A Pastor’s Guide to Celebrating Christmas as a Church

The Why

When the Passover was instituted, the Lord specified to Moses, “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord” (Ex. 12:14). That same day, when Moses concluded his instructions for observing the first Passover, he said: “And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses’” (Ex. 12:25–27). Thus, we understand that the celebration of the Passover was not an option. It was not man’s idea but God’s. Remembering God’s saving work was essential to the faith of the generations to come and ultimately to their embracing “Christ, our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7).

In the same way, the annual celebrations of the saving work of the Lamb of God through his incarnation, death, and resurrection (the gospel) are essential to the spiritual well-being of God’s children and their children’s children. These are, without reservation, the greatest events of world history. As such, they are events that the faithful pastor uses to instill the essentials of the gospel in the lives of his people by the prayerful preparation of sermons and services that evoke the question, “What do these things mean?” to which he then heralds the eternal answers.

On Christmas Eve, the eternal Son of God stood poised . . . at the rim of the universe, radiating light.

The How

On Christmas Eve, the eternal Son of God stood poised, so to speak, at the rim of the universe, radiating light. Then he dove headlong through the galaxies and over the Milky Way toward our planet and into the watery warmth of the Virgin’s womb, where he first became a zygote, then an embryo, then a fetus, and then a baby, who would be born of Mary in a barnyard on what we call Christmas Day. Isn’t that the most beautiful story ever told? But today it is lost amid the glittering and plastic sentiment of our culture, which, without the Christ, is a yellow brick road to darkness.

Our task as pastors is to put together services in which the great story is preached in its rich biblical context amid hymns and songs that lift up the glories of the incarnation, so that our children and children’s children will wonder at and understand its meaning. The following resources will aid the busy pastor.

Select Christmas Scriptures

The following Bible passages make excellent preaching texts. They can also be read, directly or responsively, at the various services of the Christmas season.

Old Testament

  • Numbers 24:15–17
  • Isaiah 11:1–10
  • Psalm 2
  • Isaiah 40:1–11
  • Psalm 8
  • Ezekiel 34:22–24
  • Isaiah 9:1–7 (esp. v. 6)
  • Micah 5:2

New Testament

  • Matthew 1:18–25
  • John 1:1–4
  • Matthew 2:1–11
  • John 1:1–14
  • Matthew 2:13–23
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9
  • Luke 1:5–25
  • 2 Corinthians 9:15
  • Luke 1:26–38
  • Galatians 4:4–6
  • Luke 1:39–45
  • Philippians 2:1–8
  • Luke 1:46–56
  • Colossians 1:15–20
  • Luke 1:57–66
  • 1 Timothy 1:15
  • Luke 1:67–80
  • 1 Timothy 3:16
  • Luke 2:1–7
  • Hebrews 2:14–18
  • Luke 2:1–20
  • Hebrews 4:14–16
  • Luke 2:21
  • Hebrews 10:5–7
  • Luke 2:22–38

Select Christmas Songs

Music can likewise reaffirm the truth of the gospel, and inspire joy at the coming of the Lord at Christmas. Consider this list of either classic or more modern songs for congregational worship.

Classic Advent and Christmas Hymns

  • “All My Heart This Night Rejoices” (Gerhardt)
  • “Angels from the Realms of Glory” (Montgomery)
  • “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” (Wesley)
  • “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” (Olearius)
  • “Gabriel’s Message” (Basque carol)
  • “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” (Suso)
  • “Hark, the Glad Sound” (Doddridge)
  • “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (Wesley)
  • “How Great Our Joy” (Baker)
  • “Joy to the World” (Watts)
  • “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” (Liturgy of St. James)
  • “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (15th c. German)
  • “O Come, All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)” (Wade)
  • “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (Latin hymn)
  • “O Holy Night” (Cappeau)
  • “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (Prudentius)
  • “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” (Coffin)
  • “On This Day Earth Shall Ring” (Piae Cantiones)
  • “Once in Royal David’s City” (Alexander)
  • “Rejoice, Rejoice Believers” (Laurenti)
  • “Savior of the Nations, Come” (Ambrose)
  • “Silent Night! Holy Night” (Mohr)
  • “The First Noel” (trad. English carol)
  • “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” (Elliott)
  • “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (Nicolai)
  • “What Child Is This?” (Dix)

The Pastor's Book

R. Kent Hughes, Douglas Sean O'Donnell

Written by two seasoned pastors, this practical book is a comprehensive guide to nearly every facet of pastoral ministry, including pastoral counseling, hospital visitations, funerals, weddings, the sacraments, holiday services, and congregational music.

Recent Advent and Christmas Hymns and Songs

  • “Anthem for Christmas” (Gaither/Smith)
  • “Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn” (Haugen)
  • “Christ the Lord Is Born Today” (Altrogge)
  • “Exult in the Savior’s Birth” (Carson/Boswell)
  • “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable” (Townend)
  • “Glory Be to God” (Wesley; alt. Kauflin)
  • “Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven” (Getty/Getty)
  • “Joy Has Dawned” (Getty/Townend)
  • “O Come, Our World’s Redeemer, Come” (Perry)
  • “O Savior of Our Fallen Race” (Getty/Getty)
  • “People, Look East” (Farjeon)
  • “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour” (Houghton)
  • “Wonderful Counselor” (Altrogge)

This article is adapted from The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry by R. Kent Hughes.

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