A Christmas text during Holy Week? Yes. Christmas finds its fulfillment in Holy Week. And the section from Luther's Christmas afternoon sermon on Isaiah 9 beautifully illustrates this. He uses some of my favorite imagery from any of his sermons as he considers what it means for us that "the government shall be upon his shoulder."
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
From Luther's Sermon on Isaiah 9:6:
Isaiah, however, stays down here [on earth, saying], “He is the kind of lord
who takes the government on his shoulder—and thus a genuine lord.” Let whoever
can figure out what that means! A unique and wonderful lord, who wears his
authority around his neck! This shows how the rule of Christ differs from the kingdoms
of the world. For Christ says, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them.”10
They have to exercise power, to rule strictly, and make use of the law; but they do
not need to fleece and flail [people]. [All] secular governments have to rule and
punish with severity; but it is [only] the villains and tyrants who fleece and flail
[their people]. In the latter case, the subjects have to carry these lords, magistrates,
heads of families, etc., on their shoulders. And they do have to carry them, or the tyrants will be on them with blows and executioners. But we are speaking here of
good rulers, not of tyrants. Yet even the good authorities are carried on the shoulders
of their subjects. But the rule of that Son who was born to us works the other
way around: he carries us! We rest on his shoulders; he is our bearer. See how
Isaiah turns everything around, contrary to the customs of the world. Where is
Christ’s rule, his land, and his people? Our duke’s rule includes Saxony,
Thuringia, and Meissen.
But Christ’s rule includes all believers, of whom he is Lord. So we are his people and his land. And where is his government? On his shoulder! This is wonderful. Christ’s kingdom is not under his feet, nor is it in Rome or in Babylon; it is on his shoulder.
There is no way I can describe this. If someone asks, “Where is Christ’s rule?
Is it in Rome? Compostela? Wittenberg?” [the answer is,] “Of course!”
Briefly put, it is on his shoulder! We see artists’ renditions of this, but I would advise the
painters to put the church on the child’s shoulders rather than the cross.
We just have to put up with the fact that the godless papists, the rabble, and
the peasants all have our word and sacraments. But only those are Christians
who are on his shoulder, that is, those who firmly trust him and allow themselves
to be carried by him like the lost sheep. To sum up: no one is a Christian who does
not rest on the shoulder of Christ.
This is what Isaiah said. This means that I believe that he has paid everything for me, that my sins and my death are his cross. Would that I could say this: “I know no other comfort than to rest on the shoulder of this man.” All who are held firmly on his shoulder are Christians. He must pay for us; he must make satisfaction and suffer. He must carry us, not we him. He does not want to be served, but to serve and to carry us. [He says,] “I will give you everything; all your guilt will be on my shoulder.” All the saints, whatever their names—Isaiah, Peter, Paul—from the greatest to the least, they are all on his
shoulder. That is his government. Those who are not on his shoulder are not under
Thus, here you see the very definition of the Son, the one who carries his subjects
on his shoulder. And we are those subjects! If the foolish followers of the pope
who want to kill us only believed this, they would rethink their plan. They want to
carry Christ themselves, back and forth; they carry him with their works and their
merits. But he will prove too heavy for them. The sheep must say [instead], “Dear
Shepherd, you carry me, not I you!” It would be some crazy sheep that wanted to
carry him! Would it ever get something to carry! But Christ says, “Hop on! I will
carry you well—and all your sins are forgiven.” And the world persecutes this
treasure of the kingdom [of Christ]! Isaiah says, “You have the Son.” So, hop on!
We should gladly and confidently run to him, believing that he will answer for us
and pay for us.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for carrying all our sins and for carrying us on your shoulders. Thank you for being our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Keep us steadfast in the one true faith. Amen.
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