I began pastoring my first church when I was 21 years old. At the time, I was a senior in college at a state university. This means I had yet to take my first preaching class. I had no concept of expository preaching. I had never heard a lecture espousing the biblical, historical, and practical benefits of this approach to the pulpit. Needless to say, then, I was not committed to systematic expository preaching.
So, the only times of the year that I didn’t “grope around in the darkness” wondering what I should preach was Christmas and Easter. Whether I should have or not, I felt confident knowing where to go to plan my sermons during these seasons. At Christmas, you go to Luke chapter 2. Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem for the census, the shepherds and angels, and the Christ child in a manger – easy.
At Easter, you go to John 20. Peter and John racing to the tomb and no Jesus – even easier. Easy that is until year two or three. How many times can you preach these texts or messages? How do you keep your preaching fresh year after year during these times? Or more to the point, how do you keep your people freshly interested in attending and hearing you during these seasons?
Since I have been committed to systematic exposition, I have found that the decision of what to preach week after week has become much simpler and more effective. But transparently, this has not solved the other problem. I still face the problem of what to do year after year at the holiday seasons. How do you keep your preaching fresh? And how do you keep your people interested?
After nearly 20 years in the pastorate and in the pulpit on a regular basis, I have discovered a few ideas that have aided me in doing just this. You can stay fresh in your preaching during Christmas and Easter. You can keep your people interested and attending during theses seasons. Below, I list and discuss three thoughts for keeping your preaching fresh during the holidays.
First, Realize that Every Text is Both a Christmas and Easter Text Simultaneously.
Primarily, this is based on the belief that how Jesus interpreted Scripture in the Luke 24 account is accurate and correct. In other words, I genuinely believe that every passage relates to Jesus, the Messiah. So, in a very real way, the Bible is an integrated whole. Even though it was composed over a 1,500 year period written by roughly 40 different human authors, the Bible is one large narrative.
It is the unified and consistent one story of God. And remember, according to Jesus all of it is a story about Him. Therefore, the Christmas story is not complete nor is it simply about the Christ child born and laying in a manager. And Easter makes little sense without an accurate understanding that Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” Furthermore, the significance of the Resurrection reaches further than the one Sunday that Jesus came out of the tomb.
It matters for and in the church. Just ask Paul (1 Corinthians 15). It is the foundation for the practice that every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday on which we celebrate and worship a living Savior. When you view the Bible as an integrated and unified whole, you will have the desire to help your people understand it that way too. You will then have the ability to preach and connect any and all texts to Christmas and Easter because they are indeed connected. This practice will help keep your preaching fresh.
Second, Preach the Old Testament during Christmas and Easter.
By the way, just for clarification, I am a proponent of preaching the Old Testament more than at Christmas and Easter. I believe in making the faithful and regular exposition of it a regular part of my yearly sermon calendar. But, at a time when the Old Testament is noticeably and overtly neglected from most pulpits, I am for intentionally planning sermons from this portion of God’s Word.
Now, this suggestion or tip is built primarily upon the last one. Perhaps it is even a subcategory of it. Specifically, when you “realize that every text is both a Christmas and Easter text simultaneously,” you certainly understand this includes Old Testament passages. My suggestion here is to take the logical next step and intentionally and explicitly preach Old Testament passages during these seasons. If you do this, at least two results will occur. You will certainly preach passages that your people have never heard messages on during the holidays. And of preaching material available to you during Christmas and Easter there will be no end.
A great practice for accomplishing this is to see the whole. By this I mean that you may not be able to find the specific connection of every individual passage to Christ. But, perhaps if you look at the text in context, you can see how the entire book or section connects to Christmas and Easter. Therefore, find these larger connections and show them in your sermons. Again, I have found that this practice is a great way to keep my people’s interest fresh and my preaching fresh during the holidays.
Finally, Do Not Be Afraid to Continue Your Expository Series.
Do not think that you always have to leave the series you are in during Christmas and Easter. I believe this is true especially if your practice is to walk verse-by-verse, text-by-text, through books of the Bible as a part of your regular preaching ministry. Do not give into the temptation that what you are doing is inadequate or the lie that your congregation will revolt if you fail to do something “distinctively” related to the holiday that is drawing near.
Sometimes I believe there is great benefit in intentionally staying the course. You may be surprised to find that your people will thank you for continuing your current series, expect and desire more and more of this type of preaching, and grow in their knowledge and love for the Word. You also may notice an uptick in your church’s overall health and an unusual enthusiasm for your seasonal guests and attendants who normally only hear “one” message.
Overall, this suggestion is based on the combination that all of Scripture is related to Christ and that all of Scripture is sufficient and profitable. If these two axioms are true, and I thoroughly believe that they are, then surely you can show the connection to Christ from where you are in a text. Or, perhaps in a more indirect or implicit way, you will be able to make an application to what God ultimately does for us at Christmas or Easter through the Messiah from whatever passage you are preaching.
One specific way that I put into practice the ideas that I have espoused in this article was the preaching of a four-part Christmas series through the book of Ruth. It may look like this book has NOTHING to do with Christmas. On the surface, it appears to be about the faithfulness and commitment of Ruth (Chapters 1-2) and then the heroism of Boaz (Chapters 3-4). But, on further examination, it has several connections to Christmas. Not least of which are that the main events transpire in Bethlehem, Ruth is in the line of King David who is in the line of King Jesus, and the ending genealogy is quoted precisely in the first part of Matthew’s genealogy which begins the birth narrative of Christ.
I do not believe any of these things are incidental. Furthermore, upon deeper examination and exegesis, Ruth is not about Ruth or Boaz. The hero of this story is God. How do we know this? Because the concept of hesed (covenantal faithfulness) and the picture of the go’el (kinsmen redeemer) so prevalent in this book ultimately are pictures of who God is and how He works to redeem His people. And, how does God ultimately show the world hesed and in what way does He redeem us as our go’el? It is through the person of Jesus, the Messiah. Yes, Ruth is the Christmas story!
In my sermons, I showed these connections. I led them to see God as the hero and Christ as the Redeemer. I showed them the ultimate fulfillment. Afterward, many people told me they see the book of Ruth in a way they never had before. Now they have a greater understanding of the story, a fuller understanding of the Word, and a greater love for God and His redemption in their lives. They saw Christmas . . . and Easter.
I believe this practice can bless your people, keep them and you fresh, show them the unity and beauty of the Word, and lead them to trust and appreciate the Bible even more than perhaps they already do. It may even keep them interested and on their toes more than you or they expect wondering what their “crazy” and “creative” pastor is going to do next. As always, I hope these suggestions helps you to be more effective in “Preaching the Word,” especially during this Christmas season.