Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Preaching on Christmas Eve

This year, for the first Christmas Eve in twenty-four, I'm not preparing an homily for worship. As the years I was preparing one went on I remember wondering to myself, with varying degrees of anxiety, what on earth I could possibly say that would be new and fresh and engaging about the same story from the same readings to a church full of exhausted parents wrangling kids and relatives or were there out of sufferance for mum's or granny's sake. And how could I reach the people I saw in the pews only once a year (or twice if they were full C and E's) and for whom I secretly harboured the hope that that year I would finally nail them with the brilliant and incontrovertible observation that would finally cause the light of incandescent, church-going faith to come on?

The Year I Dried

One year, at St Francis, Airdrie, I dried. I stepped into the pulpit, looked at my notes, found that I had somehow, with my own hand, written them in a strange language which made no sense at all to my fevered Christmas Evish eyes. I'm not sure whether that was the year when the acolyte fainted, full-length, like a felled Christmas tree, beside the altar because of too much inhaling of the blue fog of experimental incense that hung over us all. No matter, after she had been removed (if that was, indeed, the same year), there I stood, struck dumb before the waiting, expectant, albeit writhing throng. No-more-shopping-days-left, no more time to prepare and, alas, no more coherent synapses twinkling in my sugar-plummed mind. Desperate, I stammered something out about how could I possibly add anything useful to what we had already heard in the Scriptures and the worship so far and stumbled back to the table to continue with the Eucharist. The rest of the service was a blur as I imagined a delegation from the Vestry petitioning the Bishop to have me moved on to some ministry far removed from having anything to do with people and important events such as Christmas Eve. But then, after the service, no one seemed to have noticed my public homiletic nakedness, some even thought it was profound. Sigh.

Some Things I Learned About Preaching on Christmas Eve

  1. Tell them about Jesus.
  2. It's not entirely up to me. See above…
  3. Put it all on paper or on the iPad screen. Always write my Christmas Eve (and Easter) homily or sermon out. For me, the season is too fraught for attempts at extemporaneous cleverness. 
  4. Keep it simple. Most people in the room, especially those with kids, are seriously distracted. 
  5. Keep it short. See above…
  6. Encouragement is better than guilt. That they are there at all is a wonder these days. Try and make them feel welcome—welcomed home.  
  7. Tell them about Jesus.

Some Christmas Eve Attempts That Did Get Delivered 

I can't remember why I didn't post 2009 and 2010—maybe I didn't like them.

2007

(Not Really) A Sermon for Christmas Eve: What Would Jesus Say?

2008

A Sermon for Christmas Eve: with reference to Isaiah 62.6-12, Titus 3.4-7 and Luke 2.1-20

2011

What If God Loves You?: a Short Sermon for Christmas Eve - with Reference to Isa 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14 and Luke 2:1-20

2012

Registration: a Christmas Eve Homily with reference to Luke 2:1-7

2013

Jesus and Why You and I Are Here Tonight: a Short Homily for Christmas Eve