If you’re like me, preaching fresh, inspiring messages at Christmas can be a real challenge. There are only so many passages in the Bible that tell the Christmas story, and you can only spin those stories so many ways.
As I thought about this issue one year, I determined that one of the main problems we face is what I call the Christmas mythology. We’ve all been told the stories of the birth of Jesus from our childhood; we think we know the stories. But we rarely ask if something different may have been happening over two thousand years ago.
We do very well in placing the story into our culture (witness “You Can Have My Room,” published years ago in Reader’s Digest), but what about placing the Christmas story in first-century Greco-Roman culture?
I’ve wrote some of my thoughts and conclusions in a small book a few years ago, A Not-So-Silent Night: The Unheard Story of Christmas and Why It Matters. Let me share just a few of them for you to ponder:
- Jesus was the only person born specifically in order to die.
- Since Jesus was born in order to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8b), then Christmas is the beginning of war.
- Mary, who was only engaged to Joseph, went all the way to Bethlehem in her ninth month of pregnancy even though registering in the “census” was required only of males.
- Mary went with Joseph when engaged couples in that society were never supposed be alone together until their wedding night.
- Luke calls the group of singing angels on the fields of Bethlehem a stratia (i.e., an army), not a choir or chorus.
- Joseph agreed to marry the virgin Mary instead of quietly calling off the marriage. In an honor-shame culture, this would have been equivalent to implicating himself in Mary’s pregnancy.
- The word translated “inn” in Luke 2:7 is really a “guest room” in a house; yet no space was made available for Joseph and Mary (about ready to give birth) by a homeowner who was undoubtedly a friend or relative.
- For Joseph and Mary, alone together in an unsanitary stable, the birth of Jesus could only have been a frightening and emotionally painful event.
In light of these thoughts, what new message within the Christmas story might you preach about this year?