There’s no shortage of advice for preaching at Christmas. Peter Mead of BiblicalPreaching.net offers 15 practical suggestions. One or two are sure to fit your needs.
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.
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4. Fresh doesn’t have to mean innovative or weird. Now all this talk of fresh could lead us down a winding 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.
6. 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.
7. 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!