Prince Joachim of Anhalt was twenty-six years old when Christmas came in 1535. For months he had battled with deep melancholy and depression. Luther had spent time with the prince, praying for him and speaking the Lord’s words of consolation and peace into his ears the previous summer.
We must be weak, and are willing to be,” writes Luther, “in order that Christ’s strength may dwell in us; as Saint Paul says, ‘Christ’s strength is made perfect in weakness’ ” (Tappert, p. 98). There are no shallow encouragements to muster up strength or to develop a more positive attitude. There are no calls in Luther’s letter for Joachim to pull himself out of despondence and get in tune with the spirit of the season. Joachim is not counseled to get some help with his self-esteem issues. Luther comforts him instead with the words of the apostle. In weakness God puts His power to save on display. From the lowliness of the manger to the humiliation of the cross right down to the pit of Joachim’s depression, God comes to save. God works in the depths. Luther once offended Erasmus by asserting that Christ Jesus is with us even in the sewer. Jesus is not ashamed to be found in the midst of barn flies and manure. He is not ashamed to be found in the company of weak sinners.
Good pastor that he is, Luther does not try to lift Joachim’s spirits with an appeal to the Law. “Don’t you know that you should be rejoicing, after all it is Christmas, dear Prince.” There is none of that in Luther’s letter. Instead, there is the comfort of Christmas. It is the consolation of a Christ who makes Himself to be a friend of sinners, joining Himself to them in their weakness and misery.