Both Resurrection Sunday and Christmas put preachers on high alert! We know from experience that those who are usually absent from church during the normal course of the year will attend on these two special days. Some preachers grow nervous at the prospect—especially younger ministers. Others get more amped!
If I may, I’d like to reflect on twenty years of ministry and 8-9 years in pastoral ministry and pass along some things I’ve learned regarding preaching on such special occasions.
Pray for every person God brings in as well as your sermon. Yes, pray over your sermon, but God has not called us to simply preach the Bible, but to preach to people the Bible. Consider:
- Folks are stressed because of the commercial nature of the holiday, and long to get back to the original intention of this time.
- For most parts of the country, it’s cold. While ‘cold’ is relative (cold in Minnesota or New England is different than the cold I experienced in Florida, which is different to the cold my Trinidadian friends experience), and while some enjoy this, for many it brings on a melancholy, even a depressed state!
- For many who have lost loved ones during this time of year, which magnifies their grief.
- Your regular attenders will likely be there, but as I mentioned earlier, others who are fringe attenders or unchurched will come as well.
When you pray for those sitting in the pews or chairs, your heart will be burdened for the strengthening of Christians and the surrendering of unbelievers’ hearts to Christ.
Make the gospel clear, clear, clear. Just because unbelievers may be in attendance, don’t make the mistakes I’ve made: trying to be uber-cool and ultra-relevant, risking taking away from the thrust of the gospel. One Easter, I preached on the power of the resurrection. As a ‘relevant’ illustration, I mentioned how we as Americans are all about power and potency. To my horror, I recall how I mentioned certain products men use for physical issues in certain areas—totally unnecessary to the point being made. It didn’t add to the discussion, and I’m certain for many turned them off. Make the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the atoning work of Christ, and the need to surrender to Christ clear, clear, clear.
In a broader sense, stick to the Scriptures. Those coming into our service need to hear a word from God. Again, they need reminders from God’s Book about the season’s reason! James Robertson noted that the Dutch brought St. Nicholas to America, the Germans brought the Christmas tree, and the British brought the carols. I fear we Americans have brought the consumeristic commercialism. This last contribution weighs down many Americans (even Christians) to the point that counting down the days to Christmas brings moans and dread rather than introspection and celebration! Yet in the Scriptures, we see that in the midst of the darkness of our sin and fallenness where creation groans for redemption (Romans 8:17-25), God brings a great light (Isaiah 9:2-7) in the person of Jesus Christ (John 8:12).
Address the issues skeptics find in the incarnation and the crucifixion/resurrection. Skeptics abound, especially when it comes to the particulars of the incarnation or anything along the supernatural. If something cannot be observed, examined, or explained, then it loses credibility. The teachings such as those regarding the Virgin birth are considered too outlandish or steeped in Greek mythology in order to be credible. Yet, as Daniel Akin notes:
The virgin birth should not be an obstacle to faith but rather a help. Jesus Christ did not enter the world like any other human. He came as God incarnate, conceived in the womb of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is a miraculous gift to humanity and the world. . . . If one rejects the virgin birth, he receives the approval of some people in the modern academy. If one affirms the virgin birth, he receives the support of Scripture and almost two thousand years of church history (Akin, Theology for the Church, p. 512).
Apologetics (defending the faith) is both for Christians and non-Christians as we seek to strengthen and explain, respectively, the rationale behind our faith. Though only the Spirit can change hearts (1 Corinthians 2:11-14), we can certainly plant the seeds and give the reason for our faith as we dole out the reason for the season.
What think ye?