1. There’s nothing wrong with familiar passages. It is tempting to think that we have to be always innovating, always creative, always somewhere surprising. Don’t. Just as children will repeatedly ask for the same bedtime story, and adults will revisit the same movie of choice, so churchgoers are fine with a Christmas message at Christmas. Sometimes in trying to be clever we simply fail to connect. Don’t hesitate to preach a Matthew or Luke birth narrative!
2. Preach the writer’s emphasis, not a Christmas card. Anywhere in the Gospels it is possible to be drawn from the emphasis of the text to the event itself. If you are preaching Matthew for several weeks, great, preach Matthew. If Luke, preach Luke. Whether it is a series or an individual message, be sure to look closely and see what the writer is emphasizing in each narrative.
3. Familiar passages deserve to be offered fresh. Don’t take my first comment as an excuse to be a stale preacher. There’s no need to simply dust off an old message and give it again without first revisiting it. Whenever we preach God’s Word we should stand and preach as those who have a fresh passion for what God is communicating there. There’s no excuse for a cold heart or stale content.
4. Fresh doesn’t have to mean innovative or weird. Now all this talk of fresh could lead us down a windy path into strange ideas. There is plenty in each text that is very much there, so we don’t need to superimpose our own clever and innovative “five facts about struggling against capitalism from the angel’s visit to Zechariah.” Equally, we don’t have to preach dressed as a sheep in order to offer something fresh.
5. Be careful when fresh includes disagreeing with tradition. You may find that looking closely at the text and studying the culture of that time actually causes you to question some stable assumptions (see what I did there?) Was there a stable? Where was Jesus born? When did the Magi arrive? How did the star thing work? Think carefully about throwing a hand grenade into peoples’ traditions. There is a place, and a tone, for correcting errant thinking, but tread carefully.