The Christmas season does more than just rehearse the birth story of Jesus. It also calls pastors to ponder the mysteries of the eternal Son become flesh.
To celebrate the birth of Christ this year, our church is a reading through Isaiah, and in seven sermons I am preaching the whole book to show how Isaiah’s Gospel prepares the way for Christ. And I am preaching Isaiah for advent because I have a commitment to bless my church each Christmas with something beyond a repetition of last year’s Christmas sermons.
Indeed, one of the challenges of preaching at Christmas is returning year after year to the same birth story. While this annual rhythm always supplies fresh grace to the preacher and the hearer, it can become overdone. If pastors only preach Matthew in odd years and Luke in even, those who hear them will miss the larger themes of Christmas. Moreover, preachers who stick with the common texts may miss one of the greatest chances to preach Christology at Christmas and to teach eager saints glorious concepts like the hypostatic union, the Son’s eternal generation, and the extra Calvinisticum (more on these later).
That said, if one opens up the playbook of biblical Christology, the Christmas season does more than just rehearse the birth story of Jesus. It also calls pastors to ponder the mysteries of the eternal Son become flesh. In other words, there are few times in the year that invite such concentrated Christological meditation like Christmas. And so, as we begin a month of biblical and theological reflections at Christ Over All, let me offer three words for pastors preaching the Word made flesh—for this year and many more to come, Lord willing.
The Christotelic Canon
First, the place to begin a sermon series on Christology is the Old Testament canon. Indeed, because the whole Bible (John 5:39) and every part of it (Luke 24:27) leads to Christ, it is critical to show how Jesus’s birth narratives fulfill Scripture. This can be done by following the pattern of Matthew and Luke, as their opening chapters show how the Prophets foretold the birth of Christ.
Academically, this approach to the Old Testament is sometimes labeled Christotelic. That is to say, Christ is the telos (the end or goal) of everything written in the Old Testament. Jesus read the Bible as a Spirit-given testimony about himself, and he taught his disciples to do the same (Luke 24:25–27, 44–49). Now, we who sit at the feet of the apostles and the prophets should teach our people how to read the Bible like Christ and his anointed followers.
In truth, this practice of preaching Christ from all the Bible is for all seasons, not just Christmas. Yet, I have found that Christmas makes this kind of preaching more appetizing. Especially in churches where the saints are not (yet) steeped in biblical theology, Christmas is a great time to gift the church with a subscription to the Canon. In this way, you can start by looking at how Jesus fulfilled Scripture in Matthew 1–2, or you can show Jesus as the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), the promised seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3; Gal. 3:8), the royal son of David (Ps. 2, 45, 72, 110), or the son of the virgin who will rule the nations by the power of the Spirit (Isa. 7:14; 9:5–6; 11:1–5). Over the last fifteen years, I have preached all these texts at Christmas, and I would urge every pastor to do the same.
The Christological Pulpit
Next, after laying out the ways Christ’s birth fulfills the promises of God, it would be appropriate to introduce various theological concepts, especially as we see how atheological much of the church is today. Indeed, over the last decade I have introduced the grammar of Christology—the hypostatic union, the extra Calvinisticum, and a proper understanding of kenosis. Sometimes, I will use the full name of the doctrine—just before filling out the concept. Sometimes, I will just make sure the grammar and doctrine are explained from the text without using the technical name.