It is easy to preach Christmas in a Christmassy way. You know, quaint and familiar cliches that smell a lot like an other-worldly fairy tale. It will have beautiful scenes and an eclectic array of two-dimensional characters. And our listeners will guess where the message is going: kindness to others, unity amidst division, celestial sentiments of goodwill and a few references to eating too much.
The first Christmas was no fairy tale. So we should not preach Christmas to satisfy the nostalgic yearnings of a weary public. Nor should we sprint past the stable to get to a post-Christmas presentation of the Gospel in order to satisfy the more robust preaching critics from pew four.
The birth of Jesus occurred in a context of great confusion and tension. Jesus entered this world to change things. And if we can enter that world, we might better grasp the hope for our world today.
Just think of all that swirled for the characters that first Christmas:
The shepherds were social outcasts who received one of the greatest visions in human history. They were stunned. And they needed the angel to stir them to leave their sheep and dare to follow up on the heavenly announcement. If the angel hadn’t deliberately mentioned the manger, and therefore, the poor surroundings of the newborn king, they would have probably stayed in the fields impressed by their vision.
The Magi were trusting in obscure information passed down to them and what they saw in the night sky. Prophecies from foreign documents, long and dangerous travel, no guarantee of fruit from their journey. We can only imagine how bizarre it must have seemed to them (as well as how bizarre they felt as they arrived at their destination!)
Mary and Joseph got their life-changing information from Gabriel – it was truly momentous news, but so much was left unsaid. What would they say to others? How would they explain this? Would they even be able to live in their home town? How would family react? Who would trust Joseph’s word in business now? Lots of questions about the little stuff of real life.
But as they all lived that first Christmas, God did give them what they needed. They heard or discovered God’s kindness, God’s faithfulness, God’s timing, God’s plan to deliver people from their sins, even what God would look like if he came in human flesh to be with us!
As we preach Christmas this Christmas, let’s not sound too Christmassy. Instead, let’s invite people back into that world, so that they can discover how Jesus came into our world, for real people, with real issues, real fears, real doubts, and real questions. Let’s stand next to an unnamed shepherd or Joseph, not knowing what the next years will bring, but knowing that God has cared enough to do something about it! Life was complex before 2020. They didn’t used to live two-dimensional cartoon lives. Preach the real Christmas, and give real hope, this Christmas.