Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church, December 24, 2017, for the 7:00 pm and 11.00 pm services
“7 Christmas Messages Often Preached – But You Don’t Want to Hear”
Scripture: Luke 2:8-20 and Isaiah 9:2,6-7
It’s Christmas Eve! The sanctuary is beautifully decorated. Christmas carols have been sung. Someone has read the wondrous Christmas story that begins, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken…” (Luke 2:1). The faces of many visitors, friends and family of church members fill the pews. But before you can participate in the highlight of the evening by holding your candle and singing “Silent Night, Holy Night,” the preacher must ramble on for a while. What will he say this year? It’s difficult for a preacher to deliver a Christmas Eve sermon which encapsulates the amazing reality of the Christmas story.
As a preacher for 42 Christmases, I am keenly aware that most people in church on Christmas Eve have not come to hear me. Based on my long track record, I must confess that I’ve listened, read and delivered some unusual messages on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, Christmas Eve sermons can be more about the preacher’s anxiety than about the story of Jesus. In my preparations for this evening’s sermon, I reflected on the typical Christmas Eve messages and realized there are 7 you do not want to hear. They tend to promote these themes:
- The “Come Back to Church” sermon: This message is directed at visitors, irregular-attending church members, the kids and grandkids of the regulars. The pastor stresses the importance of Jesus’ birth and the commitment that follows. The Church is described as a pretty cool place to hang out, or at least not so bad as to be avoided. The preacher tries hard to be welcoming, but often comes across as a lonely person in need of friends.
- “Jesus is the Reason, and Santa is Not” sermon: This one is a killjoy! The preacher tries to explain the “real story” behind Christmas by defrocking Santa Claus. The “War on Christmas” folks love this one, but everyone else goes home feeling guilty for having the wrong kind of Christmas joy.
- “The Magic of Christmas” sermon: This one emphasizes all the feelings and nostalgia. The preacher may share a story of a childhood Christmas complete with grandma’s gingerbread cookies and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. The only mention of Jesus is an uncomfortable apology for His awkward presence.
- The “Chicken Soup for the Soul (maybe)” sermon: This is a storytelling sermon. The preacher tells the story from the perspective of the donkey Mary rode to Bethlehem, or the inn-keeper’s nagging wife, or a member of the angelic choir. It seems to be somewhat related to the Christmas story, but no one is sure why and how.
- The “Theology Lecture” sermon: This one is intended to assure listeners have a true and thorough understanding of the Christmas story. It tends to be long, dry and confusing. It uses big words like “incarnation, eschatology and redemption.” The preacher really enjoys delivering this message, except for the disruption from people snoring, children playing games on their iPhone, and a baby crying the entire time.
- The “Anti-Consumerism, Let’s Meet at the Local Soup Kitchen This Week” sermon: This sermon makes people feel ashamed for spending too much on gifts and accidentally singing along with Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas song, “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.”
- The “Christmas Spirit Will Make You Believe” sermon: This sermon talks a lot about faith, believing, opening our hearts, and letting the spirit in. The problem arises when we depart pondering what are we to believe in. Is it Jesus? Santa Claus? Or the holiday spirit? All seem like valid options.
If anyone of these seven are your favorite, please send Rev. Kasberg, or Dardenne’s new interim pastor, Rev. Epling, an email, expressing what you’d like to hear next Christmas Eve. I’m confident they would appreciate hearing from you!
Sincerely, I know there are many great Christmas sermons delivered every year. Furthermore, I respect that my fellow preachers work very hard to proclaim the story of Jesus Christ, born into the world for the salvation of all creation, and human beings in particular. However, after forty-two years of Christmas Eve sermons, I’m convinced that the preacher should not worry about trying to get people to believe, or visitors to return, or even scolding people for American materialism. Just tell the story of God entering the world in a baby named Jesus. Let God take care of convicting souls and forming memories. Just preach a message like the angels proclaimed:
“Do not be afraid for I bring you Good News that
will cause great joy for all people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Who can top that message? Humanity has reason for joy, comfort and hope because our Savior has come into the world. He appeared in human flesh as a baby to understand our frailties and weaknesses. Yet, he also was the only Son of God, who would suffer for our sins and restore our relationship with God.
This infant; born in an obscure village of Bethlehem, to poor parents;
who lacked physical beauty, or an extensive education, and traveled less than 200 miles from where he was born;
who died on a cross and was buried in a borrowed grave;
who rose from the dead and promised to bring His followers to eternity;
who became the central figure in human history;
in Him, believers find hope, comfort, courage and faith to carry on,
for they are confident they will meet Him personally one day.
That is all one needs to know about the Savior born in Bethlehem.