Martin Luther on the Sacrament of the Incarnation and True Knowledge of Ourselves

For many people, Christmas marks the birthday of a real person whom the church has turned into an imaginary god.

That’s almost right. It’s just backwards. The reality is that Jesus was born to turn imaginary gods into real people.

We had been the imaginary gods, but we weren’t any good at it. Our adventure as gods was actually just a bunch of self-centeredness and self-deception. It was sin, and it was making us miserable.

We were what Martin Luther called “unhappy and proud gods.”

According to Luther, Jesus’ humanity—and ultimately his crucifixion—confronted us with our own humanity, which we had rejected in our quest to be our own gods.

In an attempt to create our own reality, we had rejected our createdness along with our Creator. When God was born as a man, He lived in our true reality along with us, refusing to escape from it or to deny it.

Jesus could have created an entirely new world for Himself, thereby leaving us behind. Instead, He created a new world right in the midst of the old world, so that He could take us with Him.

In giving us a new nature, Christ reveals to us the reality of our old nature. As Martin Luther put it, He “returns us again to the knowledge of ourselves.”

Here is how Luther described what he called “the sacrament of the incarnation”:

Through the rule of his humanity, or (as the apostle calls it) of his flesh, which occurs by faith, he makes us conform to himself and crucifies us, thus making real, that is, wretched and sinful men, out of unhappy and proud gods.

For since in Adam we ascended to God’s likeness, for this reason he descended to our likeness, that he might return us again to the knowledge of ourselves.

This takes place through the sacrament of the incarnation.

This is the kingdom of faith in which the cross of Christ rules, throwing down the divinity we perversely desired and recovering the humanity and despised weakness of the flesh we perversely abandoned.

Thanks to Jesus, we can live every day of the year in this “kingdom of faith in which the cross of Christ rules.”

Thanks to Jesus, we are free from ourselves.

We can be real people now, with a real God.