This week on my last day of a teaching trip to Latvia I had the great privilege of spending a morning with a group of Lutheran pastors.
We were talking about ten tips on preaching Christmas.
Christmas preaching only rolls around once a year, but it does seem to creep up on the preacher very quickly. It also comes at a time when the weather is dreary and the preacher is weary.
Nevertheless, in my 40 years of preaching I have really enjoyed all forms of preaching, but I have particularly enjoyed preaching during Advent and Christmas. These biblical texts sparkle with fascinating personalities, astonishing events and life-transforming truths.
Since stepping down from regular pastoral ministry we have celebrated Christmas two times during Covid. For the first I preached at some online services and last year I had the honour of covering for a pastor who was taking a well-deserved six-week sabbatical over the Christmas period. It was interesting for me to adapt my preaching style to a very different setting and to lead the congregation in celebrating the wonder that Jesus, the smile of God, had graciously visited us.
This weekend I was given the opportunity of preaching the brief message at our church’s candlelit carol service. It was on a Saturday evening, with our local brass band playing and, despite it clashing with the final of Strictly Come Dancing and a few other local events, we had a pretty full house.
My mini sermon was based on the final verses of Zechariah’s Benedictus (Luke 1:76–79) combined with a couple of verses from Titus chapter 3 focused on the kindness of God visiting us at the first Christmas to invite us to receive forgiveness, hope and peace.
I reflected on the idea that although there are many welcome echoes of God’s kindness in human actions these are often overwhelmed by the clatter of indifference or cruelty. Left to ourselves humanity would not have invented kindness unless we had seen it in action.
Probably like several preachers this year I used this year’s wonderful John Lewis Christmas ad about the couple preparing to open their home at Christmas to a young person in care.
The ad follows a man getting bumped and bruised learning to skateboard. In the final scene Ellie arrives for Christmas lunch holding a skateboard. Through the door she sees the now battered and scraped skateboard leaning against the wall and instantly there is a connection.
Over the years I have used lots of these Christmas ads from a variety of sources as a way into my Christmas messages. The big stores have huge budgets for making these Christmas ads each year. Preachers can learn a great deal from these beautifully crafted mini stories:
1. They understand their customers and know how to make a connection with them.
2. They seem to capture the mood of our times very effectively.
3. They demonstrate exquisitely how a story told in a fresh way can communicate a massive freight of meaning in a very short time. This year’s John Lewis ad weighs in at 1 minute and 37 seconds.
Preachers: read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.
Merry Christmas to you all, and every blessing to all preachers seeking to tell the story at this season!