Preaching Christmas at Christmas

Even though 2020 is a unique year, Christmas is still an amazing opportunity to preach to people who normally don’t come to church. Maybe you are meeting, or maybe you are preaching online. But how do you make the most of preaching Christmas at Christmas?

1. Pray lots – there is a massive spiritual battle going on and the enemy wants to keep people looking at anything except the truth of the gospel. As Christmas approaches, he will also try to keep preachers distracted from the wonder of the gospel too. Pray lots, and keep your eyes on Christ!

2. Preach fact – it may seem like a Christmas card cartoon myth, but it is not. Luke launched his gospel with a declaration of the trustworthiness of his message. Let’s follow his lead. Look for any opportunity to underline that the Christmas story actually, literally, historically, physically happened.

3. Correct carefully – in your quest for historical truth, be careful not to over-correct every detail. A critical spirit never communicates well. Jesus wasn’t born in a cattle shed, Mary was not transitioning to hard labour as she arrived in Bethlehem, and the Magi could well have arrived that night after all. Be careful with correcting long-held beliefs, and be careful with your tone when you do correct.

4. Celebrate sensitively – this season comes with its own hype, and we may be tempted to breathe a sigh of nostalgic familiarity as we celebrate another Christmas. But remember that Christmas is bittersweet for many people. There are empty chairs at the table, and Christmas tends to underline the deep ache. Take a moment in your message, or in a prayer, to recognize the difficulties as well as the joys of the season.

5. Proclaim the good news – Christmas is not primarily about sentimentality and pleas for peace. Primarily, it is vertical and not just horizontal. Jesus came into this world to bring us back to God. Don’t miss the moment and just preach a nice message. Be sure to proclaim the best news!

6. Undermine assumptions – People who don’t normally come to church have assumptions (actually, many who do come to church regularly still have some of them too!) This is a great opportunity to undermine some of these assumptions. There is a historical reality to the Incarnation. God’s character is very different than people tend to assume. People think they know what God is like, and what God wants from them. Christmas is a great opportunity to move people from “malevolent majesty” notions of God, to the manger where God’s humility bursts onto our scene with the humble cries of a newborn.

7. Worship personally – as I mentioned the other day, don’t lose the wonder of this season. If you don’t feel it, why will your listeners? Spend some time with God. Let him warm your heart up to the season again. Then go preach Christmas this Christmas!

Creative Christmas Sermon Options

Christmas Dog2Christmas services are just a few weeks away.  You might be getting excited, or dreading another Christmas and the need to generate more messages when the obvious options feel well worn.  Here are some other angles to consider:

Prophecies – there are some key Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6, Micah 5:2, even Jeremiah 31:15.  Why not take an Old Testament approach to Christmas hopes this year?

People – maybe you have preached through Matthew’s opening chapters, but have you preached the four other ladies in Matthew’s genealogy . . . Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the one “who had been Uriah’s wife.”  Four ladies with question marks over their morality, rightly or wrongly, that set up the lady who has to be in the genealogy (also with a question mark hanging over her morality, wrongly in her case).  Or perhaps you might trace the Gentiles in the genealogy to show the greater scope of the Christmas hope?

Themes – why not track a theme this year that could be developed with one week in the Old Testament, one week in the Christmas narratives and one week later on in the gospels or epistles.  For example, consider the Immanuel theme from Isaiah 7:14-9:7, emphasized in Matthew 1, continued for our age in Matthew 28:20.

Less Obvious Passages – perhaps you might consider the less obvious Christmas passages, ie. those that aren’t in early Matthew or Luke.  You have the prologue to John’s Gospel, giving the other side of the story, if you like.  Or you have references like Galatians 4:4 and similarly Incarnation focused passages like Titus 2:11-14.

Christmas Titles – it would be interesting to explore the titles used in the Christmas narratives – Jesus, Saviour, Immanuel, King, etc.

Carol Theology – while some are keen to cut down the errors in the carols, there are some great truths encapsulated in the carols too.  Perhaps you could take Hark the Herald Angels Sing or another carol and trace the biblical background to a verse each week.  Different, but for some congregations this might be a blessing.  Remember that you are preaching the Bible, not the carol.

Contemporary Emphases – you could take key emphases in the world’s view of Christmas and present a positive biblical engagement with each one.  Gifts, peace, goodwill, family, etc.

November is here, Christmas is coming.  Let’s not have our pulpits filled with preachers trying to hide a creative fatigue over such a great subject.  Let’s take a new angle, dive into the Bible and preach with hearts spilling over!



Christmas Preaching 3: Connecting to Our World

To finish off this week’s three-part pre-Christmas special, here are a few more thoughts to prompt your thinking and praying as you prepare to preach during advent this year.

1. Ancient story always relevant.  It is easy to settle into an ancient storytelling mode and fail to make crystal clear connections to the messy world of today.  Christmas is massively relevant because the Incarnation changes everything (that and the Resurrection . . . two massive moments in history!)  Let’s think and pray long and hard about how the messages are going to engage the listeners with a sense of compelling relevance to today.  Our world.  Our culture.  Our lives.  Our struggles.  Not that the focus is us, but because the incarnation is massively relevant always.

2. Ancient story was not a painting.  One of the most effective ways to communicate contemporary relevance for listeners today is to take them beyond a Christmas card view of the first Christmas.  What were the realities facing Mary and Joseph?  What kind of a culture did they live in?  How would that pregnancy shape their lives?  Helping people to get beyond stained glass window views of the first Christmas can resonate deeply with the situations and struggles we face today.

3. Offer a contemporary relevance, not just the ancient one.  The reason Jesus came into the world was to go to the cross, back then.  It was a once and for all mission.  But the incarnation has burning relevance to our world today.  Think and pray through how to convey the fact that Christmas matters now, and not just as a moment to look back on an ancient mission, albeit an important one.

4. Tap into the various emotions of Christmas.  I suppose it is easy to slide into nostalgia at Christmas.  Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, sleigh bells ringing, snow glistening, logs on the fire, gifts by the tree, etc. etc.  But what about other related emotions?  Missing family members through bereavement or separation.  Seasonally affected discouragement disorders that make for a depressing time of year.  Difficult childhood memories only exacerbated by the overt nostalgia nudges all around.  Christmas is a good time to offer a sensitivity in your preaching that shows you aren’t part of the hyped up marketing machine.

5. Don’t miss the opportunity Christmas preaching offers.  The reason Jesus came into the world was to go to the cross, once for all.  It wouldn’t be good to make some sort of contemporary emphasis that loses sight of why Christmas really occurred.  Remember that some people will only come to church at Christmas – don’t miss the opportunity to make sense of the season for them.

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