Every night of December my wife and I gather around the Christmas tree with our toddlers to read Old Testament passages of Scripture and then to proclaim Christ from them. We put a new ornament on our tree every night as a symbol of the Old Testament promises fulfilled in Jesus. Our children can look to the ornament with the picture of a piece of fruit in order to remember the story of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden, but they also can remember the great promise of God to send the Snake-Crushing Seed (Genesis 3:15). Our children can look at the ornament with the mass of stars imprinted on it to remember God’s promise to old Abram that he would father a multitude of descendants, but they can also remember that it is only through One of Abraham’s descendants that the whole earth finds blessing (Galatians 3:16).
Recently I was thinking about the different traditions that my family, my church, and my community enjoy around the season of Christmas. Many homes and churches commemorate the Advent season to celebrate the first arrival of Christ is Bethlehem while anxiously anticipating the second coming of Christ. It seems that every preacher I know is preaching a special Advent sermon series during the Christmas season, and most of these series focus on Old Testament texts that anticipate the coming of the promised Messiah. In a sense, it seems that most preachers and churches proclaim Christ from the Old Testament during the season of Advent because it seems natural during this time of the year…but I want to encourage us to continue that trend for the next 11 months as well.
I want to offer three reasons we preach Christ at Christmas, and then offer some thoughts about why these reasons ought to compel us to proclaim Christ from all of Scripture year-round.
- We preach Christ at Christmas because there is no Christmas without Christ.
Think about it. Why do we decorate, sing special songs, eat unique foods, drink holiday lattes, and dress in colorful ways during the Christmas season? We know that Christmas is special, and the season necessitates a unique awe and excitement not usually displayed throughout the rest of the year. For a follower of Jesus, Christmas without Christ is no Christmas at all.
In the same way, churches gather at least 52 times a year to declare the excellencies of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). We proclaim Christ in song, prayer, and through the ordinances, but we also declare Christ crucified in our preaching (1 Corinthians 2:2). As many preacher-authors have argued, the Christian sermon stands out from the messages in the Jewish synagogue or in the Muslim mosque because Christ is proclaimed as the Savior and Lord who came to die in the place of sinners. At Christmastime we cannot help but to proclaim the good news of Jesus, but why should the regular, weekly preaching of the Scriptures (including the Old Testament) be any different? We gather weekly as a group of sinners saved by Jesus. We come together weekly to proclaim Christ to one another and to the unrepentant sinners among us. The unique awe and excitement of Christmas should lead us to declare Christ in the preaching of the Scriptures, but as a regenerate community we must not neglect to fan the flame of awe and excitement around the person and work of Jesus all year long.
- We preach Christ as Christmas because the story of Christmas focuses on the person of Christ.
It seems that no one can escape the person of Christ at Christmas. Whether it is the school play with the little shepherd boys and elementary-aged Mary and Joseph or the hiding place for Kevin as he escapes the “Wet Bandits” in Home Alone, the culture around us cannot escape the baby in the manger at Christmas. Even outside of the church the focus of Christmas is, at least in part, Jesus the Christ. Within the church Luke 2 dominates the Scripture reading times in most congregations during the Christian season. Luke 2 explains all about the shepherds and the angels, but most of all Luke focuses on the birth of the Christ. The primary Christmas text is radically Christ-centered.
In the same way, the resurrected (adult) Jesus makes it clear that the entirety of the Scriptures, not just Luke 2, focuses on him (Luke 24). The whole canon does not just reveal the history that leads to Christ, but rather the whole canon is about Christ and him crucified (John 5:46; Colossians 1:28; 1 Corinthians 2:2). In many respects the celebration of Christ from Old Testament prophecies during the season of Christmas serves as a microcosm of the celebration of Christ from the whole Bible the rest of the year! The hermeneutic of Christmas allows the Old Testament to be read in light of Christ, but why should the hermeneutic employed the rest of the year be any different?
- We preach Christ at Christmas because the joy of the season is only found in Christ.
Christmas brings so much happiness and excitement as families gather around tables of food and under trees stocked with beautifully wrapped presents. Hallmark movies abound with cheesy tearjerkers about the little town saved by the unlikely Grinch-turned-Christmas-hero. However, even with the “Joy to the World” mentality of Christmas, the season often brings great pain. The early darkness that pervades American towns in December, the cold, and the “cheeriness” of everyone around you often produce a sense of depression, loneliness, and profound sadness. The cure for the Christmas blues comes in Christ alone. He alone produces the joy of the season, so preachers who lift up Christ offer the cure for all ailments during the holidays.
In the same way, each day of the year finds sinners looking for hope and joy in the midst of desperate situations. Brokenness caused by sin, whether personal sin or societal sin, causes all manner of isolated feelings of hopelessness. However, the cure for sin, and thus the cure for brokenness, is found in Christ alone. Jesus offers the power of God for salvation through his death and resurrection (Romans 1:16). Any hope offered outside of Christ may put a Band-Aid on the wound, but only Christ produces the joy, hope, and longing the heart desires. Rather than offering Jesus at Christmastime only, Christ-centered preachers will offer the balm of Christ to needy sinners week-in-and-week-out.
Christmas often leads to Christ-centered exposition. Praise God! But let’s allow the hermeneutic and homiletic of Christmas to lead us to proclaim the glories of Jesus throughout the rest of the year too. Jesus isn’t just the center of the Christmas story; he is the center of the entire cosmos. Preach Jesus. Lift up his salvation. Do it on Christmas and Easter and every Sunday of the year.