3 Ways to Keep Christmas Fresh
Move beyond stale and passionless preaching during the Christmas season.
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"It's the most wonderful time of the year." I can hear Andy Williams singing that song. And it is. Except for the fact that for many preachers, the Christmas season comes as the busiest time of the year. For pastors with families and congregations, the Christmas season can be like a toddler hyped on sugar. We run to and fro getting presents, visiting, and getting caught in all the busyness of the holiday season. And at some point in the midst of all the happenings, we remember that we have to teach! And Christmas, like Resurrection season, can be very challenging for the preacher because of its repetitive nature. Each year, as Christmas approaches, preachers struggle to keep Christmas fresh. Or worse, many recycle the same old messages and preach them without much passion, thought, or prayer. So let's look at three keys to help us keep Christmas fresh.
Return to your first love
This is what Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones called "preparing the preacher" in his classic book Preachers and Preaching. He shared that first we need to prepare the preacher and then we prepare the sermon. So many of the battles with the ministry of the Word happen in the heart and soul of a preacher. That's why we need to allow the Holy Spirit to prepare us as teachers to proclaim the glory and mystery of God made flesh!
In Revelation 2, Jesus wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus. He commended them for many things. But he did have something against this church—that they had left their first love (Revelation 2:4). You see, the church in Ephesus had all the proper motions but lacked the proper emotion. They were about the work of ministry, but they lost their passionate "young love" for the Lord. As is always his way, Jesus is not content to let them stay where they are. So he encourages them to remember (the time when they were passionate), repent (change their mind), and return (back to their first works again—that young love for God.) (Revelation 2:5).
When we apply this same plan to our own hearts, our preaching will be fresh. We must remember how we were when the reality of the Incarnation first dawned on us. For many preachers, you will remember times of awe and joy. Think back on how our first Christmas messages were passionate and deeply moving—even to us. Recall the days of our young love in the ministry. We couldn't wait to get into the pulpit and proclaim "God with us." Then we need to repent of our hardness of heart. What has happened to make us grow cold, bored, or weary of the glorious truth that Jesus was born to save those who believe? How apropos, after all, since repentance is the first word of the gospel. We need to repent daily unto sanctification, simply responding to Jesus and turning back to God. Repentance is the path of returning to the first works again. How did we prepare for our Christmas message in the beginning? What was our devotional life like? How did we pursue the work of ministry in the days of the zeal of our youth? Let us do those things again.
Focus on the 'why'
Improper focus could be the culprit behind many pastors getting stale on preaching Christmas messages. They keep the focus on the "what." The "what" of Christmas is that Mary, who was a virgin, conceived and bore a child of the Holy Spirit. Because of a Roman census, Mary and her betrothed husband, Joseph, had to travel to Bethlehem where they lacked proper accommodations. So the Son of God was born in a cave and placed in a filthy feeding trough. That's what happened. If year in and year out for Christmas, we continue to focus only on the "what," things will get stale quickly. And not only for us, but for the congregation as well. Once you have the details down, those details don't change, so if you are focusing on them they have to get boring.
The cure, then, is to focus on the "why" of the birth of Jesus. If you haven't seen it, I often encourage preachers to watch Simon Sinek's now famous TED talk called "The Golden Circle" on YouTube. Mr. Sinek is not talking about preaching. He is talking about advertising. But what he is saying has some massive implications for preaching. When you focus on the "what," you give the congregation the details of birth of Jesus. When you focus on the "why," you help the people understand why this is the most important reality ever. The "what" speaks to the mind. The "why" speaks to the heart. And I am not advocating the abandonment of the "what" in any way. I am saying to explain the "what" so that you can bring them down into the plans and purposes of God's "why"!
The amazing benefit of focusing your Christmas sermon on the "why" is that you now have unlimited biblical material. The purposes and plans of God in sending his Son are multi-faceted. You can focus on salvation, forgiveness, hope, love, God's plan for the world, humility, the miraculous, or God's upside-down ways of working. And that is to just name a few off the top of my head. You see, God knows exactly what is going on in your congregation and your community. He knows how he wants to partner with you and your congregation to bring blessings to bear this Christmas season. So, when choosing what you decide to teach your congregation, you can be led of the Spirit as to which aspect of "why" Jesus came you sense God wants you to focus on. When you focus on the "why" of Christmas, led by the Spirit, unimaginable possibilities open up.
Bring Jesus to street level
So we have already looked at both the preacher and the message. Now I want to share with you a fun way to make Christmas fresh for your congregation by incorporating a special call to action. Many churches have recurring programs that they run for Christmas. These are good things, but if your congregation gets the same things year in and year out, these traditions can also contribute to the Christmas season getting stale. I am not recommending that you abandon beloved traditions either. But you should look at what you are doing, why you are doing it, and whether it is accomplishing all that the Lord hopes to do in and through your congregation this year.
There are endless ways to inspire your congregation to action this Christmas season. At Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, WA, where I am blessed to pastor, we have done many different projects for Christmas. We always try and link the project to whatever "why" the message is focusing on. So the service project (what we like to call "Jesus at Street Level") is fully integrated with the message.
One example was the year when the "why" was that Jesus came because life is messy. We were focusing on the messiness of Christmas. We saw that within the Christmas story there were three unique social issues going on in the Incarnation account. Mary's was a classic crisis pregnancy. She was unmarried and a teenager. The no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn was obviously a housing crisis. Also, Joseph is invited by the Lord to be a type of foster parent for Jesus, who is clearly not his biological son. But Joseph is asked to nurture Jesus anyway. That was the message, so our call to action was that we did a "box drop" to help support our local crisis pregnancy center, our county's foster care system, and a local ministry to help people with transitional housing. This was a huge initiative, which ended with us delivering almost 1000 boxes to these three organizations. Our people filled the boxes with the things each organization requested. So we allowed Christmas to be an opportunity to partner with local organizations to make the Christmas message fresh, alive, and to turn it outward.
Preachers, let us allow the Spirit of God to inspire us this Christmas season to return to our first love. Let us preach necessary and timely messages about "why" the birth of Jesus is of infinite importance. And let us call the people of God to put "feet on their faith" in various and meaningful ways. But first, find another preacher or trust friend that can pray for you during this busy season. All for the glory of God!
Daniel Fusco is the Lead Pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, WA.