The biblical aspects of Christmas are so familiar, I know pastors struggle with what to preach this time of year. And in good churches, it’s not just the stories of how Mary and Joseph found out, the shepherds, wise men, and Nativity scene content. Even the passages with Zechariah and Elizabeth and Simeon and Anna have been dissected, appreciated, and exposited numerous times.
I imagine if pastors struggle this way, then people in the pews probably do, too. We read and hear the same things so often, we stand to stop thinking about them purposefully. Granted, I do not advocate in any manner to stop preaching, reading, and meditating on the common stories. We need to be disciplined enough and live in grace enough to not let familiarity breed contempt with the Bible. These stories are crucial to the Gospel.
Yet at the same time, there is a lot of Christmas content in the Bible that goes beyond Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 that we may overlook. And we should consider reading and thinking about these things this time of year as well. I can only speak for myself here but the things I discuss below I have not heard many sermons on and have not meditated on much in my life.
Today I want to encourage our readers to examine my list of overlooked Christmas topics. And to consider making your own. Here are five I have been thinking about this year:
The Contexts of The Prophecies
Christians typically know Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6 quite well. But how well do we really know Isaiah 7-9? Do we know what King Ahaz and Judah had done when we think about Isaiah 7:14? Have we read Isaiah 8:21-22 and connected that to Isaiah 9:1-7? When I studied (and I mean truly studied) Isaiah 7-9 this year, the Gospel was magnified on those two Isaiah “Christmas” verses a thousand times. Because human evil and darkness are contrasted with God’s goodness and the light of Jesus’s birth in these chapters (see Matthew 4:15-16 as well).
We also know that Bethlehem was prophesied as Jesus’s birthplace in Micah 5. But do we know what else is happening in Micah 5? Or Micah 4? Or that the way Micah 5:2 is quoted in Matthew 2 actually changes the wording, and in some sense the meaning of it?
These are the kinds of things that can really jumpstart someone’s faith in a time of year when it is easy to get bogged down in the familiarity of the “Christmas Play” version of the story.
The Fact God Used Dreams So Frequently
Just as with Solomon in the “Wisdom” passage in 1 Kings 3, it is supremely fascinating to me that God used dreams to talk to his servants that first Christmas. Because he didn’t have to do that. God sent Gabriel to talk to Mary while she was awake. Same with Zechariah in Luke 1.
Yet with Joseph, God spoke through dreams. Every time—the promise of Jesus, the flight to Egypt, and the time to come home. Same with the wise men. Why did God do this? I do not think the answer to that is easy since the Bible doesn’t spell it out. As such it’s a great theme to think about and research and discuss at Christmastime. The dreams drive the plot, so to speak.
I have already written thousands of words on the Matthew genealogy so I will not repeat that here. But of all things Matthew could start with, he didn’t start with a birth announcement. He started with Jesus’s ancestors. Luke waits a little bit in his book, but he still makes it prominent. Studying those names is crucial to understanding who Jesus was and why he came to earth.
Furthermore, the genealogies in Matthew and Luke are not the same, and the differences have confounded Christians for centuries. I do not believe they contradict in any sort of meaningful way, but the answer to why they are different is not a neat and tidy one. Researching and meditating on this is a great use of quiet time at Christmas to me.
The Teachings of Galatians 4
I may be wrong and Galatians 4:1-7 could be a common Christmas passage that pastors preach, and Christians read and meditate on. But in my perspective, it is woefully underutilized. Because it’s not in the Gospels and part of the basic narrative of Christ’s birth. But it has a lot to say about the birth as far as doctrine. Things like it being an issue of God’s timing (Just as Christ’s death was according to Romans 5) and what it means for our adoption as children of God.
We love the characters and action of the Matthew and Luke chapters. But what Christ’s birth means about God’s sovereignty and our faith is of utmost importance. Galatians 4 gives us much to celebrate and treasure in our hearts.
Non-Traditional Christmas Hymns Have Christmas Lyrics
Two of my church’s favorites are “King of Kings” and “In Christ Alone”. I love both songs because they do not simply tell the story of Good Friday and Easter. Both have Christmas in them. And while I don’t think Christians consider the two holidays to be rivals, they are not put together as often as I think they could. These songs do that, as I’m sure many others do. I adore these lyrics.
To fulfill the law and prophets
To a virgin came the word
From a throne of endless glory
To a cradle in the dirt
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save
I love that the latter especially calls Jesus a “gift”. What Christmas imagery!
So that’s my list. Comments are welcomed, especially if you have others to add that you value that are outside of the familiar.
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