If we want Christmas preaching to matter, we’ve got to preach like Christmas matters.
I am tired of preaching about the birth of Jesus. I’m tired of little, silly, manger statues. Most of all, I’m sick of blessing trees and cleaning candle wax off the carpet after the Christmas Eve candlelight service. In fact, this year I’d rather skip Advent, forgo Christmas altogether, forget about the ascension and head right for Easter. How many times can one man really breathe life into sermons whose titles are based on the themes from leftover bulletin covers from the back of the church secretary’s office?
Why bother? Aren’t those in the pews numb to the birth story anyway? Even most unbelievers know the basics of the story. Year in and year out we sing the same songs, spend countless hours preparing children’s plays and practice cantatas. Preaching the birth of Jesus can easily become just another part of the routine of doing church. Preachers and church members alike become so familiar with the birth narrative of Jesus that we fail to recall its importance in the life of Christ and the life Christ gives. We abdicate advent because we are too familiar with the terms. We muddle the message with a halfhearted attitude.
We’ve got to resurrect Christmas. If we want Christmas preaching to matter, we’ve got to preach like Christmas matters. We’ve got to move beyond sentimentalism, holiday tradition and stockings into proclaiming the glory of God in Christ. Before we can do that, we’ve got to recognize the core of the problem. Preaching at Christmas becomes dull and lifeless because:
1. We are too familiar with the terms.
2. We are too familiar with the story.
3. We have forgotten the importance of the incarnation.
4. We have forgotten the importance of His coming.
It has, of course, been said familiarity breeds contempt. In this case, it breeds callousness to the message. We must preach the birth of Jesus with insight, passion and vigor because the very opposite of our calloused assumptions about Christmas is true. We need to preach the Christmas message with passion and vigor because:
1. The terms are preposterous! We are so familiar with the terms we forget the claims of the incarnation are outrageous. At Christmas we use terms like “incarnatio” and “virgin birth.” God becoming man is a ridiculous notion. It can only be understood by the spiritual mind. As such, we have an obligation—no, we are privileged—to stand in front of our people, visitors, friends, family and infrequent attenders and proclaim the biblical truth that God has walked among men, and His salvation presently beckons them to come.
If a young woman from the Galilee region of Northern Israel was found to be pregnant as a virgin, the news media and modern science would explode with interest. Yet, we stand in front of people every Christmas season and speak of Mary as though her pregnancy with Jesus is just an appendage to the story, like some kind of footnote to the real story of 12 tiny reindeer. God dwelt in Mary’s womb. How can the ludicrousness of that statement coupled with the fact it is true not rouse passion for preaching Christmas? God, as though He were the ocean, poured Himself into the thimble of a young virgin’s womb.
2. The story is astonishing! There is really nothing mundane about the biblical account of the incarnation, the virgin birth or the Christ child. Even on only a literary level, this is just plain good stuff. From the scandal of a claim of pregnancy with no father on the part of a betrothed girl, to an angel visiting the skeptical, hurting, betrothed husband to assure him, to the wise men following the signaling of an astrological phenomenon to come worship the baby, the story is filled with emotion, intrigue, plotting and scandal. Let’s not forget Herod lied to the wise men and wanted the baby killed. The story has all of the makings for the next great television miniseries drama. If presented on its own terms, there’s nothing here to put people to sleep.
3. The incarnation is the basis for our entire faith! We have the audacity to preach the quiet crashing of God into human flesh as though we were talking about a man putting his hand into a glove. Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote, “Filling the world he lies in a manger.” To say God became Jesus of Nazareth is a bit like saying Genghis Khan was a fairly influential politician. God crashed into human history through the birth pains of a virgin girl in an obscure village near the Sea of Galilee. But don’t be mistaken, in that manger the glory of the creator of the very universe upon which the Sea of Galilee sits like an infinitesimal speck of dust on a spaceship was wrapped up in a baby boy.
4. The importance of Christ coming cannot possibly be overstated! The story of the incarnation isn’t a story. It is the central theme of God’s salvation to humanity and His outworking of making Himself known to His creation. We need Christmas the way flood victims need rescue workers. Christmas is a time for celebration in an infinitely greater manner than the celebration of a dozen trapped mine workers upon being rescued after 10 days in the dark.
The coming of Christ is chief among all doctrines of the Church because it is the foundation of the Church. Speaking to the disciples, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18b ESV). The incarnation of God the Son means everything to Church. Christ’s coming means we who are called according to His purpose through faith in the Song of God have a means of present grace, a worthwhile purpose in this life, an eternal hope and a glorious future.
Thank God He has given us so wondrous a salvation as this, that apart from the gift of faith we could never, would never, be able to believe it. The Gospel is the message that Jesus, a man from the little town of Nazareth who had a mother but no earthly father, is the savior of the world? That claim is as outrageous as it is true. It’s crazy. Apart from the gift of faith, it takes a fool to believe it. Yet that is how the architect of the universe has chosen to construct the salvation of mankind.
We who are called to proclaim the truth of that message can’t allow it to become so commonplace that we lose passion for familiarity with the terms and the story. We can’t forget the importance of the incarnation or of His coming or allow the people to whom we preach to do the same.
We’ve got to resurrect Christmas, because the power of the resurrection is only available to those who understand the incarnation.