Pastors Strive to Make Christmas Sermons Unique, Relevant

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Monsignor Bill Parent of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Waldorf aims his sermon at the "Santa Clauses," as churches call them -- those who come to church only at Christmastime.

"The goal in whatever you're preaching is to inspire," Parent said, "and explicitly to invite people who have been away or aren't coming regularly to be a more regular part of the parish community."

At Harvest Life Changers, a nondenominational church in Woodbridge, the Rev. Lyle Dukes focused yesterday's sermon on linking the Christmas story to the everyday difficulties faced by his parishioners, such as the mounting number of home foreclosures as well as the frustration of high gas prices and lost jobs.

"We're in some challenging times," he told 1,500 worshipers. "But Christ was born in challenging times. . . . In spite of all this crazy stuff going on, he was born alive and well."

Church member Lori Douglas pronounced the sermon "awesome."

"So many of us today are going through challenging times," Douglas said. But Jesus "made it through, and it's a lesson on how we can make it through."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch Year / Liturgical SeasonsChristmasParish MinistryPreaching / Homiletics

Posted December 26, 2007 at 7:17 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. carl wrote:

With high-flown rhetoric or plain-spoken bluntness, brevity or long-winded oratory, ministers will try to make the centuries-old story of the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ relevant to today’s worshipers.

The idea that the Birth of Christ must be made “relevant” is difficult for me to understand.  One would think we are ashamed of what we teach. Are we to afraid the Christian faith is obsolete?  Even more so the idea that sermon content should be slaved to the demands of those who do not believe.  Do we fear the unbeliever will not return except that his ears are tickled with pleasing words?

The relevance of the Birth of Christ is found in God’s deliverance from the judgment of sin.  This is a timeless message, for all men sin and find themselves under judgment.  God’s wrath is not a literary device, and Hell is not a mythical place conjured up to scare children.  Every single mother’s son is born hanging by “a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it.”  The relevance of the incarnation should be self-evident to any man who might one day find himself in the dock before God.

So the sermon should be easy for such a night when so many troupe through the door.  No thought should be paid to relevance.  Trust that the Gospel is by definition relevant to all those who have not yet died.  Preach a basic Gospel message.  Begin with Sin and Law and Wrath.  Hold up the Cross of Christ in the middle.  End with Redemption and Grace and Love.  Declare the Holiness of God in both His judgment and His mercy.  If the unbeliever is offended at the message, then remember that the Gospel is offensive to those who are perishing.  They aren’t supposed to like it.  Even so, the foolishness of the Gospel is power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.  Those who are appointed to believe will hear.


December 26, 11:14 am | [comment link]
2. Harvey wrote:

When will people stop trying to make Biblical writings so relevant to our times. 2000+ years later the angels are still singing.  It is more relevant to me to tune my ears to what they said then and are still saying now.  It’s just a case of stopping and listening.

December 26, 1:31 pm | [comment link]
3. West Coast Cleric wrote:

Thank you, Carl—exactly so.  The idea of “relevance” comes from the notion that preachers are to be entertaining.  We have fallen victim to MTV/Video Game/Soundbite mentality.  Our job is not to entertain, but to declare the hard truth and deep joy of the Gospel.  If we do so, it will be “relevant”, as Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

December 26, 1:34 pm | [comment link]
4. Undergroundpewster wrote:

We suffered through an attempt at a relevant sermon by oour rector on Christmas Eve. I am too ashamed of it’s content to publish my review. Unfortunately there was a large crowd present. We were then blessed with a scripturally based sermon on Christmas Day delivered by our assistant priest, but only a small number came to this service. There may be a “cause and effect” here.

December 26, 1:58 pm | [comment link]
5. Irenaeus wrote:

The preachers discussed here didn’t write the headline. But . . .

Wouldn’t it be fair to say that effective preaching rests on confidence that the gospel is relevant regardless of what an audience believes or wants to hear?

December 26, 2:50 pm | [comment link]
6. Connie Sandlin wrote:

My best friend and I long ago determined a category of “C & E” Christians - Christmas and Easter Christians - of which her sister is one.  She complained to my friend one time that it was boring because the minister always talked about “the SAME thing every time” she went to church.  Doh!

The danger for C & E churchgoers is that they get “inoculated”; like getting a vaccine that includes just a little bit of disease to prevent getting a full-blown case, C&E;Christians get just a little bit of religion and may be satisfied with that, rather than getting a full-blown faith.

Of course, the priests and ministers want to try to stimulate the C&Es;to get the full-blown faith, but year after year of inoculations may interfere.

December 26, 3:25 pm | [comment link]
7. Daniel Lozier wrote:

Anyone ever consider the “uniqueness of Christ”?  Preach Jesus Christ!

December 26, 4:46 pm | [comment link]
8. Daniel wrote:

Some of these comments sound like snobbish Episcopalians looking down their noses at those non-denominational folks and their “relevant” sermons.  Was not one of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables to make his messages more relevant to the milieu of the people he encountered?

What prevents eternal, Biblical truths from being presented in ways relevant to the society in which we live?  It reminds me of the story of a priest in a lifeboat who comes upon a man in the sea going under for possibly the last time.  The priest holds up a life preserver and shouts “let me tell you about the Greek etymology of the word life preserver and how it can enrich your life.”  The drowning man replies, “please just throw it to me so I can be saved.  We can talk later.”

December 26, 5:22 pm | [comment link]
9. MJD_NV wrote:

True, Daniel, but wouldn’t the same life preserver that would save the weekly man save the C & E?  Pereach the Gospel & you’ve got them both.

December 26, 5:26 pm | [comment link]
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