Each the midwife of Christ

December 13th, 2022
This article is featured in the The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2022 issue of Abingdon Preaching Annual. We are sharing it here to support your preaching work in these final days of Advent, as we look toward the Nativity of the Lord. 

The lectionary texts appointed for the day are Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20).

Preacher to Preacher Prayer 

We rejoice, O God, that you are so ready to be born in us. Help us, O God, to be as eager to receive you as you are to come. In Jesus’s name. Amen. 


If you want, the virgin will come. Preaching on Christmas Eve (and on Christmas Day) is uniquely difficult. Many are there for one of the few obligatory events of the year, often not so much as a spiritual practice but as a nod to family tradition that is non-negotiable. Often the best preaching in their estimation is that which takes the fewest minutes! Further, travel for the holiday creates a fruit basket turnover of attendance—we often look out upon a sea of strange faces, knowing that most of the familiar faces have traveled elsewhere to be with family and listen to preachers unknown to them. When you factor in the excitement of the children, who have reached a Christmas frenzy and are eager to get on to the more exciting festivities, the poor preacher has a Herculean challenge! 

Despite the challenge, it is the holiest evening of the year. We have the rare and wonderful opportunity to open the hearts and minds of all sorts of people to the power of the Holy Spirit and a God who desperately wants to reach them. So desperately that God came to earth to live among them, full of grace and truth. 

How do we best bear witness to the wonder of the incarnation? Some try to counter the familiarity of the story by taking some very creative approaches to the sermon. Most of these ventures, in my estimation, fall flat. Worse yet, some simply read the story and leave it at that. If so, the preacher fails to help the listeners appropriate the story into their own lives. The preacher leaves them with a shallow, Ricky Bobby (if you’ve never seen Ricky Bobby pray to the baby Jesus in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Google it or watch it on YouTube) treatment of the nativity and they go home having heard a nice story. 

Yes, the story is important, but why is it important? What is the story that this story introduces? On Christmas Eve we must examine the meaning of the incarnation rather than just read the birth narrative of Jesus. As I ponder the incarnation, this year I land on the importance of emphasizing that we must bear and give birth to Jesus Christ in our own lives. We are, like Mary, Christ-bearers. I have long loved Phillips Brooks’s third verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: 

How silently, how silently, 
the wondrous gift is giv’n! 
So God imparts to human hearts 
the blessings of his heav’n. 
No ear may hear his coming, 
but in this world of sin 
Where meek souls will receive him still 
The dear Christ enters in. 

Bringing the Text to Life 

  1. The manger in Bethlehem becomes the birthplace for all humans! As Christ is born in each of us, we are changed and, as a result, the world will be changed. It’s an epic story still unfolding, and I am a part of it. Sanctification plays a big part in my Methodist faith tradition and needs to reclaim a premier place in our preaching. It reminds us that the goal in life is to think Christ’s thoughts, follow Christ’s direction, and value what Christ would value. We are called to open every aspect of our lives to his power and influence, with the goal of letting him make us perfect in love. And, if we join forces with others seeking to grow up into Christ, we become a transformative force of love that changes homes, workplaces, communities, and the world. God’s love remakes us and, ultimately, all of creation. Our work continues until Christ comes again in final victory and takes full charge over all things. 
  2. Every Christmas Eve is a time to reevaluate Christ’s birth in our lives. Are we more like him than we were a year ago? Is the process of becoming more like him continuing, or has it stalled out amid the distractions and chaos of our daily lives? Are we daily setting aside time and space to pray, read scripture, and allow God to occupy our minds and hearts? Are we fully surrendering? Are we “meek souls” willing to receive Christ? Or are there parts of ourselves that we are withholding, parts of our lives of which we refuse to let go, parts of our being to which we stubbornly hold on? Are we afraid of how God could use us if we let down our guards? Are we shutting Jesus out just as effectively as he was shut out of places to stay in Bethlehem? The world still avoids God. 

  3. As you ponder the incarnation, reflect on a profound idea found in a poem, loosely attributed to St. John of the Cross (1542–1591, translated by Daniel Ladinsky), that emphasizes how we, like Mary, bear Christ: “For each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.”
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