The day is coming. One of the two ‘big days’ of the year for worship services in general, and preachers specifically. One of those days is right around the corner: Christmas. Usually, two services around this time really matter during Christmas time are the service the Sunday before Christmas, and the Christmas Eve Service. I include the Christmas Eve service because in my 20+ years of ministry and almost 12 years as the preaching pastor of local churches, I’m always amazed at how well Christmas Eve services are attended. People who come to these many times do not come to a regular worship gathering. So preachers should prepare as well for the Christmas Eve service Sunday-before-Christmas service.
As expositors, what do we do?
First, resist the temptation to discard or disregard or discount exposition in your sermons. Our conviction is to preach the whole counsel of God and bring out the Book. We believe that God intends for His Word to be shown and searched. That should not change.
However, second, concision would suit the occasion better. While the background of the Magi would be an interesting foray into biblical history, this may not time. While flexing the lexical muscles of your Greek and Hebrew prowess may impress on other Sundays, refrain on this one.
Thirdly, be conside and be clear. Roll out the main point (or the Big Idea, for all you Haddon Robinson fans), and stay tethered to it for the duration of the sermon. Get to it. Clearly. Repeatedly. Make it pass the 3 AM test, where you could call your listeners up at 3:00 AM the following week and ask them what the point of the sermon was, and they could answer!
Fourthly, be Christian. ‘Be gooder, do better’ sermons need to go the way of the do-do. Preach about not what your listeners should do, but drive home what Christ has done. Don’t pour on more law, but slather your sermon in God’s mercy and grace. Do we avoid the sticky subject of sin? No, for Christ came to save His people from just such a thing (Matthew 1:21). But by him coming is the epitome of his mercy and grace put into action, culminating at the bloody cross and the empty tomb.
Fifthly, encourage them to come, and keep coming. The church is the Bride of Christ, the body of Christ, the pillar and ground of the truth, and puts on display the manifold wisdom of God. This is a great place to be, a place where sinners can come to be with other sinners who have been rescued by Christ. Help them to take that next step in their journey with Christ. And ultimately, you want them to repent of their sins and come to Christ.
Sixthly, once they come, encourage them to connect. Christ has set up his church and various local kingdom outposts for us to join and be accountable. Through baptism, membership, connecting in a small group, connecting with another fellow member of the church for discipleship and accountability as well will provide that connection so many in our world long for, and the church provides in Christ.
Seventh, encourage them to contribute. Everyone wants to belong to something and Someone bigger than themselves. As they connect, they grow and mature to the next step of leadership and contributing to the work as ambassadors of the Kingdom. Again, help them to take that next step.
What else would you suggest as an expositor over Christmas?
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?
The sermon I preached on Sunday is now posted. You can listen to it here.
Here is an excerpt:
One of the more difficult things to do in life is buying a car. The choices are many — and the more finances you have at your disposal, the more choices you have. We always encounter a very friendly car dealer who comes out, working his best to accommodate every buyer who comes his way. He offers for us many options, and then when we find something of interest, he usually says, “Let’s take it for a test drive — see how you like it!”
Much of our preaching and witnessing for Christ is much like this car dealer: “Come along, see if you like him. Take Jesus for a test drive. If He works for you, great — if not, at least you tried.” They even imply the old adage, “Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”
The problem is, too many professed Christians put forth Jesus as simply good advice to be taken rather than good news to be believed. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells us the difference between advice and news. “Advice is counsel about something to do that hasn’t happened yet. News is about something that has happened.” We simply look at Jesus as something that “hasn’t happened” in a lost person — but we need to reorient our thinking. “For unto you is born this day … Christ the Lord.” Jesus is Lord regardless of what we do with him. He doesn’t cease to be Lord of the universe who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) simply because we say he does.
It was this type of Take It or Leave It attitude toward that ushered the curse of sin and darkness into the world in the first place. When Eve was tempted in the Garden by the Tempter, God went from being the only option to being an option. God turned into one entrée on the smorgasbord. The problem is, we fail to see that our flesh will always pick away from God (at least the God of the Bible).
Thankfully, these angels are not so wishy-washy — and for good reason. They are not delivering therapy to help improve our life — they are giving a message rooted in a historical fact. That is the nature of news — it happened right here in time and space. What’s the news?