You have likely gathered by now that I love Martin Luther. I can’t stay away from his work because he can’t stay away from the gospel. His pastoral approach orbits around the cross and resurrection of Christ. Here is a great quote on what “good news” means and how it must make us laugh with joy.
“For ‘gospel’ [Euangelium] is a Greek word and means in Greek a good message, good tidings, good news, a good report, which one sings and tells with gladness. For example, when David overcame the great Goliath, there came among the Jewish people the good report and encouraging news that their terrible enemy had been struck down and that they had been rescued and given joy and peace; and they sang and danced and were glad for it [I Sam. 18:6]. Thus this gospel of God or New Testament is a good story and report, sounded forth into all the world by the apostles, telling of a true David who strove with sin, death, and the devil, and overcame them, and thereby rescued all those who were captive in sin, afflicted with death, and overpowered by the devil. Without any merit of their own he made them righteous, gave them life, and saved them, so that they were given peace and brought back to God. For this they sing, and thank and praise God, and are glad forever, if only they believe firmly and remain steadfast in faith. This report and encouraging tidings, or evangelical and divine news, is also called a New Testament. For it is a testament when a dying man bequeaths his property, after his death, to his legally defined heirs. And Christ, before his death, commanded and ordained that his gospel be preached after his death in all the world [Luke 24:44-47]. Thereby he gave to all who believe, as their possession, everything that he had. This included: his life, in which he swallowed up death; his righteousness, by which he blotted out sin; and his salvation, with which he overcame everlasting damnation. A poor man, dead in sin and consigned to hell, can hear nothing more comforting than this precious and tender message about Christ; from the bottom of his heart he must laugh and be glad over it, if he believes it true.” (Martin Luther, Prefaces to the New Testament, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960], pp. 358-59)
Entitlement, ingratitude, thanklessness…age old, insidious, and destructive. Like an aggressive cancer this wretchedness swallows and devours. A parasite, it threatens to consume all joy and wonder. Restrictive, it squeezes and narrows the expansive gift of life. Utilitarian, it turns life into one big transaction to benefit self. Indifferent, it looks past gift and sees merit.
At heart, this is a way of being that pulls all things into self. It is a posture that demands the world orbit about “me.” Internal and external thrashing ensues when demands are not met, when the universe fails to obey. As Luther declared, this sickness originated at the fall when man “curved in on himself.” Once Adam recognized his nakedness he became obsessed with clothing himself.
Gratitude has been unnatural ever since. It is a forgotten dimension of our humanity. What was once second nature is now dependent upon grace. It is gospel grace that now produces gratitude. Gratitude makes life expansive, rich, and exciting. Many have grasped this reality. Here are a few examples.
“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” -G.K. Chesterton
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G.K. Chesterton
“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” -Karl Barth
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” –Marcus Cicer
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” –Epictetus
“‘Enough’ is a feast.” –Unknown
“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Gratitude also opens your eyes to the limitless potential of the universe, while dissatisfaction closes your eyes to it.” –Stephen Richards
“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” –Aldous Huxley
Here are some helpful quotes by Karl Barth. Hope you enjoy.
“At the beginning of all theological perception, research, and thought – and also of every theological statement – stands a quite specific amazement. Its lack in even the best theologian will threaten the heart of the entire enterprise, while even bad theologians are not a lost cause in their service and their duty, as long as they are still capable of amazement.”
“Having a sense of humor means not being stiff but flexible. Humor arises when we have insight into the contradiction between our existence as children of God and as children of this age, and we become conscious of our actions in a lively way. Humor means a great bucketing of the serious side of the present.”
“Joy is the rarest and most infrequent thing in the world. We already have enough fanatical seriousness, enthusiasm, and humorless zeal in the world. But joy? This shows us that the perception of the living God is rare. When we have found God our Saviour – or when he has found us – we will rejoice in him…joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”
“It is true that free people will also strive for independence, as far as that makes sense. But free people are not compelled to want independence by every external compulsion. They can also find all kinds of undesired discipline to be acceptable and pleasing.”
“What happened on that day (of Easter) became, was and remained the centre around which everything else moves. For everything lasts its time, but the love of God – which was at work and was expressed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – lasts forever. Because this event took place, there is no reason to despair, and even when we read the newspaper with all its confusing and frightening news, there is every reason to hope.”
I was struck by this verse recently. Look how the wise men react to seeing the star that would lead them to the manger. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt 2:10). This is joy taken to the next level. This is rejoicing pushed to its limit. These guys were out of their minds happy. I really would have loved to watch them at this moment. I wonder how they expressed this explosive joy. Did they laugh? Did they cry? Did they shout? Did they leap? Did they take off sprinting toward the star? Did they jump onto their camels and compel them forward as fast as possible? What was their conversation as they made the last leg of their journey?
Beyond these questions is a larger, more important one. What provoked such an eruption of joy? What led them to such exuberance and celebration? What might lead us down the same path? The answer is so expected and yet so mind boggling. Their excessive joy came from the reality of the incarnation. The King they so longed for had come and was reigning in the manger. God had become what he had never been before, a man. As the God-man he was Immanuel. At his coming hope was rendered unnecessary as it gave way to reality. This promised King was the ground of their overwhelming joy. This King in a humble manger destined for a wretched cross—this is the source of explosive joy. As we pursue God in the crib and on the cross liberating joy is certain to follow.