I came across a post by Mason Vieth (no relation!), who quoted Luther’s commentary on the Christmas text in Luke. He considers this verse: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). How are the manger and the swaddling clothes “a sign”? What do they signify? And Luther brings it around to vocation.
“What it means to find Christ in such poverty, and what His swaddling clothes and manger signify, are explained in the previous Gospel [Luke 2:1–14]. His poverty teaches us to find Him in our neighbors, the lowliest and the most needy of them. His swaddling clothes are the Holy Scriptures. The result is that in our life of work we deal with the needy, but in our life of study and meditation we deal only with the Scriptures. Thus Christ alone is important for both lives; He stands before us in every purpose” (LW 75:254).
He is applying this to the two kinds of life that were often spoken of in that day: the active and the contemplative. Scholars and clerics devote themselves to thinking, to contemplation. They have the “swaddling clothes” of Scripture. Farmers, craftsmen, traders, officials, in their “life of work” “deal with the needy” and have the manger.
“He stands before us in every purpose.”
Illustration: “Adoration of the Shepherds” (1622) by Gerard van Honthorst – Google Art Project, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45542035