Preaching the Christ at Christmas

By Dr. Steven Smith

The irony of the Christmas season is that Christ gets pushed out. That’s clear enough. It’s an observation that’s good to make to our people when we preach as we refocus their attention on the manger not the mall. But a little honesty forces me to admit that I often leave out the “real meaning of Christmas” in my preaching.

Admittedly, it’s kind of hard to get creative at Christmas. So, we try a lot of approaches: “Giving the best Gift,” “What Jesus wants for Christmas,” “How to Avoid Select Relatives at Christmas” (I actually haven’t heard that last one, but I dare you.) And in all of this, the explicit Gospel can get pushed around like green bean casserole on a child’s plate. People know the story but don’t feel its weight.

The irony that we are worshipping a homeless Messiah with gluttonous materialism is a little strange, but there is something stranger still. What is weird about this irony is that it is lost on most people. There is a hope for a euphoric future. You know, a time of peace on earth where all the people of the world can stop and sing a song of hope and harmony, like the iconic Coke commercial.

John Lennon expressed it best in his classic protest song, “Happy Christmas”:

A very merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it,
War is over now.

Yet in the first century, the people who were waiting for the Messiah were not waiting to end a fight but to start one. They wanted a military Messiah to come and end it all. And, they were right.

In fact, we might take some time to vindicate the Pharisees. They were right after all—a Warrior is coming. Sure we see the big picture they could not see, namely that the Messiah would first be a baby, die, resurrect and then return as a Warrior (Rev. 19:11-16). The religious zealots got the concept but not the timing. However, my feeling of superiority is tempered by the realization of my own misunderstandings.

They wanted the Warrior, so they could not accept a baby. We get so fixated on the baby, we can’t envision the Warrior. We love Jesus the man but not Christ the Warrior. They loved the Christ but were not sure about Jesus. Yet, the story of the precious baby has a very bloody end—yes, when Jesus spills His own blood but also a double yes when he spills the blood of others.

We are preaching Jesus Christ—that is, Jesus the coming Warrior Messiah. The word “Christ” is a derivative of the Greek Christos, which was the Greek way of expressing the Messiah. So, while we know that Jesus the Son of Mary was born, we must be reminded that the presence of Christ represented so much more. It represented the long awaited hope of justice.

In fact, while we are never commanded to celebrate the first advent of Christ, we are called multiple times to look for the second coming. We are commanded to “… set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). We are not surprised that there is no commandment to hang mistletoe and deck the halls. But we might be surprised that there is also no commandment to give gifts and sing “Silent Night.” What we are commanded to do is wait with bated breath for the Warrior-Messiah to come deliver us from this season of waiting.

But before all this would be a reality, Jesus had to be born. The birth was not the end of the story, but neither is the resurrection. So let’s take people from the cradle to the cross but also from the cross to the rule of Christ. That’s something to celebrate.

We are naturally curious as to what the first Christmas was like. We preachers are right to speculate in holy wonder while we paint the picture of the boy stuffed down in the straw, the helpless limbs moving in the involuntary spasms of infancy. The mother, the manger, the stable, the Shepherds. But let’s not forget the rest of the story. Yes, the cross and resurrection. But those events are not the end; just the next big scene. The ultimate realization of the ambition of the manger is when Jesus returns to create a world where there is no more sickness, no more poverty, and no more injustice.

The little infant in the cradle is actually a little warrior. Those helpless little hands will one day wield a sword that will bring justice and an end to all wars. The cry that split the night sky was a battle cry. The warrior had come! So yes, war is over if you want it. But the end of war is the war that ends all wars. The infant sleeps in heavenly peace in order to bring earthly justice. And at the end of that war the Warrior Messiah ends the war with one word of justice. The little crowd around the manger was actually a save the date for a time Christ will rule and reign with all the subjects who were willing to bow before the manger.

And what will that be like?

What will He look like as the Warrior Messiah the Revelation describes? What will He look like mounted on a steed? What about when He is defending his bride? What about the sword and the bloody robe? I wonder as I wonder.

Dr. Steven Smith serves as the Vice President for Student Services and Communications and Professor of Communication at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. Follow Dr. Smith on Twitter at @StevenWSmith.