Every year pastors are faced with the challenge of preaching on the same scripture passages that deal with the birth of Christ every Advent. In the Gospels, this is only roughly 1,000 words of material, so how can a preacher bring these 1,000 words to life for four weeks or more every year? Here are six ideas that might just do the trick for you.
Resist The Temptation To ignore Advent
Do not ignore Advent. It can become a burden to preach on the same Advent passages every year, but it is always disappointing as a parishioner to arrive at church on a Sunday morning in December and either hear warmed over Advent messages, or messages that are completely disconnected from the Advent Season. In a season when attendance is likely to swell, dig deep, and bring your best.
Ask A Child
My own children always help me see things I would otherwise miss. Children are better at asking questions or noticing little details sometimes than adults, whether it’s the noise of a plane flying overhead, or a scar on my arm that I don’t even notice anymore, or a detail in a story that is familiar to you or me.
So maybe the jumpstart you need is to read through some of the Advent texts with a group of children. Invite them to ask you questions, or to tell you what they notice. My own children have an incredible knack for noticing things I no longer see.
A new perspective within
One way to bring new life to the same old passages is by exploring a new perspective from inside the passage. Rather than look at Luke 1-2 in terms of what it means to us, focus on what it meant to Elizabeth, or to Zechariah, Simeon, or even Anna the prophetess.
A new perspective from outside
A simple solution to refreshing your preaching this Advent could be to buy a new commentary, or listen to someone else’s Advent sermons to hear a new slant on the familiar passages. Fresh insights, a unique perspective, and even a perspective you don’t like may be just the jumpstart you need for fresh preaching this season.
Advice From Dietrich Bonhoeffer
What if you tried exploring the ways God’s coming could be terrifying? Explore why it is that the angels had to keep telling everyone not to be afraid, or why Herod viewed the news as such a bold threat.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us … The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”
Advice From John Wesley
Wesley said, “Scripture is the best expounder of Scripture. The best way, therefore, to understand it, is carefully to compare Scripture with Scripture, and thereby learn the true meaning of it.” There are so many Old Testament references woven into the Gospels’ description of Christ’s birth. What if you explored those? One of my favorites is Isaiah 9 (What does it mean when it says, “As in the days of Midian’s defeat…”?). However, you could also explore the ways in which Simeon’s prophecy came true, and how Jesus was “destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against” (Luke 2:34). Advent provides one of the best seasons of all to compare Scripture with Scripture, and maybe it can be a catalyst to fresh preaching for you, as well.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ed. Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 185-186.
John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” The Works of John Wesley, 14 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002) 10:142.
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