How did the secular celebration of Christ’s birth become more popular than the spiritual celebration?
Luke 2: 1-7: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
The Nativity, Arthur Hughes, 1858
An interesting painting that lacks the religious perspective of Luther’s time with the realistic perspective of 19th century industrial society. The angels are innocuous, Mary has a sweet face and light complexion, the straw on the floor is trampled and dirty. For Hughes, the birth appears to lack relevance or meaning in a secular world, like ours, that lacks the vigor of spiritual growth.
For Luther, ‘whoever is a Christian must expect to help bear the cross, for God will take him by the scruff of the neck and test him until he is worn out. No one comes to Christ apart from suffering.’ This is how Luther viewed Mary, who at the time of the joy of her child she endured misfortune, pain and anguish. She gave birth in a stable far away from home, and fled to Egypt, a foreign country. Her confidence in God was being taken away in the first two years of motherhood as she rationalized God was angry with her and did not want her to be the mother of His son. This is reality gospel because our faith is more unpredictable with highs and lows and lacking a steady line of monthly incremental growth.