Pretend you’ve never done a Christmas sermon before. Pretend you don’t know where to start or how to proceed.
What to do first. Read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 over and over until their message is as familiar to you as your name. Listen for the Holy Spirit to draw your attention to something. You will know by how you are intrigued by a verse or blessed by some insight or puzzled by another.When the Spirit wants you to focus on a text, He often pulls it out and plasters it across your eyes. Your mind keeps coming back to it.
Stay with Him now. This could be good.
Do not be in a rush. If you give the Holy Spirit a quarter hour to get through to you–before kickoff or worse, during commercials–He will refuse to play that little game and will leave you to your own devices.
Wait on the Lord. Seek His will.
Keep one huge fact in mind. Your people are not wishing for something radically new in a Christmas sermon. They want the old, old story, although they will appreciate your telling it in a fresh way. They want to hear the ancient message told by one who is in love with Jesus, captured by God’s salvation, and forever indebted to Calvary.
This is no time to be re-inventing the wheel or digging around in secondary stuff such as giving your people the current theories on the identity of the star of Bethlehem, addressing the various ideas as to when Jesus was actually born, or trying to make a tie-in with the latest Hollywood movie. They don’t need that. They want the story, the message of Salvation, and for once, what they want is what God wants, too.
If as a pastor you are bored with the reality of “the word becoming flesh,” something is radically wrong in your life, and getting up a sermon is the least of your worries.
Think back on all the Christmases you have known to see if there are stories, incidents, people, insights, etc., that would work in your sermon. The very best illustrations are always the ones you experienced personally, so do not fall into the trap of feeling you must use the same stories others are using. If something memorable happened at Christmas and it works in your sermon, you’ve been handed a nice little present of your own. Now, open it and share it with us.
Now, think. Reflect. Meditate. Ponder. (And lots of other words that mean the same thing: Give the text a lot of thought!) What is the scripture saying? What is the main point? What does this mean to your people? What does it NOT say? What do people wish it said which it does not?
Sit in the mall and as shoppers move around you, ask yourself how your text applies to them. Sit in the food court where the teenagers hang out and do the same thing there.
Visit your favorite preacher-authors and read their take on the Christmas story.
The internet can be your best friend for this. Seeing how Max Lucado, David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, John Piper or Mark Driscoll treat the story can inspire something in you. Even if you don’t listen to the entire messages, get the first 5 to 10 minutes, enough to catch the theme and see where the sermon is going.
One more thing. Some of my best sermons were inspired by something a preacher did poorly. (The point being, do not rule out the Holy Spirit using a most unlikely message, even a lousy one you read or hear.) I recall one Easter sitting in a congregation where the pastor preached on Job’s question from 14:14, “If a man dies, will he live again?” The pastor preached all around that, and did a fair job except for one thing. He failed to point out that Job answered his own question in 19:25-27: “And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God, Whom I myself shall behold…and not another.” You will want to know that not long after I preached that scripture, and did so with every ounce of conviction within me.
Pay attention. Christmas symbols, reminders, and messages are everywhere. You should have no trouble finding a hundred illustrations.
The other day I purchased a collection of short stories by well-known mystery writers under the title “The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries.” Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Mary Higgins Clark, John D. MacDonald, and similar writers of the present and past generations are represented here. I posted a photo of this book on Facebook and asked, “What are the REAL mysteries of Christmas?” So far, answers have ranged from the actual date of Jesus’ birth to the identity of the star of Bethlehem, from the value of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the wonder that God would go to such extremes to redeem such people as you and me. There’s a sermon in there somewhere, preacher.
Sermon ideas and illustrations are all around you.
One online resource is this blog. The easiest way to find a listing of the numerous articles/sermons we’ve posted here is by googling “Christmas + Joe McKeever.” I did that just now and found a full lineup of messages on “The Christmas Fraud,” “The Christmas Disappointment,” and such. Use anything you find there with our blessings; no need to give credit.
Call two or three of your preacher buddies and suggest an idea/story exchange. Your people may have heard your great Christmas stories, but they’ve not heard your friends’ stories. You can help each other out.
I’m always good for a story, as a few of my friends have discovered. Sometimes a pastor will send a few sermon ideas he’s working on and ask if I have any insights or stories on those subjects. An hour later, I email him a dozen or more. (The joke is when I preach in his church, he tells his people, “When Joe tells one of his stories, act like you’ve not heard it before.”)
Look back over your sermons from previous years. Some of these were so rich and so inspiring, you could rework them and improve on them and enjoy them all over again.
I’ve told here how I kept a daily journal for the decade of the 1990s. In addition to recording the daily comings and goings of a busy pastor, each Saturday night I would jot down sermon notes for the next day’s messages. Now, some two decades later, re-reading those forty-plus books is fun, and they are a mother lode of sermon ideas and illustrations.
Yesterday, looking back over some articles on Christmas from this blog, I found a lovely little story I had told once and promptly forgotten. Sam Allen, a member of the Nashville gospel trio called “No Other Name,” tells this on himself. Sam grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Florida. As a teen, it was his job to listen for a car horn and run outside and help a customer find a tree, and complete the sale. On this particular day, the lady who drove up at suppertime was a Yankee, Sam says, and he gladly assisted her in picking out a good tree. He cut it down and tied it up, then jotted down her address for delivery the next day.
“One thing more, young man,” the woman said. “When you come tomorrow, could you bring me some greens?”
Sam thought, “Greens? You want greens?” He said he would and later told his father. They agreed that was a most unusual request, particularly from someone they didn’t even know. But the next day, Sam drove the pickup truck to the lady’s home, unloaded the tree, and then presented her with a sack of collards.
A little communication problem there, wouldn’t you say? (Note: For those unfamiliar with the term, the lady was asking for small branches and stems from tree cuttings to be used for wreaths and table decorations.)
The Lord God had a communication problem, trying to get across Heaven’s message in a way which puny mankind would “get.” He dealt with it in a most unusual way when “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). See Hebrews 1, also, for another take on the same subject.
Enjoy preaching on Christmas, pastor. It’s the best season of the year!