I’ve gotta admit, I love Christmas time just as much as anybody—the incarnation hymns, the decorations, the family time, the brisk air, even the hustle-and-bustle. Most of all, though, I love the truth of how and why God became man, and the opportunities for gospel conversations that some unbelievers may entertain only once a year. How should pastors be preaching in December?
Preaching in December
We rejoice in the miracle of God taking on human flesh, and the Christmas season presents us with great opportunities to put this truth into its biblical and theological context. But all too often we isolate the fact of the incarnation from its ultimate purpose; the result is that this truth becomes warped in our own minds and then distorted as we share the gospel with others. With this in mind, here are six emphases to help pastors (and the rest of the church’s members) make the most of preaching in December for the spread of the gospel.
Make Much of the Old Testament
Yes, you’re reading that right—the Old Testament. Jesus Himself taught that the whole Bible is about Him (Luke 24:25-27; 45-47; John 5:39, 46). That means you can discover and preach Jesus organically from any part of the Old Testament. Isn’t Christmas a great time to show people Jesus in texts where they didn’t expect to find Him? Besides, if the only texts your church ever preaches in December are the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, then your Chreasters (people who show up at your church only at Christmas and Easter) will only ever hear those passages preached. Whether you’re the head of a household, a preacher, an elder, or a Bible study leader, show people how the Old Testament themes and images point people to the need for a better Adam, a better prophet, a better priest, a better king, a new exodus, and a whole new creation.
Make Much of Christ’s Cross
The reason Jesus took on human flesh was so that he might give Himself as an offering to God for our sin.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14)
What if we preached that on Christmas Eve? To think of Christ’s incarnation without thinking of His atonement is to miss His great love.
Make Much of Christ’s Kingship
We love to talk about how shocking it is that God was in a cradle, but it is short-sighted for us to think of Jesus’ incarnation apart from His eventual coronation on the throne of God’s kingdom––“Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.” The Son of God did not become a man so that we might make little of Him. He became man so that we might worship and obey Him:
. . . at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10-11)
To think of the incarnation without thinking of Jesus’ eventual coronation as King is to miss His power and authority.
Make Much of Christ’s Priesthood
God became man so that the God-Man could become the “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). And Christ’s incarnation is perpetual—He is still fully God and fully man—so He mediates our relationship with God as we trust in His saving work. To think of the incarnation without thinking of Christ’s mediatorial role as our great High Priest is to miss His uniqueness.
Make Much of the Doctrine of Conversion
God initiated the incarnation. We didn’t anticipate it or invite it, much less deserve it. That’s why asking people if there’s room in their hearts for Jesus misses the point. There’s no room in anyone’s natural, sinful heart for Jesus. The mind set on the flesh is actually hostile to God (Rom 8:7); we are enemies (Rom 5:10).
If we’re looking for “who we are” in the birth narratives, we’re not an unsuspecting innkeeper, or the seeking Magi. There’s a Herod in all our hearts, trying to kill (or at least neutralize) the infant Jesus so that we can remain king over our own lives (Matt 2:13). The incarnation teaches us that we need to repent of our own self-rule in order to trust wholly in the rule of God through Jesus Christ. And it teaches us that we need to repent of our own self-effort so that we might trust wholly in the initiative that God took in sending Jesus, not only to the cradle, but also to the cross, before we ever knew what we needed Him to do for us. To think of the incarnation without calling ourselves and others to fresh repentance and faith is to miss our greatest need.
Make Much of Sin and Judgment
God’s Son became our Savior in order to endure the punishment we deserved for our sins. We dare not forget what Jesus saved us from, and He accomplished this “in his [human] body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). To neglect the doctrine of judgment in December is to neglect the reason for the incarnation in the first place, which was so that Jesus might “become a curse for us, for it is written, cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal 3:13). An immaterial spirit cannot hang on a tree; but, praise be to God, an embodied Savior can . . . and did. That is the great wonder of the incarnation, that the incarnate Son of God would give his human life as “a ransom for all” (Mark 10:45).