I have always loved Christmas. I love the madness and the magic – and the mystery – of it. And I love Christmas worship in all its myriad moods, through which emerges, once more, its central, unchanging truth; the good news of a great joy: Immanuel: God is with us.

The challenge is, of course, to keep the message fresh; declaring and exploring a timeless truth in ways that are engaging and new, which help folk to discover new aspects of that truth for themselves. Everyone in any kind of ministry knows that by the time you’ve done something twice, it has become a tradition! Advent and Christmas are a time when people want to revisit traditions which are imbued with memory and meaning. Yet folk don’t want the ‘same old, same old’, trotted out every year, offering nothing new: no new engagement or new way of understanding the God who came into the world as a babe in Bethlehem and who comes into human lives still, by the Holy Spirit.

In approaching Christmas, the first thing for me is to dwell awhile in the Word. The prologue to John’s gospel is one of my favourite pieces of scripture and it’s always a delight to tarry there. Careful, attentive reading of scripture always yields new insight, new depth, and sometimes, even, a sermon idea (though this is not the main purpose!) At Christmas, as at other times of the year, we must attend to scripture and let God speak to us through it.

I then turn to the tales of shepherds, angels, wise men and the raw simplicity of the baby laid in Bethlehem’s manger. Then there are the ‘purple passages’ of the Old Testament, some of which provide their own soundtrack in my head from the Scots paraphrases to Handel’s Messiah and maybe even some annoying children’s Christmas choruses!

I read commentaries. Informed preaching, at any time of year, is no less than our people deserve. I look at liturgical material, old and new, before sitting down with my own blank sheet of paper in prayerful contemplation (and sometimes, prayerful panic!).

I can but wish this was all as leisurely as it sounds. Of course, it never is. The organist needs praise lists; nativity plays need rehearsed; there’s a crisis about the Christmas tree!

I think that through the years of my ministry I’ve learned to embrace the busyness (and even enjoy at least some of it). I also manage it carefully, so there is time to read some poetry and listen to some Christmas music. Some will be suitable for the exuberance of a families’ service early on Christmas Eve and others for the quiet of the midnight hour at a Watchnight service. Both in its preparation, and in its presentation, worship can be Spirit-filled and joyful, bringing refreshment through God’s gracious presence to minister and people alike.

We are not immune to the trappings of Christmas in the world around us – nor should we want to be. Being alert to the latest trends, the advertising tag-lines, the television specials often provides a new way into a sermon. They can offer a way of engaging with young people, leading them from what is current and familiar, to the ‘reason for the season’.

Lastly, if ever you feel jaded, exhausted or clean out of Christmas anticipation and joy, I recommend you go along to the Toddler Group, the Nursery or the Primary School.

At this special season the children exude an enthusiasm and excitement, a wonder and a joy which is always infectious. They will leave you refreshed and ready to ‘go again’, to tell out the greatness of the Lord and the wonder he has done.

May joy be yours as you prepare for another Christmas, and may the blessing of Immanuel be yours, as you worship and celebrate in this holy season.


Janet S Mathieson