We Made It Through Another Advent Season!

Heading into each December I experience mixed emotions when I think about  preaching. I am excited because Advent has great sermon potential. I am apprehensive because I’ve covered this ground many times before. Twenty-seven to be exact.

On top of that, God has blessed me with two relatively long pastorates (12 advents at The People’s Church in New Brunswick, Canada and 15 advents and still counting at Calvary Bible Church, Mount Joy, PA). But with that blessing comes the challenge of finding new things to preach.

If you struggle like I do sometimes trying to figure out what to preach during Advent, here are some ideas that may help for 2018:

  1. Early in my pastorate at CBC, a dear parishioner reminded me that the birth narratives never get old. She was trying to ease my angst about finding something new every year. It was a good reminder. The Gospel narratives are always appropriate. Like classic Christmas songs or movies, the birth narratives of our Lord never get old.
  2. Every year I look forward to receiving Advent devotional booklets from the fine faculties of Dallas Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Almost every year I receive direction for or confirmation of my Advent preaching plan.
  3. Church & Culture is a blog by veteran Pastor James Emery White of Charlotte, NC. Along with having a finger on the pulse of our society, he shares many of his Advent sermon themes. Having been at Meck’ for many years, White knows what it’s like to face yet another Advent season with the same faith-family.
  4. The Advent key words, hope, peace, joy, and love, make excellent series. The four Christmas concepts also provide latitude for us to preach on many Old and New Testament Scriptures.
  5. Finally, Advent provides excellent opportunities to explore major Christian doctrines. It’s a great time to read in depth theological works on theology proper, the Incarnation, the Trinity, Christology, Anthropology, and Pneumatology (this was my first year to include a sermon on the Advent of the Holy Spirit and the corresponding peace in John 14).

May God give us many more opportunities to preach during Advent so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Remembering the “Narrative” in the Birth Narratives of the Gospels

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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).

Preaching with Accuracy: Finding Christ-Centered Big Ideas for Biblical Preaching

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!

Preaching the Theology of Simeon and Anna’s Example


For several reasons, I am happy to be done with Luke’s birth narratives! Christmas preaching continues to be one of my toughest assignments. When I began our current series through Luke’s Gospel (February 2013), the plan was to skip the early narratives and save them for Advent. This morning I struggled through Luke 2:22-38, my final Christmas Text.

These verses contain five, law-abiding citizens: Joseph, Mary, Jesus (although Jesus has no choice in the matter; His parents make sure He gets off to the right start), Simeon, and Anna. There is little doubt in my mind these characters present the best Israel has to offer. They are examples for us to follow. The verses contain a mixture of righteous actions and descriptions. Simeon, for instance, is “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (cf. Luke 2:25). Anna never leaves the church, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (cf. Luke 2:37).

So, we certainly must follow their example. Otherwise we’re lumped in with those who oppose Jesus, the Sign (cf. Luke 2:34). But we also must link their character with their faith. They are those who will rise because of their faith in God’s promised Messiah. Simeon says, “…this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (cf. Luke 2:34, 35). The four characters in this section, minus Jesus, have responded to God’s revelation. Their hearts revealed love for God and a desire to serve Him. And now, with Jesus in sight and on hand, they enter a new chapter of their lives.

Apparently, Simeon, Anna, and Joseph will not have the privilege of following Jesus in life (scholars believe Joseph died early). We have the privilege of following Him and, in so doing, we’re elevated by Jesus (I.e., “rising of many…”). Jesus’ message reveals humble hearts that acknowledge His rule and accept His grace. Our lives are transformed accordingly. We grow to emulate these fine, righteous characters. This is Luke’s way of helping us be sure our faith is not only well-placed, but also well-executed.

Enjoy a blessed Christmas.

Preaching Theology From Jesus’ Hyper-Humiliating Birth


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This past Sunday I reached the zenith of my creativity. Some of you know that’s not too high. But anyway, I outlined Luke 2:1-20 using Christmas hymns:

1. O little town of Bethlehem (vv. 1-7)

2. While shepherds watched their flocks (vv. 8-9)

3. What Child is this? (vv. 10-12)

4. Angels we have heard on high (vv. 13-14)

5. Go, tell it on the mountain (vv. 15-20)

I know some of you creative folks are laughing, but this was a huge accomplishment. But, that’s not important right now…

Luke’s version of the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life–the incarnation–highlights Mary’s statement in 1:52 “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” For instance, in Luke 2:1-2 we read of mighty rulers who will soon lose their thrones. In v. 4 we read again of Nazareth, the town with a nasty reputation according to John’s gospel. In that same verse we read of Bethlehem, which, according to Micah 5:2, was too little to be the birthplace of a ruler. Both Nazareth and Bethlehem are examples of the exaltation of those of humble estate. And, then, of course, we have Jesus being laid “in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7).

In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Yancey writes, “it seems that God arranged the most humiliating circumstance possible for His entrance.” Rarely, if ever, does one celebrate humiliation. But we do these weeks! Jesus laid in a feed box, possibly a depression in the cold ground in a cave or stable. You can’t get any more humble estate than that! The highest level of mercy took the highest level of humility.

And, then, there’s the presence of shepherds. I don’t know of any other class of people more despised in Jesus’ day, but more adored in our day during Christmas time. It’s not unusual that they were working the graveyard shift that night; it is highly unusual that God saw fit to send the Angel of the Lord to them. Another example of God doing what Mary said in Luke 1:52, exalting those of humble estate. And besides making sure we all believe the message of the angel of the Lord and the Christmas angels, the shepherds provide an example for Christians to follow. They heard God’s message, believed it, and shared it. Who else could God have told who would have responded like the shepherds? Imagine God sending His messenger to royalty, announcing that a Savior, a Lord was born? Imagine august Augustus’ response. No, it’s best for us to take our place with “those of humble estate.”

Preaching the Theology of Gabriel’s, Annunciation, and Mary’s, Magnificat


One of the things that makes preaching at Christmas time difficult for me is that the early sections of Luke’s Gospel contain a mixture of narrative and poetry. Whenever genres converge, hermeneutics gets a bit messy. In this case, while the narrative highlights the birth of our Lord, Gabriel’s speech and Mary’s song contain the theology. So much of our salvation is unpacked in these narratives: all the magnificent titles (“Son of the Most High” in Luke 1:32) and all the descriptions of what Jesus came to do (“he will reign…” Luke 1:33). Mary’s Magnificat contains eight “he has” sayings which tell what God has done in bringing Jesus to Mary and our world (Luke 1:46-55).

One of the key applications is to follow Mary’s faith. She says in Luke 1:38 “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And in the Magnificat? Believers say the same things that Mary said. Of course, in order to say the same things Mary said, we have to experience the same thing Mary experienced. Not the giving birth to Jesus part, of course. But the dying with Jesus part (“I am crucified with Christ…”). Certainly “the humble estate” part (cf. Luke 1:48, 52) and “those who fear him” part (cf. Luke 1:50). Like Mary, Christians magnify the Lord. We praise Him because of His greatness and for all the reasons given in her famous song. So, instead of asking professing Believers, Do you have a Magnificat?, it might be more accurate to ask them if they are experiencing the grace and mercy of God that causes one to sing such a song.

Luke’s careful research into the life of Jesus is designed to help us be sure our faith is well-placed and well-executed. Anyone that has placed genuine trust in Jesus has experienced what Mary said. Their well-executed faith includes the consistent desire and capacity to “magnify the Lord” (cf. Luke 1:46).

Dangerous Christmas Sermons!


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?