Calvin on Christmas

“Yet when we seek our Lord Jesus Christ to find in Him alleviation of all our miseries and a sure and infallible protection we must begin at His birth. Not only is it recited to us that He was made man like us, but that He so emptied Himself that scarcely was He reputed to be of the rank of men. He was, as it were, banished from every house and fellowship. There was nothing except a stable and a manger to receive Him. Since it is so, then, we know here how God displayed the infinite treasures of His goodness when He willed that His Son might be humbled for our sakes.”

Sermon on Luke 2.1-14.

4 Comments

  1. John Calvin December 19, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    What I actually said about Christmas: “Now, I see here today more people that I am accustomed to having at the sermon. Why is that? It is Christmas day. And who told you this? You poor beasts. That is a fitting euphemism for all of you who have come here today to honor Noel. Did you think you would be honoring God? Consider what sort of obedience to God your coming displays. In your mind, you are celebrating a holiday for God, or turning today into one but so much for that. In truth, as you have often been admonished, it is good to set aside one day out of the year in which we are reminded of all the good that has occurred because of Christ’s birth in the world, and in which we hear the story of his birth retold, which will be done Sunday. But if you think that Jesus Christ was born today, you are as crazed as wild beasts. For when you elevate one day alone for the purpose of worshiping God, you have just turned it into an idol. True, you insist that you have done so for the honor of God, but it is more for the honor of the devil” (Sermon preached on Christmas day 1551 in John Calvin, Sermons on the Book of Micah).

    • Mark Loughridge December 19, 2017 at 10:29 am #

      The wonders of technology – “He being dead, still speaks”

      • Andrew Kerr December 19, 2017 at 1:37 pm #

        Indeed!

    • Andrew Kerr December 19, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

      Thank you for this quotation from one of his sermons on Malachi which he continued to expound systematically on the 25th December without deviation!

      Just in case you misunderstood the title ‘Calvin on Christmas’ let me attempt to clarify: I was not trying to suggest anything as to Calvin’s own belief or practice about, or theology of, ‘Christmas.’ The title was not ‘Calvin’s Theology of Christmas’ nor was it meant to be. If it would help to give a longer, more extended, title to the piece it might be ‘A comment of Calvin from one of his sermons on a passage of the Scripture which many people preach on, reflect upon & think about at the time of the year most people in the West call Christmas’; or again ‘Calvin on a theme which is often connected with what people think of or observe as Christmas’. In that sense I think, if you will permit me this latitude, I do think the title holds good (The closest term I can think of – I hope I’m technically correct – for a loose use of a name to express a wider concept is METONYMY).

      The Chamber’s Dictionary explains ‘metonym’ as follows: “The use of the name of a single aspect of or adjunct to a thing as a way of referring to the whole thing itself.”

      To clarify further, the piece was not meant to endorse a pro- or anti- Christmas position – it was just to draw attention to a comment on the incarnation, to humble and comfort our hearts, at a time when many, for various reasons, turn to this subject.

      Still, having said that (and not to say I agree or disagree with Calvin on this), it is interesting to note that Calvin did have more to say on the matter apparently – I think the context is a belated defense of his own good name against he accusation that he had abolished Christmas (I just looked this up very quickly so I could be mistaken) – this, he seems to state clearly, was not his work – he seems to have been against Roman superstitions and excesses regarding feast days, as seems to appear from my cursory research.

      The text is from a letter written on 2nd January, 1551, that same year as the Micah sermon. Perhaps he got some flack following the sermon from the congregation, and this is his considered reply? It reads as follows:

      “Besides the abolition of the feast-days here has given grievous offense to some of your people, and it is likely enough that much unpleasant talk has been circulating among you. I am pretty certain, also, that I get the credit of being the author of the whole matter, both among the malevolent and the ignorant. But as I can solemnly testify that it was accomplished without my knowledge, and without my desire, so I resolved from the first; rather to weaken malice by silence, than be over-solicitous about my defense. Before I ever entered the city, there were no festivals but the Lord’s day. Those celebrated by you were approved of by the same public decree by which Farel and I were expelled; and it was rather extorted by the tumultuous violence of the ungodly, than decreed according to the order of law. Since my recall, I have pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ’s birth-day as you are wont to do.”

      I hope this clarifies both my intention in the article – and Calvin’s own moderate view (I take it Christ’s birth day does not refer to Easter but to Noel) of Christmas. I stand to be corrected!

      Every blessing,

      Andrew Kerr

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