As pastors and congregations prepare to receive guests on Christmas Eve, Bishop Kenneth H. Carter offers simple, heartfelt advice. Keep the sermon brief but grace filled. Appeal to people’s generosity. And make sure those inspired to begin their faith journeys are invited to take the next step.
1. Keep it brief.
Err on the side of saying less, rather than more, and allow the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of the service to fill in the gaps. If it is somehow possible, cut out one-fourth to one-third of your sermon prior to the service. I know this goes against our nature as preachers. But you will thank me later.
2. Save the judgment for another day.
There will likely be a number of folks who make their way into the sanctuary on Christmas Eve under duress, or for reasons unknown even to them. They carry a stereotype about Christianity into the service that identifies faith with judgmentalism. In length, err on the side of brevity. In content, err on the side of grace. Jesus often did this. Think about the parable of the prodigal son and the parable of the good Samaritan.
3. Make room for doubt.
Christmas is, after all, about the mystery of the incarnation. And even Mary “pondered all of this in her heart” (Luke 2). So, you do not have to feel the need to tie up every loose end or place a period where the Bible itself has a question mark.
4. Appeal to the generosity of those present.
Identify a need in the community or world and set a big, hairy, audacious goal for a gift that would make a difference. It is likely that you will rarely find yourself preaching to a more generous congregation than Christmas Eve. Go for it!
5. Know that Christmas Eve is a beginning and not an ending.
By the time Christmas arrives, religious professionals have often made their way through a fall gauntlet of church council meetings, stewardship campaigns, servant and leadership recruitment efforts, and fall festivals. And then there is Advent and Christmas Eve. It is easy to perceive that you are crossing the finish line and you are ready to collapse. But this night is a beginning. And for many it can be the first step in the journey of being a disciple. So, give those present some guidance about the next step, the next sermon series in January, or the next outreach initiative.
- 5 Things to Avoid and 5 Things to Accent at Your Christmas Eve Service by Barry Howard
- Will Your Christmas Visitors Feel Celebrated or Shamed? by Ann A. Michel
- 10 Ways to Reach Unchurched People at Christmas by Carey Nieuwhof