Preaching Articles

1. There’s nothing wrong with familiar passages. 

It is tempting to think that we have to be always innovating, always creative, always somewhere surprising.  Don’t.  Just as children will repeatedly ask for the same bedtime story, and adults will revisit the same movie of choice, so churchgoers are fine with a Christmas message at Christmas.  Sometimes in trying to be clever, we simply fail to connect.  Don’t hesitate to preach a Matthew or Luke birth narrative!

2. Preach the writer's emphasis, not a Christmas card. 

Anywhere in the Gospels, it is possible to be drawn from the emphasis of the text to the event itself.  If you are preaching Matthew for several weeks, great, preach Matthew.  If Luke, preach Luke.  Whether it is a series or an individual message, be sure to look closely and see what the writer is emphasizing in each narrative.

3. Familiar passages deserve to be offered fresh.  

Don’t take my first comment as an excuse to be a stale preacher.   There’s no need to simply dust off an old message and give it again without first revisiting it.  Whenever we preach God’s Word, we should stand and preach as those who have a fresh passion for what God is communicating there.  There’s no excuse for a cold heart or stale content.

4. Fresh doesn't have to mean innovative or weird. 

Now all this talk of fresh could lead us down a winding path into strange ideas.  There is plenty in each text that is very much there, so we don’t need to superimpose our own clever and innovative “five facts about struggling against capitalism from the angel’s visit to Zechariah.”  Equally, we don’t have to preach dressed as a sheep in order to offer something fresh.

5. Be careful when fresh means disagreeing with tradition.  

You may find that looking closely at the text and studying the culture of that time actually causes you to question some stable assumptions. (See what I did there?)  Was there a stable?  Where was Jesus born?  When did the Magi arrive?  How did the star thing work?  Think carefully about throwing a hand grenade into people's traditions.  There is a place, and a tone, for correcting errant thinking, but tread carefully.

6. There are other ways to preach the narratives themselves. 

You don’t have to simply talk your way through the text.  Consider the possibility of preaching the emphasis of the text from the perspective of a contemporary character—Anna, Simeon, a shepherd, etc.  Consider a bit of “in hindsight” first person preaching—Joseph looking back or Luke having done his research.  Remember though, if you have a “manger scene” play with children involved, your going into character may feel like too much of a good thing, even though you will surpass their expectations.

7. Why not preach all four Gospel introductions? 

We tend to dwell on Matthew or Luke or a blend of the two.  Why not introduce people to Matthew’s introduction, then Mark’s (why no birth narrative, where was this all headed anyway, why is Mark 1:1–13 such a stunning intro to his gospel?).  Then give them the visitation, prophecy, Mary-focused, and children-prepared emphasis of Luke’s opening chapters.  And who wouldn’t want to preach from John 1:1–18 right before Christmas (or any other time for that matter!)  All four are stunning pieces of inspired text!

8. There are other New Testament passages that explain the Incarnation and Christ’s mission to the world.  

Perhaps it would be helpful to offer some explanation from other parts of the New Testament.  What did the preachers of Acts say about why Christ was sent into the world?  What about Paul’s explanation of the timing of it all in Galatians 4?  There’s plenty on Christmas beyond Matthew and Luke.

9. Why not tap into the mine that is Old Testament prophecy?  

Where to start?  Most people dip into the Old Testament at Christmas to read Isaiah 9:6–7 or Micah 5:2.  Why not help people understand the richness of those texts and others like them in their context?  What were the Jews waiting for when the first Christmas dawned?

10. Perhaps it is worth encountering a Christmas carol and its theology? 

Not my typical approach, but people know the carols.  Perhaps it would be worth helping people to understand the richness of the second verse of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" biblically?

11. The ancient story is always relevant.  

It is easy to settle into an ancient storytelling mode and fail to make crystal clear connections to the messy world of today.  Christmas is massively relevant because the Incarnation changes everything (that and the Resurrection...two massive moments in history!).  Let’s think and pray long and hard about how the messages are going to engage the listeners with a sense of compelling relevance to today.  Our world.  Our culture.  Our lives.  Our struggles.  Not that the focus is us but because the Incarnation is massively relevant always.

12. The ancient story was not a painting.  

One of the most effective ways to communicate contemporary relevance for listeners today is to take them beyond a Christmas-card view of the first Christmas.  What were the realities facing Mary and Joseph?  What kind of a culture did they live in?  How would that pregnancy shape their lives?  Helping people to get beyond stained glass window views of the first Christmas can resonate deeply with the situations and struggles we face today.

13. Offer a contemporary relevance, not just the ancient one.  

The reason Jesus came into the world was to go to the cross, back then.  It was a once and for all mission.  But the Incarnation has burning relevance to our world today.  Think and pray through how to convey the fact that Christmas matters now, and not just as a moment to look back on an ancient mission, albeit an important one.

14. Tap into the various emotions of Christmas. 

I suppose it is easy to slide into nostalgia at Christmas.  Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, sleigh bells ringing, snow glistening, logs on the fire, gifts by the tree, etc., etc.  But what about other related emotions?  Missing family members through bereavement or separation.  Seasonally affected discouragement disorders that make for a depressing time of year.  Difficult childhood memories only exacerbated by the overt nostalgia nudge all around.  Christmas is a good time to offer a sensitivity in your preaching that shows you aren’t part of the hyped-up marketing machine.

15. Don’t miss the opportunity Christmas preaching offers. 

The reason Jesus came into the world was to go to the cross, once for all.  It wouldn’t be good to make some sort of contemporary emphasis that loses sight of why Christmas really occurred.  Remember that some people will only come to church at Christmas—don’t miss the opportunity to make sense of the season for them.

Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014). Follow him on Twitter

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Dan Reid

commented on Dec 19, 2011

Peter - great insight in this article. Christmas and Easter bring such trepidation to me every year. I want to be fresh and relevant with texts that are very familiar. Thanks for your thoughts and direction.

David Buffaloe

commented on Dec 19, 2011

Don't know that I agree with #5, but the rest is pretty good suggestions. Thanks!

Mark Mohler

commented on Dec 19, 2011

I agree with #5, to me the key words are "place and tone" I don't think Peter is saying to preach error for the sake of keeping tradition alive. But pick an opportune time to correct error.

Dean Johnson

commented on Dec 19, 2011

Very helpful reminders--thank you!

John E Miller

commented on Dec 20, 2011

There are a number of reasons why this is a very good article. If I may I will suggest one or two. Firstly, the article is solidly biblically based. Secondly, the writer uses the first personal pronoun "I" only once and the word "my" only two times. Thirdly, he starts with the importance of God's word and ends with the essentiality of the cross being brought before the audience. Sadly I have read a good number of articles in this forum that do not meet these criteria.

Zachary Bartels

commented on Dec 20, 2011

Peter, your articles are among the best on this site. Thank you for them.

David Beirne

commented on Nov 29, 2012

Very good article. Thank you. I am preaching Luke's intro this Sunday for Advent, and I find #7 encouraging.

Bryan Thompson

commented on Nov 30, 2012

Regarding #5, I agree. I think we can become "The Grinch" if we're not very careful. You can take the opportunity to explain, for example, where the wise men fit into the story, but also why our tradition of fitting three Magi in the nativity plays/displays and Christmas observance does not detract at all from the essential message and in fact enhances it. If you have a need to be slavishly correct at this point I think you probably fit in better with the crowd that refuses to observe Christmas at all. After all, Jesus almost certainly wasn't born on December 25th.

Brian William

commented on Nov 30, 2012

Agreed with Bryan on #5. Bottom line is at Christmas we're proclaiming the same thing as the angels did at the first Christmas -- "good news of great joy!" Correcting people on some of the more minute details just doesn't share good news or great joy. Everything we do in preaching should lead somewhere, and I'm just not sure where it leads when we worry about whether out Christmas pageant is incorrect because it has animals in the stable while the Bible doesn't mention animals. Or how the Bible doesn't mention three kings, just three gifts. If somebody heard my Christmas sermon and their take-home message was about how many kings there were, that would be a complete failure in my mind. I want them rejoicing that God took on flesh and demonstrated the fullness of His love for us. I want them loving and serving their Savior anew. I want them marvelling that God would choose to use such ordinary people to accomplish His plan, and recognize that God wishes to use them for great things.

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