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 2: Beyond Matthew and Luke

Yesterday we thought about preparing messages on the familiar Christmas passages.  Here are some thoughts on preaching for Christmas beyond the normal presentation of the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke.

1. There are other ways to preach the narratives themselves.  You don’t have to simply talk your way through the text.  Consider the possibility of preaching the emphasis of the text from the perspective of a contemporary character – Anna, Simeon, a shepherd, etc.  Consider a bit of “in hindsight” first person preaching – Joseph looking back, or Luke having done his research.  Remember though, if you have a “manger scene” play with children involved, your going into character may feel like too much of a good thing, even though you will surpass their preparations.

2. Why not preach all four Gospel introductions?  We tend to dwell in Matthew or Luke or a blend of the two.  Why not introduce people to Matthew’s introduction, then Mark’s (why no birth narrative, where was this all headed anyway, why is Mark 1:1-13 such a stunning intro to his gospel?)  Then give them the visitation, prophecy, Mary focused and children prepared emphasis of Luke’s opening chapters.  And who wouldn’t want to preach from John 1:1-18 right before Christmas (or any other time for that matter!)  All four are stunning pieces of inspired text!

3. There are other New Testament passages that explain the Incarnation and Christ’s mission to the world.  Perhaps it would be helpful to offer some explanation from other parts of the New Testament.  What did the preachers of Acts say about why Christ was sent into the world?  What about Paul’s explanation of the timing of it all in Galatians 4?  There’s plenty on Christmas beyond Matthew and Luke.

4. Why not tap into the mine that is Old Testament prophecy?  Where to start?  Most people dip into the Old Testament at Christmas to read Isaiah 9:6-7, or Micah 5:2.  Why not help people understand the richness of those texts and others like them in their context?  What were the Jews waiting for when the first Christmas dawned?

5. Perhaps it is worth encountering a Christmas Carol and its theology?  Not my typical approach, but people know the carols.  Perhaps it would be worth helping people to understand the richness of the second verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing biblically?

Tomorrow I’ll offer another handful of yuletide ponderings.

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Unusually Careful

Just a brief thought since it is the season for non-regular attenders at church.  When preparing evangelistic sermons it is worth being unusually careful.  Apparently, Martyn Lloyd-Jones would always write out his evangelistic sermons, rather than his edification sermons.  Remember that the real “risk” when preaching the gospel is not the preacher’s, but the church folk who’ve invited their friends.  It is so easy to inadvertently offend in the wrong sense of the term.  So with all the extra visitors in our churches this Sunday, let’s be unusually careful in preparing the messages.