I have to force myself to enjoy preaching at Christmas time. One of the many difficulties of preaching the birth narratives of the Synoptic Gospels is remembering that they are narratives. That means the subject of the sermon will come from the rising action (initial plot development) of, let’s say, Luke’s Gospel.
So, the description of the birth of Jesus functions within the larger storyline Luke is developing. Luke only gives us this much: “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7). That’s it.
But Luke has already told us his big idea: “it seemed good to me also…to write an orderly account for you…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4). This means that the event of the birth of Jesus and all surrounding events (births of John and Jesus foretold, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, Mary’s Song, the birth of John, Zechariah’s prophecy, Caesar’s decree, the shepherd’s vision, etc.) contribute to Luke’s idea.
It’s easy to focus only on the little narrative–the birth narrative–and miss Luke’s larger narrative. But Luke’s larger narrative contains the purpose for which all smaller narratives in his Gospel exist. That purpose is most important for our congregants. If you’re interested in learning how to allow genres, such as narrative, to signal dominant meaning, take a look at chapter 4 in my new book, Preaching With Accuracy (Kregel, 2014).
So, if you’re like me and you’re finished with the birth narratives for this year, Lord willing, remember the narrative part of the birth narratives for next year. If you are planning to preach from one of the early narratives in the Gospels this coming Sunday, before Sunday, check to see how the ideas in your mini-narrative fit into the larger idea of the Gospel writer. Allow that larger idea and purpose to drive your sermon.
Preach well for His glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.
P.S. Enjoy a blessed Christmas!