First Reading: 1 Samuel 2:1b-10
A reading from First Samuel.
”My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.
"There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world.
"He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Second Reading: Luke 1:26-38
A reading from Luke.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God
to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph,
of the house of David.
The virgin's name was Mary.
And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one!
The Lord is with you."
But she was much perplexed by his words
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you will name him Jesus.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
The angel said to her,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be holy;
he will be called Son of God.
And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.
For nothing will be impossible with God."
Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is the third week in Advent. In our Wednesday evening prayer services we are focusing on the saints of Advent. In the last two weeks I shared some stories about St. Nicholas and St. Lucy. This week’s saint is a Lutheran saint, literally.
Katharina von Bora is also known as Katie Luther. The church remembers her on December 20th, because she died on this date in 1552.
Katharina von Bora was born in Germany on January 29, 1499 to landed gentry, meaning that her upper class family owned enough land to live off of the rental income.
It is believed that her mother died when she was five years old. It is certain that her father sent her to a Benedictine cloister in Brehna for her education that year. She moved to a different convent when she was nine years old. Her aunt was already a member of the Cistercian community of nuns there.
After several years of religious life, Katharina became interested in the growing reform movement and grew dissatisfied with her life in the monastery. Conspiring with several other nuns to flee in secrecy, she contacted Luther and begged for his assistance.
On Easter eve, April 4, 1523, Luther sent a city councilman and merchant who regularly delivered herring to the monastery. The nuns successfully escaped by hiding in his covered wagon among the fish barrels, and fled to Wittenberg.
Luther at first asked the parents and relatives of the refugee nuns to admit them again into their houses, but they refused to receive them, possibly because this meant they were participating in a crime under canon law.
Within two years, Luther was able to arrange homes, marriages, or employment for all of the escaped nuns—except for Katharina.
Katharina had a number of suitors, but none of the proposed matches resulted in marriage. Finally, she told Luther’s friend and fellow reformer, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, that she would be willing to marry only Luther or him.
Having thought long and hard, Luther decided that “his marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep.” Martin Luther eventually married Katharina on June 13, 1525. Katharina was 26 years old, Martin was 41.
The couple took up residence in the "Black Cloister,” the former dormitory and educational institution for Augustinian friars studying in Wittenberg, given as a wedding gift by the reform-minded John Frederick, Elector of Saxony.
Katharina immediately took on the task of administering and managing the vast holdings of the monastery, breeding and selling cattle, and running a brewery in order to provide for their family, and the steady stream of students who boarded with them and visitors seeking audiences with her husband.
In times of widespread illness, Katharina operated a hospital on site, ministering to the sick alongside other nurses. Luther called her the "boss of Zulsdorf," after the name of the farm they owned, and the "morning star of Wittenberg" for her habit of rising at 4 a.m. to take care of her various responsibilities.
Katharina was trusted in ways unheard of in those days. Luther allowed her to deal with his publishers and made her his sole heir.
In addition to her busy life tending to the lands and grounds of the monastery, Katharina bore six children: Johannes (Hans) (1526–75), Elizabeth (1527–28) who died at eight months, Magdalena (1529–42) who died at thirteen years, Martin Jr. (1531–1565), Paul (1533–93), and Margarete (1534–70). The Luthers also raised four orphan children, including Katharina's nephew, Fabian.
When Martin Luther died in 1546, Katharina was left in difficult financial straits without Luther's salary as professor and pastor, even though she owned land, properties, and the Black Cloister.
Almost immediately thereafter, Katharina had to leave the Black Cloister on her own at the outbreak of war. Later that year, at the close of the war, she was at last able to return to Wittenberg.
After the war the buildings and lands of the monastery had been torn apart and laid waste, the cattle and other farm animals were stolen or killed.
She remained in Wittenberg in poverty until 1552, when an outbreak of the Black Plague and a harvest failure forced her to leave the city once again. Katharina fled to Torgau where her cart was involved in a bad accident near the city gates, seriously injuring her.
She died in Torgau about three months later on December 20, 1552 at the age of fifty-three and was buried at Saint Mary's Church there, far from her husband's grave in Wittenberg.
The readings assigned for the commemoration of Katie Luther include Hannah’s song from First Samuel and the annunciation from the angel Gabriel to Mary.
The annunciation and Mary’s song have historically been sung as part of evening prayer and they are our gospel lesson this coming week, the fourth Sunday in Advent, making Katie an appropriate saint for our season of Advent. Like Mary, her life was dedicated to serving God and focused around her family.
Katie is an example for us because she, like Mary, lived as a servant of the Lord and believed with her whole heart that nothing is impossible for God. She is remembered as an inspiration for smart and enthusiastic people everywhere.
May God grant us the courage and strength to carry on the faith entrusted to us by all the saints. Amen.