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The end of November is the time I tend to think about Christmas.

It begins with looking at all the TV adverts from the supermarkets. They always stimulate my imagination and often give me an idea for a Christmas sermon.

It is also the time when I make my Christmas puddings. I spent two hours yesterday evening assembling and mixing all the ingredients. When the mixing bowl is full and the ingredients have all been mixed together the aroma is wonderful.

Yet no batch of puddings is the same because there are so many variables: the size of the eggs, the juiciness of the lemons, the plumpness of the fruit and the dryness of the breadcrumbs.

It got me thinking about the variables that have an impact on the preaching event.

There is the moment in which we preach.

I remember one Sunday morning when we were holding a baptism service. We had to begin the service with an announcement that one of members had died suddenly in his early 60s. It was one of those large intake of breath moments that stop you in your tracks. Sometimes it is difficult to get beyond moments like that. Yet the service of baptism brought us to the open pool and the symbolism of death, burial and glorious resurrection. The songs helped us to focus on our Christian hope and the planned sermon on John 3:16 spoke with real resonance as we had already had some a stark reminder of eternity.

Then there is the variable of the mood of the congregation.

It is possible for a congregation to be ill-prepared, distracted and inattentive. The persistent cough, the baby crying, the mobile ringing can all change the mood.

Last Sunday evening I was preaching in a church which was fairly full and the congregation was really attentive. I felt like Peter at Cornelius’s house, which Luke describes in Acts 10:32:

“Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

With that attitude in a congregation it is a joy to preach. I don’t think that congregations realise how much they contribute to the preaching event by their anticipation of the message and their attention to what is said. Maybe preachers need to remind the congregation of this more often?

Thirdly, there is the preacher.

Will they deliver the goods in the sermon? Will the anticipation be worth it? Is there something that grasps and maintains their attention? There are so many variables here. How is the preacher in body, mind and spirit? The late or sleepless night, the anxiety or being out of touch with God can all take the edge off our preaching.

But God in his mercy overrides our frailty and flaws to speak to a congregation despite us, rather than because of us. Ah, that is something that never varies. God is gracious.

“By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Photo by Nik on Unsplash

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