Advent and Christmastime invariably become the seasons in which the Church raises her “Keep CHRIST in Christmas” flag. It’s an attempt to cross the sea of this world’s materialistic, consumer-driven holiday, without letting its waves fill the boat of the Church. Thus, we preemptively ready ourselves to bail water from the hull and honorably fulfill the cliche of keeping CHRIST in Christmas. But we fail in this way. Along with all the culture’s superficial hype of the holiday we unintentionally try to hype up the Divine Service. Maybe we won’t go as far as showing skits or liturgical dance or the dreaded Christmas silhouette performance, but we do tend to expect more from the sermon.
Parishioners want to hear something spectacular, something they haven’t heard before, some nugget of interest to take home. And pastors want to give it. Pastors want to become fine pulpit-princes. To deliver sermons that will woo the masses and be remembered by the flock for years to come. Yet, this high esteem which we inwardly crave, is contrary to the very One whom we are there to receive in worship, the One who was humbly born of a betrothed virgin and laid into a poor manger, the One who rode into Jerusalem as a beggarly King seated on a beast of burden, the One who offered up Himself to the chastisement and humiliation of the cross, and the One who now delivers His own blood-bought salvation by the remarkably humble means of Word and Sacrament.
Should then the pastor, who brings the poverty of Christ to the people, be honored and valued as the highest good and the greatest Advent/Christmastime preacher? No. We are but poor parish pastors and beggarly clerics. For we are Christ-preachers.
“The rejection of Christ does not happen only with the Jews, but also among us, for the high and mighty scorn us because of our gospel and sacraments. What folly, they say, that I should let myself be baptized with water poured on my head, supposedly to be saved thereby; or that some poor parish preacher, barely able to put a coat on his back, should pronounce forgiveness and absolve me from my sins; or that by receiving bread and wine in the Sacrament I should be saved. On that basis they despise a Christ-preacher. For it goes with the territory to be despised by reason of Christ’s poverty. As a result, when a man becomes a preacher he is more despised than some lowly knave of no reputation. There is no station in life quite as scorned and humble as that of a preacher. That happens not because of us or the preacher, but because Christ is despised on all sides in the world. No wonder that the aristocrats and plutocrats say, Why should we believe some tramp-like, beggarly cleric? Why doesn’t our Lord God send us a fine pulpit-prince to preach to us? Him we would believe. However, just as Christ’s preachers are despised, so people also despise his baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. Virtually no peasant retains respect for them, let alone burghers or nobles. Under the papacy people mocked at indulgences and pilgrimages, and yet they were highly regarded. Now, however, the prevailing word is, Huh, if all you can do is preach about Christ and faith, I’m fed up with that already, I’ve heard it all many times before.”
Luther, Martin. “First Sunday in Advent; Third Sermon, 1534.” Sermons of Martin Luther: The House Postils, vol. I, 35
Pastors need not give in to the desire to be anything more than those who preach about Christ, those who, even during the holiday season, occupy themselves with nothing other than delivering Christ from the pulpit. Not something new, not something creative or terribly spectacular, just Jesus. Born-dead-and-risen-for-you Jesus. And in that way, parishioners must expect only to receive the same thing from the pulpit during Advent and Christmastime that they get the rest of the year. For this season marks the time of the year that we receive Christ Crucified for sinners. Just like every season.