Christmas Eve/Day C: Keep It Simple
Dear Partner in Preaching,
A word of advice as you prepare your Christmas Eve sermon: keep it simple.
I know, I know, there’s a lot of pressure to pull out all the stops. It is, after all, Christmas Eve, almost everyone’s favorite Christmas service with special music, favorite carols, lighted candles, and more.
And the church will be full. Or at least far more full than usual. With folks you haven’t seen for a while and all kinds of visitors to boot.
And then there is the excitement that accompanies the coming of Christmas. The church has been preparing for it for almost four weeks now, and the culture since just after Halloween.
So for lots of good reasons, I can understand why you feel under a certain amount of pressure to go the extra mile, jazz things up a bit, and maybe, just maybe, preach your best sermon ever.
But don’t. (Actually, feel free to preach your best sermon ever if it comes to you!) What I mean is…don’t feel all that pressure. Keep it simple. Why? Because the Christmas message itself is pretty simple: God came from heaven to take on our human form to show us just how much God loves us. That’s pretty much it.
Well, maybe there’s a little more, but that’s pretty much the core. When God surveyed humanity and realized how dark and difficult our days could be, how confused we get about our identity and place, how many painful things we do to each other out of that confusion and insecurity, God decided to do something about it. And so after giving the law and sending the prophets, God got involved. Personally, intimately involved with God’s fallen creation.
But note: when God decided to get personally involved, God didn’t come to punish, or frighten, or scold, or threaten, or any of the other things that are often attributed to God (sometimes even by people in the church!). Instead, God came to tell us that we are loved, deeply, truly, and forever.
And just to make sure we got the point, God first brought that message embodied in the flesh by Jesus to people the world was pretty sure weren’t particularly important or, for that matter, loved: no account shepherds, an unwed teenage mom, astrologers practicing a whole different religion. All of this to show that God wasn’t going to leave anyone behind. That God’s message of love was for all. As in everyone, whether the world thought you were important or lovable or not.
And that’s still the way it is. God loves all of us, but especially wants those who don’t feel loved or lovable, those who regularly feel like they’re on the outside looking in, those who feel forgotten, and those who wonder what the point of life is, to hear the “good news of great joy” that God loves all of us.
Which is why I want to keep it simple. Because after all the shopping and cleaning and cooking and preparing…. Or, for that matter (and we sometimes we forget this side of things), after all the trying to make ends meet, keeping a distraught family intact, struggling to get a job, or worrying about a loved one serving overseas…. After all the stuff that makes our lives kind of crazy, I think the short, simple, and peaceful word that we are of infinite value and worth to God is perhaps just the simple word we need to hear this Christmas eve.
And so if you really want to keep it simple, you could probably reduce the Christmas message even further, picking up the two words of the angels’ song that capture the heart of the Christian message: “for you.” Notice it’s not just that Jesus is born, but the angels say, “Jesus is born for you.” And it’s not just “good news,” in general, but it’s “good news of great joy for you and all people.” For while the Gospel is never a private word, it is nevertheless a very personal word, reminding each and every one of us that God believes we are worthy of honor and dignity and, above all else, love.
Blessed Christmas, Dear Partner. Thank you for playing the part of the angel this week as you bring glad tidings to people aching to hear of God’s love for them, for us, for all the world.
Yours in Christ,