The Challenge of Preaching at Christmas
(Preaching at Christmas time is never easy. May this article be useful to all preachers in their preparation.)
Our pastoral team was planning for the Christmas Season and at that moment, focusing on our main Christmas Event. The event which is held mid-December is normally a well-planned production that would attract anything from 1300-1500 (sometimes more) people from cross-sections of the city. As the discussion continued, one of the pastors casually asked, “Who will be our speaker?” As thoughts of a number of possible guest preachers went through my mind, the Senior Pastor looked at me smilingly. He wanted me to be the speaker.
My immediate reaction should have been, “Not me. Not at Christmas time.” But strangely, I felt a peace about taking on the challenge which was not too far away. Since that day, I have had the opportunity to preach at many of our Christmas Events, besides speaking around 6-10 times at our outreach ministries every December. Over the years, I have learned many lessons about preaching at Christmas time and would like to share some of my learning experiences in this article. They are as follows.
- The Christmas story never loses its wonder and mystery
As a preacher, while I do feel restricted at times by the limited number of Christmas passages in the Gospels, I find that people’s love for the Christmas story is renewed every year. As December dawns in Sri Lanka, Christmas songs begin to play on the radio, shops advertise extravagantly, color is everywhere, and expectancy rises in people. Much of the expectancy is based around the wonder, mystery, and beauty of the Christmas story. It never grows old or loses its appeal in human hearts.
It really helps therefore when I refocus on the wonder of the Christmas story. After all, it highlights the greatest rescue effort in history!
- Plan around the many themes found in the Christmas narratives
These can include events, characters, prophecies, cities, songs, dreams, miracles, angelic visitations, and many more themes featured in the Christmas story. Each of these could be turned into a meaningful, fresh sermon. Many themes can also be found in passages that speak of the incarnation outside of the well-known Gospel accounts.
A few years ago, my wife and I were contemplating on whether it was time for us to move to a new home. As we were discussing the options available, my thoughts drifted to the Christmas sermon I had to plan for. I thought, “maybe I can build a sermon around the homes in which Jesus lived as a child?” Sure enough, that’s exactly what I did, with a sermon titled, “The Homes of the Christ Child”.
- Build a bridge between the secular and the spiritual
All who attend a Christmas service or any service for that matter, connect daily to secular life.They have a fairly good idea of what’s current in politics, sports, entertainment and other areas. Use of a secular illustration or two will certainly build interest towards what is being said as it would create a familiar link to their secular life.
I remember the day I used a flash of a popular, secular song to begin my sermon, based around the sermon topic of ‘Hope’. It connected immediately with the audience and preaching over the next 20 minutes turned out to be a pleasure! A few later expressed how the song grabbed their interest and aroused curiosity as to what would follow in the sermon.
- Use of visuals
Use of visuals, whether it be through showing sermon points and scripture references on a screen, or by highlighting a real life visual illustration, stays with people long after the sermon is over. I once used a live illustration of drinking from a cup and saucer (drinking tea is a favorite pastime in Sri Lanka), to visualize God’s favor, followed by the song “Drinking From My Saucer”. Some people still remember that segment of the sermon!
- Weave a real-life testimony or special song to enhance a sermon point
Well planned true-life stories have great power. They connect easily with the audience.The authenticity of a true-life story woven into a sermon point sinks deep into the hearts of those battling different challenges (common at Christmas time), and encourages them to believe that God can carry them through those challenges.
The same is true of a well-prepared special song that keeps to the theme of the sermon or to one of the sermon points being shared.
- Christmas illustrations
This seems obvious, but sometimes as preachers, we may feel reluctant to talk about a popular Christmas story or the background to a Christmas song – we’ve done it so many times before! After all, who doesn’t know how “Silent Night” was born right?
Sometimes, I too wonder whether a Christmas song, or it’s background story, has been hacked to the point of no-return; that it no longer appeals to people. I have learned however that’s not quite right as I see people joyfully singing the same songs every December. Most of them seem to enjoy the stories too! For some, it’s actually a first-time story.
On occasion, highlighting the lyrics of a lesser known verse of a Christmas Carol could add to the effectiveness of the sermon. I once quoted from the lyrics of what is called the 5th verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with an application towards children. It clearly touched a cord in some of the children and parents present.
- Be spontaneous
Meaningful and spontaneous sermon thoughts can be found in events that take place as you prepare to go to church, while on the way to church, or maybe even through a casual conversation with someone at the church. It can even come during the service or the program itself, maybe through a song, or something said in a prayer. Such spontaneous moments can sometimes be used to good effect in the sermon.
I remember the day I had to preach at one of our Christmas Events titled, “The Christmas Light”. I looked forward to the sermon as I had prepared adequately and felt confident about presenting it. As the final song before the sermon ended and the lights were dimmed, I walked on stage towards the pulpit. In the darkness however, I didn’t notice one of the monitor speakers on the ground, tripped over it, and ended up on the floor! I’m not sure how many of the 1000+ people present that night saw my theatrics!
Thankfully, the Lord helped me to be spontaneous that day, and to use the embarrassing experience to reflect on the importance of coming out of the darkness. Although it fitted well with our theme that evening, my colleagues and I still have a good laugh over it at times!
- Keep one main sermon idea
Whatever parts make up the final Christmas sermon, it should all relate to the main sermon idea.This is what people will eventually take away once the program is over. I have found that staying focused on one primary Christmas theme throughout the sermon, helps people to remember at least a small part of what I have preached as time passes by.
- Minister to felt needs
As it’s too well known, Christmas is a tough time for many people. Besides the real-life battles and challenges they face, even loneliness seems to be more profound at Christmas time. For many, country legend Merle Haggard’s song, “If we make it through December,” seems like a great anthem for the month! A Christmas sermon is therefore a powerful moment to minister to the felt needs of the listener.
Therefore, let’s always ask the Holy Spirit to anoint our words so that the Lord could bring hope and transformation into people’s lives. He certainly can do that!
As a preacher, I still consider myself a beginner. There is so much more I need to and want to learn by listening to others. What I have shared in this article are some practical lessons I have learned while preaching at Christmas time. I hope they will be useful to any preacher who may be struggling to preach during the upcoming Christmas Season.
God bless you! Your comments are most welcome.
Note: This article of mine ‘The Challenges of Preaching at Christmas’ first appeared in it’s original form in 2021 on Preaching Today. The link is given here.