, 1936, Church of Jesus Christ, Berlin-Dahlem
By Martin Niemöller
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:9)
Christmas Eve is here again, dear brethren, and with it the Christmas Gospel of the birth in the stable—with it the Christmas hymn of the Babe in the manger. For a moment the bright light shines through the night, and joy rings through the despondent world: “To you is born a Saviour.” We rejoice in this yearly recurring moment. Diligently and solemnly we gather together at this festival everything that might enhance or deepen our joy, so that the glow of the festival may remain with us and shine out until it is forced to make room for the drab routine of our daily lives.
Thus it is not surprising if all our live desires and longings and hopes unite at Christmastime. It is also understandable if our nation to-day bethinks itself of old usages and customs and incorporates them in this radiant festival: if, for instance, old solstice celebrations are revived. After all. Spring must come. The myth of light, of vanishing yet returning light, heralds the return of life. We may risk a new beginning. If we do not complete our task, we look to our children who will carry on the work and finish it. With the myth of light is associated the myth of birth, of the child in the manger. The child in the manger must know of the myth. We have not seen the end of it yet, it seems to say. “We children grow up after you and take the weapons and tools from your hands when you let them fall.” And yet, dear friends, that is all so superficial! As long as we keep our eyes fixed on such things, we know neither of the great fear nor of the great joy of the Christmas story. To-day, you see, we are not dealing with the eternal laws of Nature and History, according to which we must adjust and regulate our lives, while behind these laws stands immutable Fate, with which our thoughts had rather not meddle; but the vital point about the Christmas message and the Christmas story is that the eternal, living God, in Whose sight none is guiltless and Who is unfathomable, comes forth from His secret dwelling-place, in order to prove His existence to us. “The glory of the Lord shone round about them.”
And the effect must be the same as it always is when human beings become conscious of the nearness of the living God: “They were sore afraid.” Fear invariably suppresses joy.
We walk about the earth, as though we had firm ground under our feet; but the firm ground is only a thin covering of lava. In reality we are treading on a smouldering volcano, and when the covering breaks, a tongue of fire leaps forth, the flame shoots up: the wrath of God at our unholy, sinful, human lives. In His eyes no living soul is righteous: the shepherds knew that. We too know it when we think of the living God.
Dear friends, any man who has even a slight inkling of this ultimate precariousness of our life will find help in no myth ever invented by men. Any man who realizes that it is impossible to escape from God, also knows that our safety does not depend upon our running or walking: he takes heed, he pricks up his ears, when a message of salvation comes. It is here, in the midst of the great terror that the Christmas message has its place: “Christ the Saviour is here!” Then is the door flung open to let in the great joy which will sustain us through life and death: „The love of God is made manifest”—the love of God!
We hear the story which is told us of the child in the manger; and though we may marvel—as people always marvel—that it is not only the misery of the world and the whole affliction of our human life that lie before us in the manger, but. bound up with this misery and with this affliction and wrapped up in this misery and this affliction, die Son of the living God, the Saviour of the world, we do not push such a curious and excessively “foolish” message aside as a fairy tale. We ask whether we can believe this message that the Saviour has come, that the love of God has been made manifest for us. For it is with faith that we are dealing here.
What our eyes see is a man like ourselves, a man of whom, to use the words of the prophet, it was said from the hour of his birth onward: “He was despised and rejected.” There is no room in the inn and so the child is born in a manger. And when the child has grown to lie a man, „the Son of man hath not where to lay His head!” And finally the world can think of nothing better to do with him than to cast him out and hang him on the gallows, on the cross.
But, dear friends, the message concerning this child, the message which is proclaimed to men. calls him the only begotten Son of God. the Saviour of the world, Who reconciles the world with God, Who brings the peace with God that passeth all understanding. The message calls him Emanuel. “God with us,” “God for us,” “the love of God.” The message tells us that the manger and the cross are carved out of the same wood, that this child in the manger has taken away the curse and the wrath of God which we have borne, because He is the only One who could bear this burden for us and take away the curse. “He hath done all these things in order to show forth His great love.”
This message, preached to-day, at Christmastime, is the one message in which God has tried to help and advise us poor sinners, in order that our fear may be changed into joy, our despondency into confidence, and our life—which is in truth a death—into real life: “In this was manifested the love of God, because that God sent His only begotten son into the world that we might live through Him.”
Dear friends, amid all the noise and the festive joy, we will hearken to this one message and bid it go with us. We will rejoice in it and join in the jubilation of Christendom and not cease to struggle and to pray for the joyful certainty and confidence of faith in the only begotten Son of God, who lay in the manger.
“Jesus, beautiful Christmas sun, shine upon me with Thy favour; let Thy light be my Christmas joy and teach me the lesson of Christmas, showing me how I may walk in light and be filled with the glory of Christmas.”
Translated by Jane Lymburn.
Source: “God is my Fuehrer”. Being the Last Twenty-Eight Sermons by Pastor Martin Niemoeller, New York: Philosophical Library and Alliance Book Corp., 1941, pp. 82-86.