There seems to be more pressure at Christmas than in other seasons of the year. I’m not talking about finding a parking place at the mall or waiting in a long line at Starbucks. Rather, I’m referring to the pressure a preacher feels in the pulpit.
The sanctuary is decorated. Poinsettias are … everywhere. (Pulpits can look like duck blinds in Christmas camouflage.) Just walking into the building makes one feel like they should be wearing a red tie and preaching from Luke 2. But should they?
Stay or Stray?
Herein lies the perennial dilemma that faces every faithful expository preacher: to stay or stray? That is, stay in Romans 4 or jump to Matthew 1. It’s a likely scenario. The preacher is one-third into the exposition he began earlier in the year, and now the Christmas holiday looms on the horizon. What does he preach?
You may find yourself under the gun as you read this post. Christmas is quickly approaching, the pressure is on and you don’t know what to do. Allow me to share some points of counsel to help relieve some pressure this Christmas and for those to come.
Make a preaching calendar. A large portion of pressure is alleviated by simply knowing the “what” and “when” of your preaching. Now for expositors, we typically can see the future by simply reading the following chapter or two in our Bibles. But don’t be lazy—prayerfully make a legitimate calendar. Know just how far you will go in, say, Romans before stopping to take a break. Having a schedule will force you to be intentional with the rhythms of your preaching.
As Stephen Rummage says, “Nothing is spiritual about failing to plan.” If you want to preach a Christmas series, do it. But share your intentions well in advance with staff, pastors, deacons and your congregation. Prepare them pastorally and spiritually for an intentional break from the regular exposition. You will serve them well.
Draw Christmas connections on a regular basis. Let’s say it’s April and you’re preaching through 1 Timothy. You come to verse 15 of chapter 1 in which Paul writes, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Make a note to your congregation—there’s a Christmas text. Tell them not to be surprised when they hear you say on a Christmas Sunday, please open your Bibles to 1 Timothy. Sprinkling in these references will help your people see the birth of Christ in atypical texts as well as build their theology of Christmas. It deserves more airtime than just once a year.
Preach a mid-year Christmas series. Sometimes we all just need a break from the expository series. You need a break and your people need one too. Let’s be honest, no matter how good your consecutive preaching has been through the book of 1 Corinthians, let your people come up for air. One idea is to lead them through an unexpected series around a theme of Christmas at an off-peak time. Preach a few weeks through Isaiah 9:1-6 or spend a month in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Both you and your people will sense a sweetness to these texts when you address them outside the distractions of the holiday season.
Teach the doctrine of the incarnation. Some churches have Sunday night services. Leverage the additional preaching slot to expose your people to a doctrinal series on the incarnation (cf. Phil.. 2:6-11)—in August. Whether it’s in the morning or the evening, don’t save precious Christmas doctrines for December. Give your people a healthy focus on the Immanuel throughout the year. Expose them to the theological underpinnings of Christmas. Take advantage of whatever opportunity avails—newsletters, blogs, Sunday nights, or small group Bible studies.
Stress all of Scripture as Christmas Scripture. Space fails me to share my debt to men such as Edmund Clowney, Sidney Greidanus, Dennis Johnson, Geerhardus Vos, Walt Kaiser and many others. These men have given us all a great appreciation for Biblical Theology, that is the Bible as indeed one story, one big picture, and Jesus is the hero. As Graeme Goldsworthy has taught us, “The Bible is therefore a book about Christ.”
All Scripture is Christian Scripture, and if Christian, then Christmas. We know this—but do our people? As you preach, always point to the narrative of Scripture. Show how all roads lead to Christ and thus the relevance of Christmas amidst the unfolding historical plan of redemption. That’ll help come December, whether you’re in James 3 or Luke 2.
Trust God’s providence on your pulpit. Faithful expository preachers make it their aim to work consecutively through portions of Scripture, letting the text drive their sermons—both in content and calendar. This is good. Still, the Christmas season is not supposed to be a landmine to your ministry of exposition. Instead, allow this season to bless your people regardless of the text in which you find yourself. Return to a healthy knowledge of the Holy Spirit as the divine author of the text.
Encourage them to treasure Christ, regardless of the passage. Remind them that the same author who wrote the Christmas story wrote the rest of the Bible as well. You know your people better than anyone. As a pastor, you know what they need and when they need it. Yet, God knows your people even better. Lead well as a pastor and preacher throughout the year and trust God’s providence in the details of December.
Preach, Practice, Pray
So, will you stay or stray? You make the call, but do so as the Lord leads. Based on the needs of their congregation, the calendar of events, and sheer pastoral wisdom, some preachers will opt to stray into a Christmas Sunday or sermon series. Yet, others will stay the course in their regular exposition. If that’s you, let me close with a few pastoral points to consider.
Preach a Christmas text on Christmas Eve. It’s a special night. Jesus is the hero, not you. Preach with clarity and conviction but also in the spirit of Christmas. Pastor your people well; be in the moment. Remember the guests.
Practice the Advent celebration. Here’s an easy way to offset the morning mood if you find yourself in Genesis 37 during December. You may not be in a popular Christmas text, but it’s still time to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Pray Christmas-themed pastoral prayers. As a pastor, part of your responsibility is to know where you are and what time it is. Only God knows what people are going through during the holiday season. Help them pray and warm their hearts with Christmas truth.
Shepherding the flock will always have its stressors. Yet it’s my personal experience that most of the pressure felt in ministry (and at Christmas) is self-inflicted. Faithful pastors often put more on themselves than most congregations ever will. We are our worst critics. Yes, the pressure is on. But let’s not make this harder than it has to be.
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