The Christmas season is quickly approaching, as stores have been reminding us for weeks. For preachers, that may mean considering what we are preaching during the season. When it comes to Christmas, some preachers are faced with one or more dilemmas:
Should I temporarily step away from the book I am preaching through to preach a special Christmas message or series of messages throughout December?
What texts and topics shall I cover?
How can I present the old, old story without coming across in a stale way? How do I stay fresh with texts and topics I feel I have exhausted or shared year after year to the same church?
Some preachers will not deviate from their normal preaching, but will continue through the book or series they are working through. Some of these will probably recognize the season somewhere in the service. Others will continue their normal preaching rotation, but may use the Christmas story as an illustration of the text. If they are preaching on humility, they may point to how Christ’s first coming provides a perfect example of humility.
Others, however, will devote entire messages to the themes of Christmas. If this is your preference, here are some ideas that may help you present fresh, helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season, whether you are a pastor or are filling in during this season.
Preaching through a portion of a book – the most obvious idea here would be to preach through Matthew 1 & 2 or Luke 1 & 2. One year, I had the opportunity to fill in at a church in December and preached consecutive messages from Matthew 1:1-17, 1:18-25, 2:1-18, and finished with 28:18-20 by connecting the coming of the King to His marching orders in the Great Commission.
Preaching through selected passages – one could take a theme and preach expository messages from key passages related to it, for example: “Christmas Prophecies Made and Fulfilled” (such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:2 with Matthew 1:22-23 and Matthew 2:4-6) or “Christmas with the Patriarchs & Prophets” (Genesis 12:3 and Jeremiah 23:5 with Matthew 1:1-17).
Preaching stand-alone messages – one could select various passages to preach messages that are not part of a series, except that they share the Christmas theme of Christ’s person and why He came (such as Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:1-9, Micah 5:2, Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1, etc.).
Whether preaching a series or stand-alone messages, make sure you pay close attention to the context and the type of literature of the passage.
For example, Matthew 1:1-17 may have a less obvious application than Matthew 2:1-18. The first is a genealogy, and the latter a narrative that showcases various reactions to God keeping His promise to send King Jesus. In chapter 2, the wise men provide an example of Gentiles coming from far away to seek and honor the king, whereas Herod and the scribes demonstrate hostility and indifference, respectively. We can preach the glorious Person of Christ, the faithfulness of God in keeping His promise, and the proper response we should have.
Matthew 1:1-17, on the other hand, is a genealogy which may initially appear irrelevant for today’s readers. Repeated reading and observation of the genealogy should yield some helpful insights. Take note of who Jesus’ human lineage is traced to – primarily Abraham and David, to whom God made some glorious promises involving a Descendant (Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22; 2 Samuel 7:13-14). Note the inclusion of the women in the genealogy and their backgrounds and how they came to be in this line. Note how the pattern switches at the end – Jesus is not the son of Joseph, but was born of Mary, to whom Joseph was husband, a key detail which sets the stage for the account of the virgin birth in 1:18-25. One could preach about the unique background of Jesus, who God used to preserve His line, and the faith we need to have in Him because He is no mere man. One may also note that in the New Testament, there are no other extensive genealogies than that of Jesus (here and also in Luke 3), suggesting that He is the most important figure of history and we need to know if we have a relationship with Him as our Savior and King.
Biographical studies – perhaps a study on “the Characters of Christmas” could focus on the significance of the individual in the larger story and positive and negative lessons we can learn from people such as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi, scribes, King Herod, Elizabeth, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, the angel Gabriel, Caesar Augustus (well, maybe not a whole message on him, since he is just mentioned in passing… but there could be some great contrasts between him and the true Ruler of all), God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and of course, Jesus the Son.
Geographical theme – tracing the events from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Calvary or something similar.
Christmas carols – take the song title as the sermon title, give the background to the song in the introduction and then preach on the main text or truth the song declares (make sure it does teach truth — see the next suggestion).
Christmas: fact or fiction? or “the myths of Christmas” – could debunk common errors. Was it really a “silent” night? Is it true that “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?” Did the shepherds look up and see a star? Did the wise men visit Jesus immediately after the shepherds? Focus on giving an accurate account, encouraging the people that it is necessary to know what God’s Word actually says for ourselves.
The scandal of Christmas – “Man Finds Fiancée Pregnant Before Wedding!” or “King Born in a Cow Trough!”, etc. — there is plenty of shocking material in the Christmas story that points to the glory of God in using the lowly and unexpected to bring His plan to pass.
The wonder of Christmas – could deal with all the wondering and marveling that the people in the narratives do (Luke 2:18, 33) and how we ought to be far more amazed at what God has done than we are. One might also get attention by titling the series “the Boredom of Christmas” and proceed to explain how we have lost the wonder by getting our focus off of Christ and all that is revealed about Him.
The necessity of Christmas – could speak to that fact that we don’t need a lot of the stuff we have or get, but we desperately needed for Jesus to come. One could preach a series on our accountability to God our Creator, the punishment our sin deserved, how Christ was qualified to be our sacrifice, and what He accomplished in His life and death.
There are many ways to preach helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season. And they can be intermingled as well (for example, preaching a biographical message each year and using the rest of the Sundays for an expository series). But none of them will be as helpful and as biblical as they should be unless you also remember to do the following:
- Connect passage to its context and main point, even if you’re focusing on a minor point.
- Locate the Christmas story in the storyline of the Bible– particularly in how it is fulfilling God’s promises to bring salvation to sinful mankind through Jesus.
- Be sure to bring out who Jesus is, and the wonder of the incarnation – God taking on flesh, fully God and fully man (but perfect)– it is also good to connect His humble birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, exalted title, and His future glorious return.
- Explain why Jesus needed to come and how we should respond to Him – although you could preach a whole message on this topic (one of the suggestions above), it needs to be present in some way any time we preach, if we are to be “gospel” preachers who preach the gospel. Sinners need to respond to this gospel by repenting of our sin and trusting Christ. Believers need to respond by looking afresh to their Savior in repentance and faith, by imitating His example of humility, and by making this this message known. The whole reason Christmas should be so glorious is that it is an announcement of the good news, the best news of all: “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).
The Unashamed Workman blog also has some suggestions for dealing with the “Challenges of Christmas Preaching” here.
Two related articles:
“An Ambivalent Hallmark Calendar Guy” by Dr. Michael Lawrence
“100 Failed Human Predictions” by Dr. David Murray