Isaiah 9:2-7 – For unto us a child is born, a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder
Psalm 96 – Sing to the Lord a new song… for he will judge the world with righteousness.
Titus 2:11-14 – For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…
Luke 2:1-14, (15-20) – A decree from Caesar Augustus. The birth of Jesus. Shepherds watching their flock.
Isaiah 62:6-12 – Say to daughter Zion, behold your salvation comes.
Psalm 97 – The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice!
Titus 3:4-7 – When the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.
Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20 – The shepherds find Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Mary treasured their words in her heart.
Isaiah 52:7-10 – How beautiful the feet of the messenger who announces peace
Psalm 98 – sing to the Lord a new song… for he will judge the world with righteousness.
Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12) – In many and various ways God spoke to our ancestors by the prophets, but now God has spoken to us by his Son.
John 1:1-14 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Lots of lessons to choose from. Since most will be preaching Saturday night and Sunday, there are choices for both. I have always been particular to the incarnational overtones of "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" in John 1 on Christmas, since most folks usually hear the Luke text in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. 🙂
If you preach your heart out Saturday night, it’s hard to have anything left for Sunday morning. In the past when Christmas fell on a Sunday, two patterns were helpful. First, if you typically have more ideas than will fit in any one sermon anyway, don’t preach it all on Christmas Eve in one Über Sermon. It’s easy enough to peel some of these ideas off into a second sermon, kind of like cell mitosis. Write both sermons at the same time, usually on the Monday after Advent IV, so you can enjoy Christmas.
Second, in keeping with my somewhat controversial "Insiders and Outsiders" Connections article, I tended to preach Saturday night for hoi polloi and Sunday for the choir. That is to say, Saturday night, Christmas Eve, we’d have the thronging masses of people, including lots and lots of unchurched. I would be distributing communion thinking, who are these people? Most were strangers, because many of our members were travelling and visiting family. Meanwhile, other folks, had friends, relatives, guests and the like. Additionally, we sent out thousands of mailers the week before Christmas inviting people to come to worship. We figured if there was any time unchuched folk would spontaneously consider coming to church, it would probably be Christmas Eve. What if we actually invited them? Perhaps they would come.
And they did come. A few were in church for the first time in years. Some came up for communion looking completely bewildered and panicked, their eyes saying, "What do I do?" It occurred to me that this was the quintessential time to preach the gospel to those outside the church. It had to be a sermon that could be preached on the corner of First and Main, in public. No church code words. The people need an ungarbled word of hope – the gospel in the vernacular. I’d often kick off a new series, in the hopes that if something caught their imagination, they might come back to hear the rest. We are fishing for people after all. With many of these folks, I would have one shot to tap into their deepest spiritual need, and bring the surprise of the gospel. And I had the power of Christmas behind me: a packed church, the smell of pine, festive music that even the unchurched recognized, and people’s unconscious pull to this holy night.
As Don Carlson says, Luke 2 is the ultimate insider/outsider text. Strange visitor from heaven comes to earth, and is not received with a warm welcome. Outsider Jesus is rejected by the insider religious elite. Their is no room for him in the inn. This is an archetypal story told over and over in many cultures. It was dramatized in the movie ET: strange visitor from another up in the heavens comes down. Possessing miraculous healing powers, he yearns to return to go home, and consequently is hunted and persecuted until he finally dies, then rises again!. Or think of the story of the king who dons paupers’ clothiers and goes into the city to mingle. This story of welcoming strange visitors from heaven (Mamre, Lot’s visitors, angels unawares) is central to the Christian story. Read Luther’s words below. As we do to the stranger, so we do to Jesus. How are we today welcoming Christ in our very midst?
On Sunday morning, however, only the completely committed would show up. Even some of the most faithful church members would consider Saturday night, Christmas Eve, O Holy Night, their weekend Sabbath observance. I get it. Sunday morning would consist of those who came because they could not possibly consider spending a Sunday morning without worship, especially the Nativity of Our Lord. Consequently, this sermon could be more geared toward the already committed – time for a theology of the cross in the midst of all the glitz, glitter and tinsel of Christmas.
So what is the kernel of the gospel for you? If you were preaching to someone who was unchurched, who wasn’t sure s/he even believed in God, who was quite skeptical about religious folks, what would you say? Truth is, you are preaching to folks like that every Sunday. You’ll just have a few more Christmas Eve. Most unchurched folks are dechurched. They came. They saw. They left. Some were deeply wounded by the church. How would you preach to them? Some will be members who have drifted away, and are feeling the need to return. Christmas, the end of the year and the beginning of a new year is a great time for new beginnings. What will be said to them when they come? "Holy cow! Well, well, look who’s here!? Is the sky falling?" How will this make them feel? Or will they receive the reception that the Prodigal Father gave his Son, diving off the porch and running to embrace him? "Fetch my robe and killed the fatted calf!"?
How do you preach Christmas? What does Jesus mean for the world? Incarnation is pretty heady stuff. Even though I prefer John 1 on Christmas Eve, it’s a pretty big leap for people to go from "I’m not sure I believe in God" to "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." And yet the poetry of John 1 is magical. No dry prose, "In the beginning was the Word…" captures the imagination, taps us into a deeper reality. Don’t try to explain it away. Let it be… It occurs to me, the fact 2,000 years after the first Christmas, this Jesus appears on Time magazine more than anyone else, means that people are still intrigued, enchanted, curious about, drawn to this enigmatic Jesus of Nazareth. His voice echoes down to us down through the ages…
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…
Do unto others as you have them do unto you…
Love your enemies…
You are the light of the world…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Consider the birds of the air…
Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do to me…
This Jesus taps into something we cannot describe. He lays us open. He is for those who believe and those who cannot believe. He shows us the God that we cannot see or grasp. One of the most powerful moments of Christmas Eve for me is the proper preface. It moves me deeply in ways I cannot understand. As I stand at the altar, the church is packed with insiders and outsiders alike, all of us sinners and saints, all of us complicit with the evil of this world, all of us thieves in paradise. With hymns of Christmas ringing in my ears, the smell of bread and wine wafting up to me, I chant the ancient words that embrace us all:
In the wonder and mystery of the Word made flesh,
you have opened the eyes of faith to a new and radiant vision of your glory,
that beholding the God made visible,
we may be drawn to love the God whom we cannot see…
"Joseph had to do his best, and it may well be that he asked some maid to fetch water or something else, but we do not read that anyone came to help. They heard that a young wife was lying in a cow stall and no one gave heed. Shame on you, wretched Bethlehem! The inn ought to have been burned with brimstone, for even though Mary had been a beggar maid or unwed, anybody at such a time should have been glad to give her a hand.
There are many of you in this congregation who think to yourselves: "If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the Baby! I would have washed His linen. How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!" Yes, you would! You say that because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Childish and silly thoughts are these! Why don’t you do it now! You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ Himself."
Michael Rinehart, bishop
Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod
12941 I-45 North Freeway, Suite #210
Houston, Texas 77060-1243