You might think Christmas is one of the easiest days to preach. The material is generally predetermined. I imagine the majority of preachers will preach on, you know, the Christmas story, being that it’s Christmas and all. The birth of Jesus is one of the most prolific and momentous events in human history, and it makes sense that we’d focus on it at least once a year as a church. But if we’re to focus on the same narrative, the same sections of Scripture once a year on whatever Sunday is nearest Dec. 25, should we just recycle the same old sermon every year?
Most people probably know the Christmas story, if not through reading it in Matthew and Luke, then through the many Christmas songs that recount the narrative, albeit some of them not too accurately. So as I revisit the story this year in anticipation of our Christmas service at Venture, the question for me is not so much how to make an old story new, or how to retell it in a way that is captivating and holds people’s attention for 30 minutes when we’re probably distracted by the gifts we’ve yet to wrap, the food we’ve yet to cook, or the house we’ve yet to clean for the guests arriving in a few hours. This is the question for me: What do we do with the Christmas story?
What do we do with this newborn wrapped in swaddling clothes in a feeding trough? What do we do with the immaculate conception and virgin birth, the shepherds tending their flocks by night, the visit of the magi (whenever they actually visited)? The Christmas story is marvelous, especially when we consider all the ways the king and creator of the universe could have entered his creation. God chose to come in utter humility, a child meek and mild. Read Revelation 4, Isaiah 6, or Ezekiel 1 and 2. These accounts of humans encountering God’s divine glory portray the very same God who took on flesh to be born into this world as savior. You only have to read the beginning of Genesis or John 1 to know this was God’s plan all along. God’s arrival is fitting for the method of his departure. He came not to reign, but to die. When he comes again, it won’t be to die, but to reign.
Gratitude is the first fitting response that comes to mind. To consider the weight of God’s glory coming to earth in human form to save the lost is overwhelming. But the full narrative of Jesus asks for a response beyond gratitude; though perhaps our sincere gratitude is what leads us to a fuller response: devotion. If we believe the Christmas story; if we believe that same baby boy in the manger grew into the Jesus we read of in the Gospels; if we believe that same Jesus gave his life on the cross as a ransom for many; if we believe he rose again on the third day, we must decide what response we will offer the God who arranged these things.
We often water down the Gospel of the Kingdom. We talk about what Jesus said and did while here. We talk about the Christmas and Easter stories. Christmas is something of a pop culture marvel today. How many people know and celebrate the story once a year, while forgetting, or worse, ignoring, its implications? Maybe God gets our devotion on December 25th, but what of the 364 other days in the year. See, Jesus, fully aware of the Gospel message, tells his followers that, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it,” (Luke 9:23-24).
This is the heart of the Christmas message. It’s a beautiful story, but so much more. It’s a life-encompassing declaration of hope and joy. It’s a promise that peace with God is available to those who accept it. It’s the king of glory taking the form of a man, being born into human likeness, and eventually dying on a cross, paying the price for our sin. It’s a call to gratitude, but also a call to devotion. How will you respond this year?-Pastor Eric