This weekend we celebrate the birth of Jesus! It’s an honor and blessing to proclaim one of the central stories of our faith to worshippers on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. It is also a continual struggle for preachers – how do we proclaim such a familiar story in a way that is faithful, relevant, and not cliché? Additionally, as Christmas approaches, many of us are called upon to resolve issues regarding the placement of the tree in the worship space, or how many bulletins to print this year, or whether children should be allowed to hold candles in worship, or any number of other energy-sapping adiaphorous issues.

2013-12-23 08.40.58For the Nativity of the Lord, the Revised Common Lectionary offers three separate options. Churches with worship on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day might choose to use different sets of readings. How did you go about selecting your readings? Some worshippers only expect to hear the birth of Jesus on Christmas– are you including any readings aside from the Gospel?

The Gospel options are Luke 2:1-20 (or selected verses) and John 1:1-14. The nativity story from Luke focuses more on shepherds and angels than on the holy family. The angel has already appeared to Mary (in Luke) and Joseph (in Matthew), and it seems that they have accepted God’s calling to parent the Messiah together. Contrary to popular belief, there is no innkeeper and no animals named in Luke’s nativity. For the preacher seeking to be faithful to the biblical witness – will you address the problems of harmonizing the Gospel accounts and adding embellishments from tradition, or let them lie another year?

John has a very different tone than Luke. Instead of the detailed dialogue and internal reflection of Luke, John brings a cosmic vision of the second person of the Trinity. The phrase “in the beginning” evokes the creation of the world, yet the reference to John grounds us firmly in a particular time and place. And while the bookend verses are hopeful and lovely, the ones in the middle remind us of our sin. Some of us have not accepted Jesus as divine. What does that mean today?

Other assigned readings come from Isaiah, the Psalms, Titus, and Hebrews. These passages are powerful. Though they do not relate the birth narrative, they do reveal more to us about who Jesus really is. Can you incorporate one or more of these readings in to your sermon for the day? Which one speaks to you most clearly?

Some other questions to consider this week:

  • What does your worship schedule look like for Christmas Eve & Christmas Day? Have you scheduled time for sleep and self-care?
  • Which Bible passages will you be using this weekend? Might you consider preaching on something other than the Gospel lesson?
  • If you plan to focus on the holy family in your sermon, how will you relate them to the present day? Will you name the conflict in Syria, and the parallels between their struggles and the holy family’s? Who else bears resemblance to Christ today, with whom your people may be able to identify?
  • How do you, personally, celebrate Christmas? Aside from leading worship, in what ways will you celebrate the birth of our savior?

Whatever your schedule for the next few days, however you choose to share the good news of Jesus’ birth, whatever other commitments or concerns you have right now, I pray that you’ll be able to find joy in the coming of the Messiah! Christmas blessings to all of you. I look forward to reading your comments and ideas.

Katya Ouchakof is co-pastor of Lake Edge Lutheran Church in Madison, WI. She blogs at Provocative Proclamations. Her Christmas list includes world peace, an end to gender-based discrimination and violence, Star Wars toys, and a good night’s sleep with nowhere to be in the morning.

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12 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

  1. Katya, I love your reminder that it’s an honor to proclaim the good news at Christmas. That’s easy to lose, for me, in the busy-ness of the season, so I love that you called us back to that. Christmas blessings!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Schedules are all different, so routines have to be changed and a slight bit of panic makes creativity all the harder. What to say to point to God in the midst of Christmas Eve and what to say entirely different on Christmas Day? I am in the midst of reading Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts” and so thankfulness will be a theme throughout in one way or another. Reading Luke in 3 parts on Christmas Eve with carols in between, and then thinking we’ll consider Mary’s pondering and ponder ourselves what God has given us today….maybe some opportunity to say thanks out loud? Christmas Day reading John and theme of light and not sure what to say yet in that sermon space. Still getting used to being back in our renovated sanctuary after a year in the fellowship hall because of the fire and still visualizing in the fellowship hall when I am service planning. I guess it takes time to shift gears. And today picking up my mother from the airport, and thankful for the time with her but feeling that I have run out of time to prepare and I’m not ready. Chuckling at myself. Are we really ever fully ready for what God gives us? Probably not.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I like the sermon idea in your final sentence – we are never fully ready for what God gives us, which is probably why Mary had to continue to ponder all these things! Blessings in your writing, planning, and time with family.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We are having both Eve and Day services, but both my Sr Pastor and I will lead at the Eve service, while I will be solo on the Day. Eve service will be traditional, with candlelight and carols. As we were planning the two services, we decided to make the Day service as interactive as possible, so Sr Pastor has written an interactive nativity, which will be the bulk of the sermon. Folks will be given an opportunity to create the nativity tableau by placing themselves in the character they most relate to. (There is of course the danger that noone will come up, so I will have to be agile in the pulpit, verbally covering all eventualities.) We will also celebrate communion, with an emphasis on the Gift that comes to each of us.


    1. It sounds like some good teamwork has gone in to the planning, so hopefully everything runs smoothly even when you’re flying solo on Sunday! Let us know how the interactive nativity goes – it sounds fantastic. Blessings to you!


  5. the sing in my head is
    So this is Christmas
    And what have you done
    Another year over
    And a new one just begun

    we are hearing the Luke reading, though i am planning to use the John and Hebrews Christmas readings on 1 January, then both Matthew readings – the Magi and the killing if the children on 8 January.
    Christmas Eve, no preaching.
    Christmas Day, i am thinking about why do we come to worship each Christmas, what is it about this story that we connect to. Thursday morning here, so i need to get my act together.


    1. Between that song and the Matthew readings, you’re holding many of the reminders of our humanity, and the reasons that the Messiah was sent to save us from ourselves in the first place. That’s the paradox of Christmas, I suppose – God comes to us in human form to increase the depth of our relationship, and God had to come because we desperately needed saving.


  6. Preaching Christmas Day. I’m hoping a prose poem will hop into my head. Soon. Words Anne Andert posted this morning were circling in my head as I walked and prayed for the world. From Brian McClaren

    “2016 has been a year unlike any other in my life of 60 years, which has made this Christmas season unlike any other. It’s not so easy to settle into that joyful holiday spirit when the political world mocks so many values I hold dear, from protecting our planet to caring for refugees to respecting the equal rights of minorities to upholding the value of truth.

    Then, just as I find myself stewing in that bitter soup, it hits me: that’s what Christmas was, in fact, about. Not sentimental songs about snow and mistletoe, but hope in the face of ugly and dangerous political realities.”


    1. Lovely. I might need to include that quote in my Christmas Day sermon.

      And on an unrelated note, Anne is a member at my church 🙂 Small world! Thanks for the inspiration, Anne!


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