I’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long time now. My journey of faith began as a child, and it was as a four-year-old boy that I prayed and asked Jesus to be my Savior. I grew up in a church-going family. So, from the time I was an infant, I was in church. That means that in my 43 years of life I have heard (and in recent years, I have preached) a number of sermons about Christmas.
When people ask me about the toughest sermons to preach, I almost always respond that Christmas and Easter sermons are the most difficult to prepare. These two holidays come every year and it can sometimes be tough to come up with fresh ideas and insights into the familiar and wonderful stories of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.
I have to say that I am energized about preaching on Christmas this year. One of the reasons is that I’m learning so many new things about Christmas. On Christmas Eve, I’ll be preaching a dramatic monologue sermon. My sermon will come from the perspective of Bethlehem’s innkeeper. In preparation I’ve been reading an old book that I found at a used bookstore several years ago. It’s a book entitled, The First Christmas, by Rev. Denis O’Shea. It was published in 1952 by The Bruce Publishing Company in Milwaukee.
I’m enjoying the book for several reasons.
1) It was written by a Catholic priest. I’m Protestant. That means that my views on who Mary is are very different than O’Shea’s. So, I’m forced to read this book critically. Seeing things from a perspective radically different than mine is a sharpening process.
2) It was written in 1952. This was shortly after Israel was resettled by the Jewish people. The historical context of this book is fascinating. The illustrations that are used about what the Holy Land was like in the 1950’s make me wish I could have seen it then. I’m reading a section about the Samaritan people, and at the time only 260 were living in Palestine. O’Shea had visited with the present High Priest of the Samaritans and the information written about that encounter is fascinating.
3) Like William Barclay, one of my favorite New Testament commentators, O’Shea writes from the perspective of a historian. (If you want to read great stuff on the times of the Bible read any of Barclay’s commentaries.) The quoting of ancient historians, the visuals that he paints about what houses, inns, roads, landscape, food, clothes, animals, etc. were like in the days surrounding Christ’s birth are fascinating. He also does a great job painting a picture of the geo-political culture of the day. Understanding how Herod achieved his position, the world of Caesar Augustus, what a census involved, and why the Jewish people were required to go to the land of their ancestors to register is fascinating. I felt that I could picture the abodes of the first century world, and the inns that Mary and Joseph would have stopped at on their route from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
There is so much more that I could say. Again, there is a lot that I would disagree with in this book, particularly O’Shea’s insistence that Mary was a perpetual virgin. But, all-in-all this book has opened my eyes and my mind to see things I’ve never seen before about Christmas. I can’t wait to share them in the form of a drama on Christmas Eve.
If you are in town, I’d love to have you join us for Christmas Eve services at Woodbury Community Church at 5 or 7 PM. I hope the sermon will be something that you’ll be talking about for a long time.
What is something new that you’ve learned about Christmas this year?