Steve Henwood draws on years of experience of delivering Christmas talks to a variety of audiences and shares his secrets to kick start yours
So here it is, merry Christmas. Again. Bublé and Carey are defrosted and you are either fully prepped and raring to go or in desperate need of inspirational sparks.
Whether it’s to parents at the school nativity, to teens in an assembly, to mums and toddlers at mince pie mingles, the advent family service, Christingle, candlelit carols, 6th form CU, Crib or Christmas day (or all the above!), you’re wanting a suitable message. And, if you did one to the same group last year, you’ll definitely need a new one.
I can’t promise to make all your Christmases come true but hopefully something below gives you starting points for this year or for when we do it all again in 12 months time.
Three quick thoughts
Don’t miss out
Deep breath. Head down, Charge! (i.e. How not to do advent).
Working for a church through December can be so full-on that our single focus becomes getting to the promised land of Christmas day afternoon. Don’t be so focussed on resourcing everyone else’s encounter with the Lord incarnate, that you miss out on your own. Your personal engagement with this season is not only crucial for your talks (see next thought) it’s simply just important for you.
We’re overfamiliar with this narrative. And, because we spend so much time doing it with kids, we easily infantilise the profundity in our own minds. Repeatedly take time this season to pause and re-engage with the depths and wonder of this historical truth. God became human, real people were involved, prophecies were fulfilled and hope exploded into life. Your escape from delivering a palid Christmas reflection is through prayer and rediscovery of awe.
Plan for next year too
If you don’t have a doc / folder with a record of talks done and jottings of future possibilities - make one now. A table with date, where delivered and basic notes – that’ll stop you doing the same talk to them in two years time. It also helps if you note what others in your church spoke on.
Below are the rough shapes of some Christmas messages. They’re starting points for you to adapt, expand and develop. Remember to shape the vocab and construction to suit your listeners.
NOTES : Carols are a veritable treasure trove of source material for multiple talks (see three examples below). For starters, the lines are already familiar to many - at the very least, they’ve just sung it! The lines often carry huge theology and significance, (which we skim over on our way to the next verse). Unpacking it not only illuminates the gospel now, it also means they trigger a reminder of what you taught every other time they sing it again.
(Oh, and yes, you can use Sweet Caroline as your icebreaker intro if you want to).
The hopes and fears of all the year of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Penalties and free kicks. England vs Greece 2001, 2-1 down. Seconds to go and England might not even go to the world cup. It’s a free kick and David Beckham steps up. Or World Cup 2022, it’s gone to penalties with France. Harry Kane stands, ready take one. It’s a lot to put on a young man’s shoulders. The hope of a nation. All the years of disappointments, let downs, defeats, failures. Fans watching fearfully through fingers, full of doubt, wondering if they dare trust the possibility. And that’s just football.
But what of the bigger ones. The hopes of the whole world, the disappointments, the failures, the hurts. Etc. That’s too much for anyone to carry isn’t it? And yet, what if there is someone who can carry that? ALL of it. God does not leave humanity to drown in its own failures. He gets directly involved. And, in the birth of that particular human being on that particular night, the hopes and fears of all the years, before and after, are met.
Bible ref: Isaiah 9:6
Extras: Icebreaker quiz, name the carol from the given lyrics, end with this one. Use penalty or free kick video clip.
Be near me Lord Jesus, and Love me I pray.
There are a lot of things we need to pray for asking God to love us? Not so sure. After all, he already does. It’s like me asking for two legs. I already have them! Maybe think of this line this way, “Jesus, help me to know you near to me, help me to know better just how much you already love me.”
Bible ref: 1 John 4:19. John 3:16. Zeph 3:17.
O Come all Ye faithful
It’s a nice invitation. But what if you’re not faithful? What if you’re not joyful, or triumphant? What if you’re not sure what you believe, failing, low, just keeping your head above water or quietly miserable - Can you still come and behold HIm?
Bible ref: Matthew 11:28-30 (check out The Message version too). John 4.
Extras: Use lyrics from O Come all ye Unfaithful by SovereignGraceMusic within the talk or as a response using the YouTube video.
Magic milk cups trick
Order yourself a set ‘magic milk cups’ for next year and start practising.
How can God fit in a human being? It doesn’t work, it’s like me fitting all this milk into this tiny cup, it… just … .won’t .…WAIT? What? How did… .that?
Of course this is just a trick. But God, he really did it.
Bible Ref: John 1
Chilli Con Carne
(NOTE : I start this one mentioning my friends disproportionate love of this food. Find a way to this that suits you).
The word carne means “meat”, it’s literally ‘chilli with meat’. It somehow sounds posher in a foreign language.
John 1. “The word became flesh.” We read it at carol services and it sounds posh, poetic, dramatic. But John uses that word to be challenging. That’s why in latin it was translated “carne”. “God became meat.” NO! too disrespectful! Offensive. God becoming a lump of sweaty, smelly meat? Don’t say that! It’s not reverential enough. But that is exactly the point John was making. He’s writing to people who are so intent on respecting God they refuse to accept the possibility that He really became human. We can accidentally do the same, be so intent on respecting Jesus we take away the fullness of who He is. He became a lump of meat like us, and lived in our midst like us.
Bible Ref: John 1
Story for grown ups
Were you ever in a nativity play? Shepherd with a teatowel and dressing gown? 3rd innkeeper? Camel? Or maybe even Mary or Joseph? If so you could easily end up thinking this is a story for children. So let’s be clear. This is not a kid’s story. Not the real one. This is about teenage pregnancy, scandal, love, forgiveness, heartbreak, crushing disappointment, fear, child murder, refugees and the answer to every human’s deepest need. You’ve not outgrown this, you’re probably not old enough yet to fully get it yet. But you can make a start.
Bible Ref: Matthew 1&2 Luke 1&2
Left out. Invited in.
Shepherds in the field. Marginalised. Edge of the playground nobody wants to play with them, least likely to be invited to a party, misfits who don’t count. And yet, they were the ones God told first. That tells you something of His priorities.
Bible Ref: Luke 2 John 12:46
We don’t know much about him but we do know this – in the midst of all his hurt, disappointment and the public humiliation he somehow still hears from God and is willing to lay aside his own agenda and do what God asks. Quality.
Bible Ref: Matthew 1
Safe to say - not exactly a role model. Yet he was kindof right about one thing, he just misunderstood it. He thought Jesus was a threat to his claim as Judea’s king. He wasn’t. But Jesus is a direct challenge to His personal sovereignty, just as He is to ours - our desire to be in charge and do things our way regardless. Someone has been born who challenges that. He said, I am the way, the truth and the life. From the moment of His birth it became clear there is now only one real boss. That’s why those who were wise came and bowed down to him. One day, everyone will bow down to Him. The only thing left to decide is whether you start now.
Bible Ref: Philippians 2:10-11 Micah 6:8
Knowing and doing
Is there someone in your family that shouts the answers at the TV game show contestants? “Oh come on – don’t you know that?” Knowing stuff isn’t all there is to it. The wise men come to wrong place. Herod asks the scribes. They know stuff. Yet, with all their education and knowledge they don’t go with the wise men. If you were in a quiz on the Christmas story maybe you could get all the answers right. You’ve heard the accounts loads of times. The knowledge isn’t enough, it’s what you do with it. It’s whether you go and seek Him out for yourself.
Bible Ref: Matthew 2 Matthew 7:7-12
Google the story of the Wolverhampton YouTuber who cemented his head in a microwave and got stuck. (Show the photos for extra effect).
Fireman said “this was a waste and could have prevented them helping someone in genuine need.”
I know what they mean, but still – I think looking at this photo, he did genuinely need them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Jesus is only for those who ‘deserve Him’. I.e. People who are generally decent but need extra help. He came for more than that, he came for the self-destructive losers who do it to themselves, the ones who make stupid choices again and again, the ones who can’t seem to get it right no matter what, the trapped, the addicted, the down trodden, the ‘don’t even know where to start’ losers, and yes, even the idiots who cement their heads in a microwave.
Bible Ref: 1 Timothy 1:15 John 4