I’ve never looked forward to preaching at Christmas time. Then R. T. France made it worse: “There is a significant mismatch between what most Christmas congregations expect to hear and what Matthew and Luke were primarily interested in conveying in their opening chapters. They did not write to tell the story of how Jesus was born….do congregations today either need or want to be convinced from Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the Jews….Is this what our Christmas congregations have come for?” (pp. 39-41 in his chapter, Preaching on the Infancy Narratives, in Preaching The New Testament).
For the past several years, I’ve started my homiletics classes with an audio clip of the introduction of an infant narrative sermon. The preacher introduces us to lessons we can learn about marriage from the interaction between Mary and Joseph as a result of Mary’s visit from Gabriel. Well, what do the infant narratives mean for the Church?
Well, certainly, at times Mary and Joseph are good examples to follow. We should emulate their faith. We should follow their devotion to God. The focus, however, seems to be on the information we receive about Jesus and His mission. Jesus is God’s promised Messiah who will do exactly what God said He would do. You know that and most of your congregants know that. Christmas sermons are a great time to urge us all to believe the descriptions about Jesus. Christmas sermons are a great time to help us all evaluate the extent to which our lives reflect faith in Jesus.
Along with misguided moralizing (e.g., lessons on marriage), Christmas sermons are also potentially dangerous because we can get so immersed in the details of the Story, we forget why Luke, for instance, included them in his Gospel. Gabriel told Mary that her Son would “be great” (Luke 1:32). Ask your parishioners if they believe that He is great. Ask them if their experience shows evidence of having such a great Savior.
What aspects of preaching at Christmas time are easy for you? What aspects are difficult?