Preaching within the seasons of Advent and Christmas is somewhat like a voice crying out from the wilderness.
On the Sundays leading up to Christmas, preachers wonder whether or not God’s good news will be heard. Can the heavenly host announcing great joy for all people sing loudly enough over the din of Christmas preparations that seem to have little connection to the hope and anticipation witnessed by the Christian faith and expressed in the favorite hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel?” Do our congregations really want to hear about the preparations they must make for the coming of Christ when their preparations for Christmas elicit their own cry from the wilderness, “how did Christmas get this way?” And, on the first and only Sunday after Christmas, of the few who came to church New Year’s weekend, we wonder, who is really listening anymore, when all the trees are on the curb, the lights are down, the presents put away, and leftovers eaten.
So, as preachers in the season of Advent, do we cry out louder, hoping that with an increase in volume, our voice, even God’s voice, in the end, will be heard? Do we insist or demand that the church’s preparation and anticipation of Jesus’ birth should take precedence over the more pressing, urgent, and needful preparations for Christmas that are generated by traditional, familial, and personal commitments? And during the short season of Christmas, when Jesus is finally in the manger, will our proclamation of the good news of great joy fall only on the ears of those who sadly realize that they were too late in getting to the inn?
Perhaps we can take our clue for preaching in the seasons of Advent and Christmas from how the Gospel of Matthew prepares for the coming of Jesus and describes his birth. Matthew begins his Gospel, “an account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah,” according to the NRSV. A better translation, however, might be “a book of origin, beginning, or genesis” of Jesus the Messiah. Matthew then traces Jesus’ family of origin from Abraham to Joseph. What is interesting in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, especially compared to Luke’s version, is Matthew’s use of the term “beget”–no less than forty times in the first sixteen verses of his Gospel! Why begin his Gospel this way? How does this genesis of Jesus prepare us for his birth? What difference might an account of Jesus’ origins make in our Advent and Christmas preaching?
First, our preaching in Advent and Christmas can call to mind beginnings and origins and creation. As our parishioners look toward endings, the end of the Christmas season, the end of the celebrations and shopping and wrapping, all of which come to an end on December 25, the good news is that our God is a God of beginnings. The seasons of Advent and Christmas herald new beginnings and even new creation (genesis). And in this new beginning, says Matthew, is not necessarily a looking forward, but a looking backward–back to the beginning of God’s relationship with God’s people, where God originated something new in Abraham; where God begat new members of God’s family with Tamar and Ruth; where God recreated God’s own faithfulness in response to David’s flawed kingship.
Second, how might our preaching take seriously the begetting of Jesus, the genesis of Jesus, the origin of Jesus, as not “God will be with us,” but “God is with us”? “God with us” means that the hour is not only coming but has already arrived (Matt 24:36-44); that bearing fruit is not only for the sake of repentance but because we stand forgiven (Matt 3:8); that the one who is to come is here, for we have and continue to witness to what we see and hear, for the blind are receiving their sight, the lame are walking, the deaf do hear, the dead are being raised, and good news is, right now, for the poor (Matt 11:4-5); that Emmanuel is not only “God with us,” but also “with us God.” With us, God, you were begotten. With us, God, you lived and died. With us, God, you are, and always will be. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).