With the Christmas season rapidly approaching I am reminded of the glory of being a preacher of the Gospel. Those who stand in the Christian pulpit to proclaim the Word are part of a rich heritage that leads back to a Galilean hillside where an angel brought “good news of great joy” to a band of startled shepherds. We share in the privilege and responsibility of announcing that same good news to a world in which such news is often a rarity.
In Heralds of God, James S. Stewart cites a memorable scene from Tolstoy’s War and Peace in which a messenger has just arrived at Russian headquarters with news of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. The report has come to Koutouzow, the Commander-in-chief, to whom the news sounded incredible after years of struggle and anguish. Following the report, a staff officer started to speak, but Koutouzow stopped him with his hand. The old commander tried to speak himself, but no words would come. Finally Koutouzow turned to face the sacred images that stood against the wall. Suddenly he cried out, “Great God, my Lord and Creator! Thou has heard my prayer! Russia is saved!” And with that he burst into tears. Says Stewart: “Today the envoy of the Gospel is charged with tidings more moving and wonderful by far. If this message is fantasy, there is no hope for humanity anywhere. If this is true, the whole world is saved.”
The good news we preach is that the message is true. While an increasingly secular society celebrates Santa Claus and clamours after the trappings of the holiday season, we proclaim another message. We tell of mangers and wise men and divine love. We announce that “a Saviour has been born.” We call men and women to live in the light of His star.
Today that task is more urgent than ever. There will be many in your congregation who will hear that good news in no other place. They may be swallowed up by the holidays – shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking – but will hear little to remind them of what Christmas represents. Like the child who explained that Christmas is “Santa’s birthday,” we may enjoy the season and miss the point entirely. What a sacred duty it is, then, to proclaim “good news of great joy.” There remains a danger that we may plan delightful programs, create lovely settings, preach pleasant sermons, and neglect to announce that Christ’s birth has divided history and faced each of us with the necessity of decision.
As Paul Sherer stressed in his Yale Lectures on Preaching, we are called “to preach not just sermons, but that event in history and in eternity by which God entered most fully and effectively into human life.”
As you stand in the pulpit this Christmas season, may it be with a renewed spirit of purpose and power as you proclaim the coming of the King.