"European Christmas Market," image by Ben McDonald Coltvet; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
I debated about writing a column for Christmas this year. In part, because of the 4th Sunday of Advent falling on Christmas Eve. In part, because I presume you have your Christmas proclamation all tied up in a beautiful and jolly bow – that matches the festive wrapping paper, of course. In part, because I wondered if I could come up with anything that would make a difference in your Christmas preaching. And, in part, guessing that you have way too much to do – perhaps another column to read is not in your best interest.
Here’s the thing. I am not sure I have any new insight when it comes to Christmas texts. And, on what text you have chosen to preach is also unbeknownst to me. Nor, do I have all of the homiletical answers for a meaningful and memorable Christmas sermon because only you know what your congregation needs to hear for Christmas 2017. But this I know: Christmas preaching brings anxiety; imagining the Christmas and Easter persons in your pews; making sure that you articulate the right doctrine about the incarnation; worried that you might miss some sort of evangelical moment; thinking that this sermon has to hit it out of the park. And then, it’s Christmas, after all – you are more than a pastor, more than a preacher. You are a daughter, mother, husband, brother …. I know. And, it’s also your birthday…oh, wait. That’s me.
And this is also something I know: Christmas preaching falls failingly flat when it tries to explain the unexplainable. Christmas preaching is dull and boring, impossibly so, when it attempts to describe the indescribable. Christmas preaching won’t matter, in the least, if it sentimentalizes and idealizes God’s commitment to becoming flesh.
Of this I am certain – Christmas preaching touches souls when it taps into the incomprehensible awe that God entered humanity. It touches lives when we give witness to our God who eschews power that oppresses, who rejects narcopathic authority, who lifts up the meek, the overlooked, the lowly. It touches hearts when we say, against all odds, our God was born in a feeding trough. Yeah. Let that sink in.
No wonder Christmas preaching is risky. After all, you have to proclaim God’s vulnerability, and then maybe, live into your own. You have to state the obvious – that our God is here – when our communities, our culture, our governments, our nations, say that, insist that, make rules and laws that indicate, clearly, a belief that God’s presence in our midst doesn’t make a difference for how we make decisions or choose to go about in the world. That seems plainly evident. Somewhere, somehow, someway, that God was actually a human being has been forgotten in contemporary dialogue and assumptions about God. God has become an idea. God has become a cause. God has become proof for an argument. God has become a doctrine, a dogma, a decree. It’s as if God never did, nor ever could, experience the depravity that has become accepted in our society. The fear of a lack of health care. The panic of a loss of control as to what you can decide about your body. The pain of discrimination and hate. The weight of shame and guilt. The abuse of power – on every level. The immobilization that is the result of systemic oppression.
And so, I wonder. The key to Christmas preaching? Preach from your heart.
What does God becoming human mean to you? How does Jesus in a manger matter for you? What does our God born in the lowliness of states say to you? To answer any or all of these questions will mean a Christmas sermon that will make a difference. Why? Because you will give witness to what the Word becoming flesh means in your life – which then invites all present to imagine what the Word becoming flesh might mean in their lives. It means taking the incarnation seriously – not simply as a claim or confession of the church, but the revelation of the truth of our God – our God who loves us so much that it was certain the only way to show us was to become one of us.
So, Merry Christmas, Dear Working Preachers. Yes, Merry Christmas! I wonder if you need to hear this and take it in before you can preach it. Merry Christmas.
To believe that the merriness of Christmas is true, even in the midst of grief and loss.
To believe that the merriness of Christmas can be felt once again, even when you struggle to find meaning and purpose in all that it demands.
To believe that the merriness of Christmas is God’s joy entering into the world, even when your joy is waning and wanting.
To believe that the merriness of Christmas has nothing to do with making Christmas great again, or putting Christ back into Christmas, but rather, has everything to do with the sheer grace upon grace of our God who became human – for us.
Now that, Dear Working Preachers, is Christmas preaching.