Christmas Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Christmas

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Christmas is the time for the preacher to drop all the cultural hoopla and sentimentality and focus on the real thing: the incarnation of the Son of God. The good news is that your congregation is tired of the hype anyway. They long for depth and meaning in their Christmas celebrations. The mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God is the most profound, unfathomable, and grace-filled doctrine there is, and your congregation will thank you for helping them grasp something of its meaning for their lives.

In Scripture

Luke 1:26-45: The Annunciation. Whether before or after Christmas, it's important, especially for Protestants, to marvel at Mary — she is Our Lady too, after all. The significance of Mary is that she is the first believer, the primary disciple, and therefore the preeminent saint. Congregations are sometimes surprised to realize that most of the words in the "Hail Mary" prayer are straight from Luke. Many excellent recent books can help Protestants to reclaim their idea of Mary. This passage also helps us understand the person of Christ as human, as the divine Son of God, and as the son of David.

Luke 2:1-21: The Birth of Christ. There are several approaches to take to this text. Luke sets the birth of Christ in the context of world history, naming Caesar Augustus and Quirinius. Luke's barely hidden irony is the fact that the Messiah, the world's true king, slips in under the radar of the most powerful government in the world. At the same time, Luke pictures a couple suffering under the oppression of Roman rule, forced to travel a long distance while pregnant. Homeless and helpless, they end up giving birth to the Son of God in a stable. The child is born in a stable and laid in a manger. This is at least a signal that the salvation he brings is cosmic in scope and includes all the creatures God has made. Further adding to the irony is the fact that the only announcement of the momentous birth is made, not to the religious elite in Jerusalem a few miles up the road, but to some poor grizzly shepherds in the nearby fields. It is "good news of great joy for all the people." The angels sing of peace, the principle purpose of the One who was born to bring us peace (Isa. 11:6, Eph. 2:14-15).

The genealogy of Matthew 1:1-17 has provided a fruitful Advent series for many preachers, especially focusing on the stories of the four women mentioned here: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Each one, in her own way, illustrates the meaning of Jesus' coming.

Matthew's birth story in Mathew 1:18-24, as well as the story that follows in chapter 2, emphasizes the birth as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Matt. 1:23), a main theme throughout Matthew. Another important element is how Matthew focuses his attention on Joseph (Luke focuses on Mary, while Joseph seems to be a standby). Joseph is a righteous man, who treats Mary, in her surprising pregnancy, with understanding and kindness. Joseph, like his namesake in the Old Testament, is also guided by dreams.

John 1:1-18: John's gospel is, above all, a theological gospel, and his approach to the birth of Christ places it in the context of creation itself. The Word is the eternal logos who was present with and involved in the creation of the world, whose appearance into the world, as light amid darkness, is unheralded, unexpected, and unwelcome (John 1:11). The declaration that "the Word became flesh and lived among us" astounds us into the realization that this is nothing less than the beginning of a new creation. Eugene Petersen's The Message makes it even more vivid, in saying that the persistent Word "moved into our neighborhood." The Greek word John uses for dwell" is skene: tent or tabernacle. It harks back to Yahweh's stated desire in establishing the tabernacle/temple to "dwell with his people" (Ex. 25:8). Jesus is the new temple by whom God dwells with us and we with God (see John 2:13-24 for a further explanation of Jesus as temple.)

Other texts for Christmas: Galatians 4:4-7, Revelation 12.

Points to Ponder

The reality and mystery of the incarnation are at the heart of Christianity. The mantra of the ancient church Fathers was that whatever God has not assumed, he cannot redeem. If Jesus of Nazareth is not the incarnate Son of God, truly human, then we cannot be saved.

Philip Yancy "Yet as I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer "And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives."

N.T. Wright "Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don't light a candle in a room that's already full of sunlight. You light a candle in a room that's so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are. . . . Christmas, then, is not a dream, a moment of escapism. Christmas is the reality, which shows up the rest of `reality.'"

Leonard Vander Zee "[Mary] uncovered her baby as much as she could in that chilly, dank space. She examined him from head to toe, caressed his tiny body, touched his perfect fingers and toes. Perhaps it wasn't so amazing to her or to Joseph, but to me the most amazing sight she laid her eyes on was the stub that protruded from his belly, the freshly-cut, already-withering cord that had sustained his life in her womb — the cord through which he received her nourishment, her very life. When you really think about it, this is the amazing thing: This child, the long-promised Son of God, has a belly button. . . . The incarnation means that God now has a belly button. He is bound forever to the human race, and that remnant of an umbilicus proves it."

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.