Preparing Christmas Sermons or Advent Reading?

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I just realized that Advent is fast approaching and you may well be starting to think about Christmas preaching (or Advent reading with family).  Can I make an overt promotion of Pleased to Dwell for this purpose?

1. As an Advent Read – With 24 short chapters, Pleased to Dwell, works really well as a pre-Christmas read for an individual or a family.  Engaging and high energy, the sense of anticipation builds toward the Christmas narratives and their implications for us.  I know some churches are using it as a church-wide pre-Christmas resource too.

2. For Advent Sermon Prep – There are at least four sermon series ideas developed in Pleased to Dwell.  Obviously there are the two infancy narrative sections (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2) developed in some detail, but still easily accessible.  Then there is the Old Testament section, perhaps offering a series on the coming Prophet, Priest and King.  The book also have a New Testament section with chapters some of the key epistle references to the coming of Christ (typically this would be for a preacher who feels the need for something other than infancy narratives and prophecies for a Christmas series!)

To purchase Pleased to Dwell, there are links on here for purchasing in the UK, and here for purchasing in the USA/Canada.  (If you wanted to get a volume discount here in the UK, please contact me via the comments and I will get in touch – I won’t post your comment.)

Christmas Preaching 1: Familiar Passages

I am in the process of preparing six messages for the Christmas season.  Perhaps you are also preaching in the coming weeks of advent.  Here are some thoughts that may be helpful:

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.

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The Wonder of Christmas

One of the great occupational hazards of ministry is that we can so easily lose the wonder of what we are dealing with.  With the demands of the schedule, the expectations of people, the burden of creativity in a season that comes every twelfth month (but is only fully reported in two gospels), the ongoing reality of messy lives (people still get in trouble, marriages still fail, loneliness still bites, folks still sin), and so on, we can easily lose the wonder of Christmas.

In this post I don’t want to prescribe how to keep the wonder of it all, I just want to suggest we do.  Whatever it takes.  Perhaps time with family.  Perhaps some extra guarded time alone with God.  Perhaps a special treat carol concert. Perhaps a brief journey to a sentimental place.  Perhaps read one of those booklets the church is offering to visitors over Christmas.  Whatever it takes.

Let us make sure that we don’t go through Christmas feeling the pressure and the burden of it all, without also renewing the wonder in our hearts.  Let us be captured by the grace of God that He would step into this world.  Let us be gripped by the hope inherent in the Christmas story for a world of sinners – for Christ came into the world to save sinners!  Let us be stirred afresh by the history-changing event of the incarnation.  Ponder the first Christmas, ponder the reality of the incarnation, ponder the journey from Bethlehem to Calvary, ponder the everlasting nature of the incarnation.  Ponder.  Ignite the wonder again.  Whatever it takes.