If you’re going to church this Christmas you are going to hear a Christmas sermon (or not if you tune out and spend your obligatory hour staring at the stained glass windows or ugly banner). I wanted to give you a helpful guide to recognising what kind of sermon you might find yourself listening to. I’m not sure what practical help this will be to you, but they didn’t know what use the microwave was till they invented it. This list is not like a microwave.

The Message is a Pun Discourse – “Christmas is not about presents it’s about presence”

If you find yourself listening to this sermon make sure you watch the preacher’s face when they lay that pun on you for the first time – they’ll beam with pride like a kid who just went to the toilet by themselves for the first time. Probably the best gift the preacher got this Christmas was giving themselves the opportunity to make a witty play on words. The preacher will then go on to talk about how Christmas is wonderful because we experience the presence of our friends and family, but even better is that we get to experience the presence of Jesus because God came to us as a child. The sermon will end with the same pun as it started with and you’ll be able the tell the preacher was just as happy with the pun in the finale as every other time they said it.

The Tried and True Talk – “Jesus is the best gift”

This sermon is famous all over the world as a clear indicator that the preacher forgot to think about their message before December 24th. The preacher will be reminding everyone that even though we get great gifts for Christmas, Jesus is the best one. So enjoy your gifts, but don’t forget Jesus the best gift. I’ve done this talk more times than I care to admit and I suspect I’ll do it many more times before my life is over.

The Festive Hellfire Preach – “Santa is an anagram of Satan”

If you find yourself listening to this sermon be aware that some preachers are angry that their church gets full at Christmas but no-one comes the rest of the year. Watch as the preacher goes full Grinch declaring that Christmas has become a pagan celebration of greed, materialism, and backyard cricket. They’ll rail against Santa and mention that Jesus will judge Santa for all his evil. The sermon will climax when the preacher tries to convince everyone to become a Christian. Watch as the sermon ends with angry parents and crying children. If you find yourself in one of these situations, treat the preacher with care. Best you don’t shake their hand at the end of the service lest they don’t let go and hold you hostage till mid-March.

The Social Justice Sermon – “Don’t you know Jesus was a refugee?”

This sermon is the one where you will be reminded that after Jesus birth King Herod tried to kill him, so Mary, Joseph and Jesus had to flee to Egypt. Then the preacher will make it clear that Jesus was a refugee and so we should be kind to refugees and what the government is doing is evil. You’ll leave this sermon feeling slightly guilty that you’re enjoying Christmas when you should be writing letters and ringing your local member.

(Just as an aside – It may sound like I’m having a go, but I’m pretty on board with keeping the plight of those stuck in Australia’s offshore detention centres on the radar till we start treating asylum seekers with compassion.)

The Smug Mythbuster Message – “Christmas is not what you think it was”

In this sermon, the preacher will inevitably do a bit of myth-busting about the first Christmas, and feel very chuffed that they get to be the one to burst your Christmas bubble. They’ll point out that the Three Kings are fake news. There probably weren’t three of them and they definitely weren’t kings. They’ll let you know that there was no inn-keeper who said “There’s no room in the inn”, that’s just not in the Bible. They’ll make it clear that “Away in a Manger” is a lie because off-course Jesus cried. And they’ll make sure you’re aware that we don’t know how Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem, it could have been a donkey, or it could have been a moped, the Bible doesn’t say.

I know whenever I have done this type of sermon, it’s felt great being the one in the know, having the skinny on Christmas. I suspect some people find it interesting, but others already know most of the “surprising facts” and feel the same way about this sermon as they feel when someone tells them for the 24th time that “tomato is actually a fruit!”

The Happy Holidays Thoughts – “Be kind to everyone”

This sermon points out how Christmas is a wonderful time to be with family and friends reflecting gratefully on what good gifts we’ve all been given throughout the year. You’ll be challenged to step out of your comfort-zone and be kind to others, even the family members we don’t like and the household down the road who don’t celebrate Christmas. You’ll go away feeling warm and fuzzy and then wondering if the preacher actually mentioned Jesus.

The “What-the-heck-was-that?” Homily – “Christmas is about getting the washing done”

You’ll know you’re listening to this sermon when the preacher starts talking about Christmas but quickly moves to giving an in-depth critique of trickle-down economics followed by a weird illustration about Donald Trump and the lock the gate campaign. You’ll find yourself wondering why the preacher has a paragraph that mentions social-media, Miley Cyrus and Nelson Mandela with no discernable connection. You’ll think you get the point when they equate the birth of Jesus to the opening of Amazon’s Australian store till suddenly you’re hearing about the preacher’s childhood holidays to Narrabeen. The preacher will finish by saying “As it tells us in the Bible, ‘Where there is no vision the people perish’, so we praise God that he had the vision to send Jesus.” You and your family leave church dazed and confused, ready for a double shot of egg-nog.

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There are just a few of the sermons you might meet this Christmas. Hopefully, you find yourself listening to messages that are surprising and inspiring, that remind you of the wonder that God would come to us as a vulnerable baby, that we might know him, and be saved by him. Whatever you sermon hear, I hope you finish Christmas knowing that Jesus is the best gift. No really, he is. Just don’t try and give him instead of a physical gift, your family won’t be impressed.