When I started this blog yesterday, I had not anticipated that on my visit to teach at Spurgeon’s College today I would find the statue of the founder sporting a festive hat!
In the past week I have enjoyed reading some extracts from the Christmas preaching of the 19th century Baptist Preacher CH Spurgeon. The book Good News of Great Joy is a delight to read and has given me a dazzling array of fresh insights into who Jesus is and why he came into the world.
In the introduction Sinclair Ferguson explains something of Spurgeon’s approach to preaching at Christmas:
“Spurgeon was reared within the context of the old post-reformation tradition that regarded the observation of Christmas with deep suspicion.
That tradition saw no reason to think that Jesus had been born on December 25th and rejected the idea that the day was especially ‘holy.’
At the same time, he realised … that cultural occasions, including religious ones, provide their own opportunities to make Christ’s gospel known.
He did not always preach on ‘Christmas texts’ on Christmas Sunday.
But living among the teeming multitudes of the six million inhabitants of the industrial metropolis of London, did not despise the opportunity for ordinary men, women, and children to enjoy a little extra leisure and some festive cheer.
Indeed, with all the boyish enthusiasm of a 21 one year old, he tells us in an early sermon that ‘he wished there were ten or a dozen Christmas Days … Christmas is far more important than cultural festivities.”
Yet Ferguson adds that, “Spurgeon did not make the often-repeated mistake of only warning people about being caught up in the in the commercialisation of the season. He helped prevent that by filling their hearts and minds with what Christmas is really about, namely the coming of Jesus Christ into the world to be our Saviour.”
(Sinclair Ferguson Good Tidings of Great Joy p.vi-vii)
Christmas preaching comes with its dilemmas:
When to start?
Some preachers do not start until the Sunday before Christmas.
This avoids the feeling that is Christmas every day for a month!
Yet some preachers, especially in places where there are lots of students, find that a carol service in early December catches everyone and avoids the rush and the bugs.
Where to focus?
It is easy to allow our preaching agenda to be driven by secular expectations, sentimentality, and novelty.
Preachers do need to keep an eye of cultural developments but work hard at keeping Jesus as the central focus.
As I have written here before, one of the first things I do in my Christmas preparation, after praying, is to look at all the Christmas adverts.
They tend to capture something of the mood of the moment and usually a way into the Christmas message.
The 2023 crop is a bit thin but the M&S one is so dreadful that creative preachers will be able to use it as a launching pad into a very different picture of Christmas.
How to keep going year after year?
“There is an abiding fullness of truth in Christ; after you have heard it for fifty years, you see more of its fullness than you did before … I will defy any one man to hold together a large congregation, year after year, with any other subject but Christ Jesus.”
May Jesus fill your hearts, homes and sermons with great joy this Christmas.