Preaching Articles

What we know of the birth of Jesus comes to us as divine revelation in the inspired words of the gospels. The Christmas story comes from the scriptures. These passages are some of the most well-known Bible verses in history.

As I prepare for the Christmas season I will read these passages again and again. They are familiar and comforting, and perhaps that’s the problem: because I have come to these passages so often, I am tempted to think that there is nothing new for the Holy Spirit to reveal through these words.

That would be a mistake, because the Bible narrative of the birth of Christ is not only inspired storytelling but also useful for training in right relationship with God. What better way to preach about Christmas than to encourage our congregation to go deeper in Christ?

The birth narratives—like all scripture—are fuel for preaching. These passages are filled with challenges to our faith and the encouragement we need to grow in God. Here are four preaching themes from the first chapter of Matthew.

1. God’s Sovereignty: Poor Joseph

God didn’t get his approval before acting. Can you imagine the real-life shock of these words: “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1: 18) Mary received an angelic visitation and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Joseph received the worst news of his life.

God “drafted” Joseph into a difficult position—would the Almighty ever do the same to us? Have we ever considered the implications of God’s sovereignty? If we affirm that we belong to him are we willing to be drafted as Joseph was?

2. Right Relationships

The narrative reveals the actions of a righteous man. In his confusion and pain, Joseph’s first concern was for Mary; he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace” (1: 19). How many of us would have this priority? Perhaps this is why the scripture labels Joseph a “righteous man.” Scripture is demonstrating what true righteousness looks like in action.

It’s revealing as well that the scripture describes Joseph's righteousness not in terms of his relationship to God, but in terms of his relationship to Mary. True righteousness extends two directions—toward God and man.

3. How to respond in a family crisis

Joseph resisted the urge to act rashly. Even in his concern for Mary and her reputation he was still determined to divorce her (in modern terms, "break the engagement"). Yet verse 20 reveals that he took time to consider his actions. When Joseph was faced with the impossible, he did not rush to judgment. The scriptures do not indicate how long he waited, but he took time to consider his actions. And in that period of time, Joseph positioned himself to hear from God in a most unusual manner:

4. God Speaks through Dreams

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.’” God gave Joseph a dream, a dream that would change his life forever. This must’ve been some dream, or Joseph must’ve been some righteous man, or both. Engagement, unexpected pregnancy, and an out-of-this-world explanation would be enough to give anyone dreams. But God chose a dream as the means to provide divine direction, and Joseph recognized the dream as God’s personal leading.

In fact, dreams are mentioned no fewer than four times in Matthew 1 and 2. I believe scripture is teaching us that God can and does guide his children through dreams. Imagine: in an emotionally charged situation, just when we would be tempted to ignore our dreams as a product of our subconscious, God is present: leading, directing, and guiding—through dreams. By the way, there is no indication that Joseph heard anything else from God until after the baby was born. He remained faithful to God’s instructions for months, all based on one dream!

The Christmas season offers an opportunity to preach the truths found in God’s word. Some people think the Christmas verses are the stuff of Christmas pageants and cheesy dramas. They are also the stuff of God’s instruction to his disciples.

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia

commented on Dec 3, 2013

God ?drafted? Joseph into a difficult position?would the Almighty ever do the same to us? Have we ever considered the implications of God?s sovereignty? If we affirm that we belong to him are we willing to be drafted as Joseph was? I am sure that this is a thought that has occurred to very few people. It is something for me as a Lay Preacher to seriously consider. Thank you very much.

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