Youth @ Peace presents “Papa Luther”

Dr. Martin Luther -- teacher, theologian and reformer, depended mightily on prayer.

Dr. Martin Luther — teacher, theologian and reformer.

Young people in our Sunday School program have been studying Martin Luther and the Reformation this fall – part of our celebration of this 500th year of the Reformation! For our annual Children’s Christmas Program, they present an original work, “Advent Devotions with Papa Luther.”

Both worship services: We present our program during both worship services (8:30 & 11 a.m.) today, during the sermon time.

Today’s program is set around 1535 and opens as Martin Luther and his family prepare to celebrate Christmas. It presents some of the beliefs and practices surrounding Christmas leading up to that time, along with some of the theological concerns of the Reformation.

Medieval Christians used a fir tree on Christmas Eve, called a Paradise Tree, to venerate Adam and Eve. Medieval theologians contrasted their disobedience to the obedience of Mary and Jesus. In addition, Christmas plays of that period included angels that announced the news of Jesus’ coming and birth.

Catholics celebrated the feast day of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6 – remembering the Turkish Bishop Nikolaus of Myra, renown for giving gifts to children and the poor. In Luther’s Germany, parents gave gifts to their children on his day. But Luther opposed the veneration of saints, and among his followers, he sought to shift this practice by encouraging a belief in the Christkind as the giver of gifts on Christmas Eve.

An eye-witness wrote of Luther discussing the Christkind with his family. Two lines in our program referring to the Christkind are taken directly from this conversation. It is not clear what Luther himself considered the Christkind to be, but scholars speculate it was an evolution of the angelic figures from those medieval Christmas plays. Katie Luther’s assertion in our skit that the Christkind is the baby Jesus is my own interpretation: I can imagine Luther pragmatically adapting that medieval angelic figure as the giver of Christmas gifts for the benefit of his followers, but I suspect he would have associated this figure to the Child born at Christmas.

In many parts of today’s Germany and Central Europe, the Christkind still is celebrated and depicted as a blond, angelic, girl with a halo, and sometimes with wings. Sometimes, the Christkind appears with Santa Claus and helps him deliver gifts. After a century of onslaught by Coca-Cola-inspired images of Santa, the Christkind is being defended in some areas. However, I could not find any reference associating modern ideas of the Christkind with the baby Jesus.

Devotions spoken by our Prophets are taken from the lectionary (daily Bible readings that are followed by Christians around the world) for the week before Christmas. You can find them in the devotional pamphlet, “The Word in Season,” available at the Welcome Desk in the Atrium.

– Trina Kleist, writer & director

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