Christmas Eve is rough on preachers; at least for this one.
The atmosphere for a truly great sermon is all there: scenery, families, music, lighting, Scripture, attendance, joy, and a holy hope in every heart and on every face. But my Christmas Eve sermons (33 and counting) are never equal to this setting. They always seem weak and small when uttered in the midst of the amazing realities of the Christmas Story. It never quite capitalizes on the great moment. Maybe that is because it cannot.
Christmas Eve might very well speak for itself, in a way. It might be prudent to let the greatness of the moment stand with only a few observations from a meager preacher.
But probably not. I’ll probably work and sweat bullets over the opportunity to deliver a knock-out punch in the 12th minute of a Christmas Eve message.
I heard a sermon 40 years ago that did it for me. I read it and it set the gold standard of Christmas sermons. I have never lived up to it.
Lancelot Andrewes on the Incarnation
On Christmas morning in 1606, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (I wish my first name were Lancelot!) explains why the Bible shows the pure divinity of Jesus and the pure humanity of Jesus. He outlines, in a creative and memorable way the doctrine of the Divinity and Humanity of Jesus. It is, as I say, the gold standard for me.
Lancelot Andrewes is one of our own. He was a Bishop in the Church of England and served the Diocese of Ely, Chichester, and Winchester. He distinguished himself and a scholar and a preacher. His sermons and his grammar sound a bit antique to modern ears. Without intense concentration and reading it aloud, it is hard to grasp. But his sermons will yield treasures for the diligent.
Here is an excerpt, a knock-out description of the Incarnation. I have paraphrased his language to sift through its complexity. The original text is reprinted below and can be found here.
All (Jesus’) life, you see both His divine nature and human nature. At His birth, you see a cradle for a child and a star for the divine Son; the shepherds honor the baby boy, the choir of angels celebrate the birth of God’s Son. In His life you see Him hungry, showing His human nature and yet, still feeding the 5,000 showing His Divine abilities. At His death, He dies on the cross like any man, and yet opens up Paradise as only the Son of God could.
Why are both of these natures found in one person?
(Because) Our nature had sinned and therefore our humanity should suffer—that’s the reason why the savior was born as a human child. But even though our nature should…our nature could not bear it; it not bear the weight of God’s wrath due because of sin. But the Son of God could…and thus He was born a Son of God.
The one ought…but could not; the other could, but ought not.
Therefore, either alone would not serve, they must be joined, the Child of Humanity and the Son of God. But because He was the Child, He could not have suffered, it would be too great. God has no shoulders; but we do! But ours are too weak to sustain the weight of our own sin.
Therefore, that He might be liable, He was a Child; that He might be able, He was the Son; that He might be both, He was both.”
There it is: Beautiful. Balanced. Biblical. If I may say so: Anglican in every way. May all preachers be so clear, clever and clean in their presentation!
The original text read:
All along His life you will see these two. At His birth, a cratch (cradle) for the Child, a star for the Son; a company of shepherds viewing the Child, a choir of angels celebrating the Son. In His life, hungry Himself, to shew the nature of the Child; yet feeding five thousand to shew the power of the Son. At His death, dying on the cross as the Son of Adam; at the same time disposing of Paradise, as the Son of God.
If you ask, why both these?
…our nature had sinned, that therefore ought to suffer; the reason, why a Child. But that which our nature should, our nature could not bear; not the weight of God’s wrath due to our sin: but the Son could; the reason why a Son. The one ought but could not, the other could but ought not. Therefore, either alone would not serve; they must be joined, Child and Son. But that He was a Child, He could not have suffered. But that he was a Son, He had sunk in His suffering, and not gone through with it. God had no shoulders; man had, but too weak to sustain such a weight. Therefore, that He might be liable, He was a Child, that He might be able He was the Son; that He might be both, He was both.
May the blessings of God be upon all preachers as they prepare.
(This post is an expanded version of a post from December 2014. Check out this related post: Going Back to Church for Christmas Eve.)
Canon David has over 35 years of local congregational ministry, diocesan and national involvement, leadership, and ministry experience and is the founder of Leaderworks. He was the founding Rector/Pastor, Christ Church, Plano and currently serves as the Strategic Leader and Dean, Diocese of C4SO.