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.
For 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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