Challenges In Christmas Preaching

December 2, 2009

(Written by Peter Grainger: 2 Timothy 4 Trust)

1. Putting the Christ back into “Xmas”

by focusing on the real events and significance of Christmas. We don’t want to appear killjoys by criticising all the trappings of Christmas, but we do want to emphasise that they are the trimmings – and not the reality.

However, even when we focus on the events of the first Christmas we face a further challenge:

2. Separating fact from tradition

Christmas carols reveal the confusion about Christmas:

  • was Jesus born “In the bleak midwinter” where “snow had fallen snow on snow”?
  • was he born on “a silent night” where “all is calm, all is bright., sleeping in heavenly rest” or should we “See him a-lying on a bed of straw, a draughty stable with an open door”?
  • more seriously, was it “certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay a-keeping their sheep” who “looked up and saw a star as it shone in the east beyond them far”?
  • And “by the light of that same star” did “three wise men come from country far”, following hard of the heels of the shepherds? (so that not only was there no room in the inn but little room in the crowded stable with Mary, Joseph and baby, shepherds, wise men, and assorted animals.

If we are going to preach Christ at Christmas faithfully and accurately, we need to get the facts straight with some careful examination of the texts. And when we do we may be able to convey a fresh appreciation of Christmas.

But there is a third challenge of preaching Christ at Christmas:

3. Utilising the Biblical materials on Christmas

As you will know, only two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke) give any details about the birth of Jesus (at a rough count around 7% of the material in the four gospels) – and this presents a real challenge to the busy pastor who may be expected not only to preach two or three times at Christmas Sunday services, but is also called on to give a talk (usually very brief) at several other Christmas events.

I saw another cartoon recently, in which two church members were discussing their pastor: “Oh, he a very green pastor, he recycles his sermons!”

Well, even the greenest pastor struggles to recycle the stories of the shepherds and the wise men, year after year! But not only a fresh look at these birth narratives, but also exploring other parts of Scripture, may reveal new treasures to be mined in preaching Christ at Christmas.

Some years ago (in Glasgow I think) I heard the American pastor Dale Ralph Davis preach on 2 Kings 11:1-3 – the account of how Athaliah, the Queen Mother, wiped out all the royal seed after the death of her son Ahaziah – well, almost all, for Aunt Jehosheba took and hid Joash the king’s young son – and so preserved the promised line. Davis entitled the sermon, “The woman who saved Christmas”.

I’ve just been reading (and would highly recommend) his book “The Word became fresh – how to preach from Old Testament narrative texts”.

In it, he tells how, on the Sunday before one Christmas, he preached on the long lists of genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1-9 under the title, “A Whole Bunch of Dead Folks for Christmas”! He comments, “We were, I am confident, the only church in the whole USA that carried 1 Chronicles  9 on its bulletin cover.”

Let me mention one final challenge (and I am sure there are more) in preaching Christ at Christmas – the challenge of what we might summarise as

4. Connecting the crib to the cross

Of course, we know that the baby born in Bethlehem is the man born to die outside Jerusalem. But most people don’t connect the blissful image of a baby in a manager with the bloody image of a crucified man – and they don’t want to.

The song “Do they know it’s Christmas?” went to number 1 (twice, in 1984 and again in 2004) but you can hardly imagine a few dozen pop-stars singing (or selling) a song entitled, “Do they know it’s Easter?” But it’s essential that we explain the connection between the crib and the cross.

So, in summary, these are

Four challenges in preaching Christ at Christmas

1. Putting the Christ back into “Xmas”

2. Separating fact from tradition

3. Utilising the Biblical materials on Christmas

4. Connecting the crib to the cross



  1. […] Challenges In Christmas Preaching […]

  2. […] The Unashamed Workman blog also has some suggestions for Christmas preaching here. […]

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