You hear that sound? It’s the click-click-click of Christian preachers throughout the world putting the finishing touches on their Christmas Eve sermons. For many people, this is one of just a handful of times they’ll hear the gospel proclaimed in a given year. Thus there’s an opportunity for preachers to reach many folks who aren’t regular church attendees. The criteria for preachers is simple: welcoming, insightful, funny, moving, relatable, funny, and short. No big deal, right?
I’ve heard preachers use the opportunity to lay thick guilt upon those “C & Eers” — those who only come on Christmas and Easter. One rector I knew stood up at announcement time and said in a very sarcastic voice, “You know, we do this every week.” And I find that attitude so unhelpful. I prefer to err on the side of welcoming and grace. But I’m also aware that no matter how effectively I preach, it’s up to God to move people’s hearts and draw them deeper into the life of the Spirit. That actually takes a lot of pressure off.
Some of the best advice for preachers seeking to knock it out of the park on Christmas Eve comes from the Rev. David Lose. He reminds us that ”the Word is proclaimed in the carols, the greens, the candles, and the assembly. You don’t have to say everything.” Amen!
But still, you have to say something. And as you do, here’s some advice on words and phrases to avoid in your Christmas Eve sermon:
Paradigm — No one is impressed with your big fancy words that would be better used in a theological journal. This goes for every sermon, not just the Christmas sermon.
Birthday Party for Jesus — Please don’t trivialize the Incarnation (see below).
Incarnation — Actually this is a great word to use but make sure you define it. You can’t assume everyone knows this theological reference to God entering the world in human form.
Santa — Everybody loves Santa, everybody knows about Santa, but we’re not in church to hear about the jolly old elf.
Keep Christ in Christmas — Uh, that’s what we’re doing in church.
Bands of Cloth — Yes, the New Revised Standard version uses “bands of cloth” rather than the King James’ “swaddling clothes.” All I can think of when I hear this are strips of gauze and mummies. Keep the poetry of our shared story intact.
Greatest Story Ever Told — We know. That’s why we’re here.
Pope — Pope Francis has caused quite a positive stir in his first year as head of the Roman Church. For Anglicans, however, let’s leave our pope envy at the door.
Mashup — We know that the Christmas story used in pageants is an amalgamation of the various gospel accounts. Shepherds and wisemen never show up at the same time and the Magi actually don’t show up for another twelve days. But deconstructing this on Christmas Eve isn’t helpful — go with it and save your textual literalism for an adult education class.