It would seem that the mission to keep the Lord Jesus Christ the center of the upcoming Christmas season should not be a big deal. After all, we are all about Jesus Christ: we walk with Him, love Him, serve Him and preach Him. If anyone should be able to focus on the Lord this time of year it ought to be us. Right?
But let’s be honest for a moment: we are flesh. We are weak. As I was reminded recently, our biggest problem is not the “world out there” that is in opposition to all that Christmas means. Our biggest problem is not corporate America that bans Christ from the word “Christmas” or the local town council that bans nativity scenes from the town square. Our biggest problem is us. My biggest problem is me. I sin.
I spend too much money on Christmas presents. I spend more time reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol rather than Gospel accounts of the Lord’s birth. I get pulled into the fuzzy emotionalism, the sentimentality, and the nostalgia that this culture (aka “the world”) sugar coats this holy-day with. Christmas becomes, for me, too much about It’s a Wonderful Life and too little about the advent of God made flesh as He began His victory march to Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday and His return. Christmas becomes about big elaborate feasts with family rather than the Lord’s table (after all, what are we celebrating this time of year if it is not the fact symbolized by the bread: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us?). If you are like me, we put our theology on the shelf this time of year and end up looking more like Joel Osteen living our best lives now rather than the Lord who calls us to come and die.
How do we keep Christ in Christmas as evangelists? Not by protesting the actions of a post-modern world that does post-modern things. Not by succumbing to a materialistic world that is driven by marketing. We can only do it if we purposefully covenant to meditate on the theological meaning of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and then do something about those meditations. In other words, apply that meditation to your evangelism.
Meditation is a dangerous word in our culture. New Age practices like TM, yoga, and centering are what most people think of when they read the word “meditation”. In short, the world says meditation is the act of emptying your mind, either as a stress reliever or as a channel to discovering some new, previously undiscovered truth. The Biblical conception of meditation is far different: in fact, it is the opposite. Biblical meditation focuses on filling the mind with the revealed truth of the Word of God.
The Puritans had a unique way of doing this. Joel Beeke writes of this in his excellent work, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2004) in a chapter entitled “The Puritan Practice of Meditation”. He cites Thomas Watson who said, “A Christian without meditation is like a soldier without arms, or a workman without tools. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost” (79). How did they meditate? When they read the Scriptures, they asked questions of the text and (much to the chagrin of the Emergent Church) they answered them.
The memory is slippery. My slippery memory is what gets me into trouble this time of year. I am more apt to remember Christmases past with loved ones than the advent of the One who first loved me that I might love Him. This is where meditation comes in.
You don’t have to be a theologian to do this; you might just be the average family. The other day my family was working on the church memory verse for the month. We were having some trouble memorizing it: “Great indeed we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
I realized that my kids did not understand the text, so we meditated on the text. We asked it some questions and looked to the Bible for the answers. Why is Jesus called the “mystery of godliness”? What does the word “mystery” mean? When was Jesus manifested in the flesh? How was He vindicated by the Spirit? When was He seen by angels? Who proclaimed (or proclaims) Him among the nations? What does the word “world” mean, and not mean, in this context? How was Jesus taken up in glory? What does glory mean?
I’m not going to give you the answers to these questions, but we had a precious twenty minutes in the van talking about the Scriptures and the depth of this verse. After that, we all had an easier time of memorizing the verse. Why? We understood it and could follow the flow of the Spirit of God’s statement on Jesus. By the way, memorization should not be the rote repetition of words but it is meditation on the text.
When was the last Christmas season you spent asking questions of the texts that speak of Christ’s birth with your family? They have become such a part of our culture that the Charlie Brown Christmas Special includes part of Luke 2, quoted by Linus during the Christmas play! When I was pastoring, I used to dread Christmas because everyone was so familiar with the Gospel accounts. I would rather preach texts that people were not familiar with or that people did not “expect” me to preach.
Please let me encourage you to do this. Spend some time slowly going over Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 2:1-38 and ask many questions of the text. Use a study Bible and chase down the cross references; the Thompson Chain Reference Bible is especially helpful for this. Pray that the Lord would reveal Himself in a deeper way as you meditate on the Word of God.
But don’t limit yourself to the typical Christmas passages. Have you ever considered that John 1:1-18 is a “Christmas” passage? It is the doctrine of the incarnation; it is the theological side of what we celebrate this time of year. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Why is Jesus called “the Word”? What is His glory? How did the apostles see it? Will we ever see His manifest glory? How was it revealed at Christ’s birth? What is grace? Truth? How is His glory “full” of these two things?
We all want to guard our children against the heresies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. One important way to do that is to take advantage of Christmas time in order to teach them that Jesus’ existence did not begin in the manger. He is eternal God, the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. Meditate on the passages that deal with Jesus’ pre-existence. Passages such as Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1 are important texts to ask questions of.
Consider meditating on the Messianic prophecies; specifically, the prophecies that foretell the Lord’s birth. Passages such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:2. Use your study Bible to see where the various details given in the Gospels of the Lord’s birth were prophesied and ask questions of those texts. It is equally important to look up the fulfillments to these texts in the New Testament to see how the Holy Spirit led the authors to view these texts as prophecies of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A word of encouragement to the overwhelmed: you don’t have to do all of this in one season. Perhaps this year you will focus on Luke 2 and Hebrews 1 and next year you will focus on John 1 and some of the Messianic prophecies. Split the verses up over the month of December. Spend some time preparing before you sit with your family so the time is guided and doesn’t ramble.
This is just an outline of a few ideas on what to meditate on this Christmas. Fill your mind with these Scriptures and lead your family to do the same. This practice is a protection against the materialism and pluralism of our culture.
We all love great writing, great acting, and great music. Every year the major networks and cable stations replay the classic Christmas movies, some of them do marathon replayings of different movies. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” is a pop culture cliché because of the popularity of The Christmas Story (which ironically has nothing to do with Christmas). Most of us could name more than a dozen favorite Christmas classics.
When it comes to meditation, reading books by human authors in no way compares to reading the Word of God. But as Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves should think so little of what He has revealed to others.”
But do you know the real Christmas classics? Most Christians are not familiar with Wilbur Smith’s three volume (reprinted as one volume) work Great Sermons on the Birth, Death and Resurrection of Christ. In the original edition, the first volume was dedicated to nothing but sermons on the Birth of Christ. Here you will find sermons by Charles Spurgeon, Alexander Whyte, Martin Luther, G. Campbell Morgan and others. There is real food for the soul here and will provide the street evangelist and open-air preacher with ideas for springboards in street preaching. Reading like this is a sure guard against sounding like every other street preacher.
The same author wrote an interesting chapter in a book called Chats from a Minister’s Library called “Five Famous Poetic Interpretations of Our Lord’s Nativity”. Most of these many will be unfamiliar with, but this is our own loss. I am going to reproduce this article on my personal blog at www.informedevangelist.blogspot.com since this book is out of print and hard to find. This kind of reading is different than sermon reading because now we enter into the realm of Christian literature. True literature, as opposed to the piles of slickly marketed Christian fiction in most Christian bookstores today.
While we are talking about books, may I ask you what is the greatest work on Jesus Christ you have ever read? Many of us have feet of shelf space devoted to the writings of Ray Comfort and other evangelistic trainers. But when was the last time you read something truly great on the person and work of Jesus? Sadly, most pastors are not even aware of some of the best books on the life of Christ and their Christology sections are notable by their absence. If I can recommend one to you, which has much material on the birth of our Lord, it is The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim. Edersheim was a brilliant Messianic Jewish believer of the late 19th century. This is a scholarly work, but is readable by those who are not used to reading theological works. Edersheim provides amazing background information from the Jewish traditional writings which help us understand much of what Jesus addressed in His teachings and sheds light on many of the actions of our Lord recorded in the Gospels. A study of his chapters on the birth of our Lord will give you a deep understanding of the issues from a Jewish Christian perspective.
Have you ever listened to Handel’s Messiah? This year, instead of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” why not get a copy of this and listen to it? There is a popular Youtube video circulating right now that shows the Philadelphia Opera Company singing the Hallelujah chorus in Macy’s to a pipe organ accompaniment. Most Christians who have seen this video have wept (including me) to see the deity of Christ proclaimed so beautifully and boldly in public. Listen to this and worship Christ in addition to your meditations from the Scriptures.
So we’ve gone from Scriptural meditations as a family to the realm of classic sermons, literature and in-depth Bible study. You have been able to train your mind to reject the tinsel and trappings of what corporate America wants you to think Christmas is to what it truly is: Jesus Christ. Now, as an evangelist, especially as an open-air preacher, you actually have something to say.
You see, too many of us go out onto the streets with stock sermons in tow, or nothing in particular to say. We go out and follow a presentation or we might read a text and then revert right back to our presentation. Do you think this is how George Whitefield or John Wesley prepared their open-air messages? Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If you have nothing in your heart but countless ten minute Youtube clips from a favorite open-air preacher, you are going to sound like a countless ten minute Youtube clip from your favorite open-air preacher, complete with their inflections, mannerisms, and methods. Break out of that box.
Now that your heart is full, what do you do as an evangelist this Christmas season? Since your heart is full of the great truths of the incarnation, preach those truths! Read John 1:1-18 in the open-air. Explain it. Go to the cross and preach the Cross as well as the manger. Preach Luke 2:11 and explain what Jesus came to save us from. Use the Christmas carols as a springboard and launch into the glories of Jesus Christ from your meditation and study.
Preach from a heart that is warmed to the truths of the incarnation and the Person of Jesus Christ and your preaching will be warm with the presence of the Holy Spirit. One of His works is to exalt the Person of Jesus. Do you want your preaching to be anointed? We all do. Then exalt Jesus this Christmas out of the overflow of your heart and watch the Spirit of God attend your preaching with Christ-exalting power (John 16:12-15).