December 13th, 2022
This article is featured in the October, November, December 2022 issue of Pulpit Resource, and we share it here as a resource for your own preaching in the days ahead.

Selected Reading

For this very special Sunday, why don’t we allow all of the assigned texts play roles in this week’s proclamation?


Christmas Day! Rejoice! Though we could not climb up to God, in the nativity of Jesus, God Almighty has come down to us. Though we could not, in our sin, get a good look at God, God has appeared to us. To those wandering in the darkness, light has dawned. Titus proclaims, in the incarnation, at Christmas, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people.” Salvation to us, even us. Therefore, we rejoice.

Introduction to the Readings

Isaiah 9:2-7
Isaiah joyfully announces that time of deliverance for exiled Israel when “The people who walk in darkness shall see a great light” because “a child is born to us, a son is given to us.”

Titus 2:11-14 
The letter of Titus says that in Jesus Christ, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people.”

Luke 2:1-14
Luke tells the beloved story of the birth of Jesus and the announcement of his birth to shepherds with their flocks in the fields.


O Lord, or King and Savior! Let us celebrate this festival without false ideas, but with our hearts open to receive your Word, your promise, your commandment. Our grumbles and doubts, our errors and mistakes, our stubbornness and defiance, should trouble us even during these days of job, because they trouble you. But as we rejoice at your birth in the world, we ask you to accept us and uplift us as we are….

We remember before you all our brothers and sisters who are troubled and confused, who are sick in body or mind, who lack the material means of survival. And we trust that in you the gospel of freedom may be proclaimed more cheerfully and joyfully….

And now may we have a good Christmas. Let us look forward beyond the bright lights of our Christmas decorations towards the dawning of your eternal light.

—Karl Barth (1886-1968)


Encountering the text:

There is a sense in which, on this Sunday, which is also Christmas Day, that all of this Sunday’s Christmas texts are better sung than said. We will find in the assigned lections, all three, no 
attempt to mount an argument. Reasonable, prosaic speech is laid aside because only highly metaphorical, poetic speech will do. Isaiah sings to the captives of God’s deliverance when God will work “righteousness and justice” for them (Isa 9:7). To whom do the angels first appear with the announcement of good news? To poor shepherds living without shelter in the fields. The angels sing to them, “Glory to God in heaven…” (Luke 2:14) because God is revealed to be the one who not only loves but also stirs, acts, and saves.

Perhaps this Sunday’s proclamation will be content to take a backseat to the music, to allow the congregation plenty of time to sing the beloved, joyous songs of Christmas. Unlike many Sundays in the church’s year, the truth that is before us this Sunday is truth that demands to be joyously sung rather than laboriously argued. 

Still, we must preach, but we will want our preaching to be complementary to the joyful truth that is given to us and to the whole world in the advent of the Christ. All of this Sunday’s texts speak of the appearance of God, of God turned toward us—we who could not turn toward God. Something has happened. An event has occurred. Titus sets the proper laudatory tone: “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11). God has not just loved us; God has appeared to us (Titus 2:11). God Almighty has refused to stay obscure, relegated to heaven above but rather came among us: “He gave himself for us in order to rescue us…”(Titus 2:14). Our most earnest prayers have been heard—God with us. 

And what text is more beloved than this Sunday’s Gospel? The angel’s announcement to the lowly shepherds, “living in the fields,” are words that we must find a way to announce in our sermons this Sunday: “I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people” (Luke 2:10). All people.

In our preaching today, we may have a challenge in that unlike some Sundays, this Sunday our people believe that they already know and understand the significance of this day. In a way, they do understand. And yet we will want to let the assigned texts help us to expand our sense of the “true meaning of Christmas,” to lift our proclamation above the hackneyed and the expected into the area of joyful, appreciative surprise at the scope of this event that has happened to us. Our joy is reflexive, in response to something that has happened, an event that is not of our own direction—the incarnation. In the advent of Jesus Christ, God is fully revealed to be the one who is the full, perfect revelation of the whole truth about God. God is not distant, aloof, high and lifted up. God is a babe in a manger, the light coming into our darkness. When we sing those joyful words from Handle’s Messiah, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa 9:6), we celebrate that God located, became specific and definite, unveiled, revealed in Jesus, the “newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). 

Isaiah announces that the light that shines on “the people walking in darkness” (Isa 9:2). God has not left us to stumble along as best we can. God loves us enough to come alongside us and to do something decisive about the problem between us and God. 

The joy that we feel this day is that which arises in response to the proclamation of “a great assembly of the heavenly forces.” “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” 

The joy we feel is not a personal, private, isolated individual joy. It is joy for all. Wonderful news for all people.

Proclaiming the text:

I’ll admit that on many Sundays, church is a place where we come together and hear bad news. Perhaps you are able to get through your week avoiding the news, choosing not to watch the evening news on TV, refusing to download the latest news on your computer, knowing that the news is bound to be depressing.

In fact, a few years ago I saw a list of things you can do to improve your mental health. One of the things you can do is refuse to watch your local news cast!

If you manage to avoid depressing, bad news Monday through Saturday, if you manage to show up in church on a Sunday, in my sermon I’ll deliver the news you’ve been avoiding. “Good morning church. Let me point out to you the sad signs of our sin that you may have overlooked or refused to see. Poverty. Sickness. Growing gap between rich and poor. The climate crisis. Rising sea levels. The next pandemic.

On and on with the bad news. And one reason why the bad news is so depressing is that so much of this is out of your control. Say you are one of those people who worry deeply about climate change and the way we have despoiled the earth and poisoned our air and water. The scientists say we need to act now. Half of them say we’ve already waited too late to do much about it. Eat less red meet. Get an all-electric car. Do your bit. 

Alas, your bit isn’t enough to make much impact on the bad news that looms before us.

It’s depressing. Feeling good about yourself, grateful to be alive, enjoying your world? Come to church. We’ll fix that!

Until a day like this one. We come to church. We open up the scriptures to find that, though there’s lots of bad news to be confronted, all three of this Sunday’s lessons will have none of it. Merry Christmas. The news this day is all good. 

And though it might be tempting for me to point to evidence of some of your weakness, bad habits, wrong ideas and lousy attitudes, the scripture’s word to us this day is one of pure, unrestrained, full-throated, robust joy. 

This is not a day for sad songs or mournful lament. This Sunday (and what a joy it is to have that rare occurrence when Christmas falls on Sunday!) God’s people gather to rejoice.

What’s the source of our joy? We’ve summoned forth a more positive, upbeat attitude? We have decided to be optimistic rather than pessimistic about human prospects?

No. The joy this day is not of our devising. It does not arise from us but rather comes to us. The joy we feel—despite any other sad or depressing news to the contrary—is the joy that arises when we receive good news. 

If you get a piece of good news—say a phone call that tells you that the hospital test shows that you are cancer-free, or that your daughter has just passed her big exam in college, or that the boss has just given you a raise, or that the job you were hoping for is now yours—you won’t have to be ordered, “Rejoice!”

That’s what the word “gospel” means. Good news. Glad tidings rather than sad chidings, as I heard a preacher put it. The gospel is good news about something that’s happened, events that we don’t come up with on our own. Here’s the news: God Almighty, the one who created the earth that we have despoiled, the good Creator who created humanity only to have humanity—time and again—turn against God, this God has come to us as one of us in order to do something about the problem of us. Rejoice.

Oh we tried to climb up to God, to lift ourselves out of our hemmed-in humanity, to clamber up to the divine. Good News: though we could never get up to God, God has climbed down to us. Rejoice. 

The good news is that Jesus wants more than a “personal relationship” with you. He is Lord, satisfied with nothing less than being light for the whole darkened world. The good news we’ve heard in Jesus Christ this day is good news for all. Therefore, our gospel word to the world is not one of condemnation, judgement, or criticism. It’s a word that enables us to say to the whole, fallen, suffering, hurting, fearful world, “Rejoice!” 

Sad when church becomes a place where we merely point to all the evidence that we need saving—rather than a place joyfully to celebrate that we are saved. Sad when sermons degenerate into a catalogue of all the ways we fall short of who God intends for us to be—rather than a song to the God who comes among us to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves. Sad when people hear the word “church” they think of a place where you go to be told everything that’s wrong with them and the world rather than a people who celebrate how God us made things right between us and God.

Well, let’s be done with my sermon so we can get on to the serious business of this day—your joyful singing. There are Sundays when you are given a tough assignment by Jesus like loving your enemies or praying for those who persecute you. This Sunday Jesus gives you a gracious invitation: Rejoice!

Merry Christmas. What the angel said to the shepherds, I say to you so that you may go forth from here and merrily say it to all, “Rejoice! For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior—Christ the Lord.” Rejoice.


Relating the text:

Our challenge has always been not to pervert God’s good news into the bad news of just another scheme for saving ourselves by ourselves. Thus, God’s good news implies the bad news of judgment upon all human attempts to hoist ourselves up to God. Good news can be bad news: it all depends on what you’re up to when you get the news.

Ask people “What is the gospel?” many will reply, “I must believe that Jesus died for my sins so that when I die my soul can go to heaven.” Jesus becomes the passive automaton who was briefly among us and trudged to his death so that we win our ticket to eternity. Too much is left out: Jesus’s life is detached from his death, and Christ’s salvation 
becomes your personal quiz that, if passed, leads to the optimum individual destination. Do this, God will give you that, our relationship with God a transaction that’s dependent upon our astute believing, wise deciding, or good behaving. This, good news?

Good news; our relationship with God is God’s self-assigned task. “This is our message—God is light!”  What must you do? Let Jesus shine on you so that he can then shine in the world through you.

Once God promised, “I will be your God and you will be my people,” the direction was cast for human history. First God elects Israel, not because of any positive quality in Israel, but simply because “God loves you.” Chosen not for privilege, Israel is given a task: to be a light shining forth to all nations, a showcase of what God can do once God elects a people.

God’s universality is accomplished through particularity. In the story of election, God starts small—Abraham and Sarah—expands to a people, Israel, then contracts into a Jew from Nazareth, 
enlarges to twelve disciples,  then seventy,  exploding into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.  A few chosen for the universal good of all. 

“I’m going to take back my beloved but wayward creation,” says the electing God. “Guess who’s going to help me?”

Mary. Mother of Jesus, who bore the Son of God into the world.

When a man dressed in white appears before Mary—not a gynecologist—Mary responds, “Haven’t a clue what’s going on here, but nevertheless, I am willing to be part of it.”  Therefore, Mary is known as the very first disciple, the first to consent to be swept up in the purposes of God in Jesus Christ. Because she said yes, Mary makes Jesus possible the salvation of the world; therefore, she’s a model for the rest of us.

Mary was honored by the church for her docile submission to God’s inscrutable will. I praise her as the first to be jolted by the promises of God and say, “I don’t know where this is headed, but count me in.”

—Will Willimon, God Turned Toward Us: The ABCs of the Christian Faith (Abingdon, 2021)

Savior. Who Jesus is and what he does.

When Jesus was born an angel announced that this baby is the “savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Wrapped in rags he sure didn’t look like Lord of all, personification of God’s great rescue operation. God becoming human “for us and our salvation” as the creed puts it, is God being most godly, God in action. Savior, applied to Jesus, claims that what Jesus does is God doing that which only God can do, evoking our indignant, “Who is this who forgives sins?”  

The lonely love Jesus as a good friend. Jesus as the highest and best of humanity, a moral exemplar, is adored by we who think ourselves as competent, responsible, and resourceful. Jesus the social activist is the favorite of those who long for a handle on power. Jesus the Savior is best understood by the done-in, disoriented, drowning, dying, and desperate…. 

The gospel is about a God who is for us and our salvation,  the mighty acts of God in history for the liberation of the cosmos so that the world might be returned to God. Savior is a name for God busy getting what God wants, redeeming the whole cosmos, including you, retrieving those whom you would as soon see lost as found. 

—Will Willimon, God Turned Toward Us: The ABCs of the Christian Faith (Abingdon, 2021)

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