Since Christians began celebrating Christ's birth, preachers have given a Christmas sermon. For nearly 2,000 years, the story has remained the same, yet it continues to spark the imaginations of Christians around the world: the creator became a creature, the mighty became weak. And through the Incarnation, God redeemed the world. The story has brought Christians, since the first Christmas, to wonder and awe at the miracle.
Preaching the Christmas Gospel is a collection of 13 Christmas sermons and hymns from Jerome in 380 to John Calvin in 1550. Online assistant editor Rob Moll talked to John D. Witvliet, coeditor of the collection. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and teaches at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary.
How have Christmas sermons changed and how have they stayed the same over the last 2,000 years?
The constant themes in Christmas sermons are the centrality of the nativity narrative and the linking of that with Old Testament prophecy. A big difference from today is that the main point of many older sermons is to invite us to worship. The theme is doxological, "Come, let us adore him." A lot of preaching today drives to practical questions of Christian living. While that is important, what struck us is the act of sheer wonder at what the Incarnation is.
How does the story of the Incarnation draw us to worship?
There is so much mystery in it. How exactly did it work when the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and made this physical reality happen? What an amazing window into God's character we find in this act of emptying himself. These are themes that we can't comprehend. We can think in their direction and we can try to explain [the Incarnation], but poetry is the best way to get ...1
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