From the Editor:

War on Christmas?

No Room in the Inn?

Christmas, Jesus
Compromise, Commitment
Christmas, Searching

Link of the Week

Preacher’s Bookshelf


And Finally…

“It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.” (W.T. Ellis)

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    Vol. 7, No. 43 December 9, 2008    
Michael Duduit

I wrote the following as the introduction to the last PreachingNow of 2005. It garnered a lot of responses (mostly positive, thankfully!), and I thought it might be time to share it again:

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the failure of stores and other commercial enterprises to use the word “Christmas” in their advertising. There’s even a book out called The War on Christmas (Sentinel), and the news is filled with angry protests from commentators and church leaders calling for boycotts of stores insisting on greeting their customers with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

I wonder why all this surprises us. In an increasingly secular society in which the cultural elites are more and more pagan in their worldview, why is it a shock that commercial enterprises want to encourage us to spend without reference to the birth of a baby born in a manger? Why are we surprised that many schools — fearful of litigation and influenced by the secular academy — would want to celebrate a “winter holiday” instead of the intervention of a holy and righteous God into history?

Should we help civic officials and educators deal with the legal tightropes related to celebrating the Christmas season in a pluralistic culture? Of course. But rather than declaring “war” on stores and organizations that fail to use the language of Christmas, perhaps we will make an even more profound impression by acting authentically Christian at this season of the year. Maybe if they hear us sharing the good news of Christ’s love and see Christ living through us as we serve, give and love one another, then the word “Christmas” will have an even greater influence in a culture where love, giving and service are so rarely seen.

Merry Christmas to you.

Michael Duduit, Editor

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MichaelDuduit

On the Preaching podcast this week: Enjoy a visit with Chip Heath, co-author of the fascinating book Made to Stick. Click here to listen.


Spoiler alert: If you love the traditional image of Jesus born in a stable and don’t want anything to spoil it, then don’t read the rest of this item.

Kenneth Bailey is a New Testament scholar who spent 40 years living and teaching in the Middle East, and his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (InterVarsity) helps us better understand the context in which Jesus lived and taught — and was born in Bethlehem.

He reminds us Luke 2:6 tells us that while Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, Jesus was born; at no point does it say the birth occurred as soon as they arrived, so there is no reason to think the couple hadn’t been in town for a day or longer before the birth. (Bailey says some of the traditional images we now hold came from a third-century fictionalized account called The Protoevangelium of James, written by someone who apparently did not know Jewish tradition or Palestinian geography.)

In fact, Bailey says, the Lukan account fits neatly with the more likely location of Jesus’ birth: the simple home of one of Joseph’s relatives. Unlike the wealthy who had separate stables for their animals, common people had homes with one or two rooms (with one reserved for guests), and the main room was one where the “entire family cooked, ate, slept and lived.” At one end of the room was an area “either a few feet lower than the rest of the floor or blocked off with heavy timbers. Each night into that designated area, the family cow, donkey and a few sheep would be driven.” The next morning the animals would be put back in an outer courtyard and the area cleaned. (The same kind of arrangements are implied in other biblical references: 1 Samuel 28:24; Judges 11:29-40; Luke 13:15.)

The “mangers” were dug out of the floor, though mangers for sheep were sometimes made of wood and placed nearby. Such feeding areas for animals were still common in Middle Eastern villages into the modern era. If that is the case, what does Luke 2:7 mean when it says there was “no room in the inn”?

The Greek word usually translated “inn” is katalyma, which was not the term for a commercial inn. A katalyma was simply a “place to stay,” and likely was used here to refer to the guest room of the house. It’s the same word Jesus uses in Luke 22:10-12, when He sent the disciples to find the “upper/guest room,” where He was to share the Passover with them. So in Luke 2:7, we are told Jesus was laid in the manger because the “guest room” already was occupied.

When the shepherds heard the announcement that the baby would be found “in a manger,” they would have understood this was a normal peasant home like their own. “This was their sign, a sign for lowly shepherds.”

Bailey says, “Looking at the story in this light strips away layers of interpretive mythology that have built up around it. Jesus was born in a simple two-room village home such as the Middle East has known for at least three thousand years. Yes, we must rewrite our Christmas plays, but in rewriting them the story is enriched, not cheapened.” (Click here to learn more about the book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.)

Watch Preaching Now this week for an Advent sermon series by Michael Milton, president of Reformed Theological Seminiary in Charlotte (and former pastor of First Presbyterian in Chattanooga.)



Florida in April? Sounds good, doesn’t it? What will make it even better is investing three days that can change your ministry forever.

Make your plans now to join us for the 20th Annual National Conference on Preaching, April 20-22, 2009, in Tampa, Florida. The conference theme is “Preaching to Change Lives,” and your ministry will be strengthened through the addresses, powerful sermons and practical workshops at NCP 2009. You’ll enjoy a great line-up of speakers, including:

John Ortberg
Stuart Briscoe
Jack Graham
Robert Smith
Dave Stone
Ed Stetzer
Steve Brown
Ralph Douglas West
Tommy Green
Steve Sjogren
Timothy Warren

and many more. Register now to take advantage of the early-bird discount registration rate. To learn more or to register today, click here.



In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage.

As it neared the holiday season, the orphans heard the traditional Christmas story for the first time. The Americans told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem; and after finding no room in the inn, Mary and Joseph went to a stable, where Jesus was born and placed in the manger.

Throughout the story, the children listened in amazement. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. As a follow-up activity to the story, each child was given three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manager. Each child was also given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins that the children tore into strips, and then carefully laid in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel from a discarded nightgown were used for the baby’s blanket. Pieces of tan felt were used for the doll-like baby.

As they made their way around the room to observe the children, one of the Americans noted, “All went well until I got to one table where 6-year-old Misha sat. He appeared to have finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see, not one, but two, babies in the manger! Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger.”

The observer noted Misha very accurately recalled the story that had been told until he came to the part where Mary put Jesus in the manger. “Misha then started to ad lib his own ending,” recalls the observer.

And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no momma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did.

I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. So I asked Jesus, if I kept Him warm, would that be a good enough gift? And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.’ So, I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and told me I could stay with him — for always!”

As Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table, and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon or abuse him, someone who would stay with him — for always!


In his Cross Ministry newsletter, Tim Wilkins writes, “Tertullian of Carthage, an early Christian theologian and moralist, was also the pastor of a church in North Africa about 200 years after Jesus Christ was born. Many historians recount the story of some of Tertullian’s church members trying to justify burning incense to pagan gods as they entered their workplace. They told Tertullian, ‘even though we are Christians, we won’t really honor pagan gods.’

“Tertullian asked, ‘Why would you do that?’

“The people said, ‘Because we have to work to buy food to eat!’

“Tertullian then asked, ‘Why do you have to eat?’

“They replied with astonishment, ‘Because we have to live.’

“Tertullian, who had been converted to Christianity by witnessing the uncompromising courage of Christian martyrs, looked at them and said, ‘No! You don’t have to work, or eat, and you don’t have to live. The only thing you have to do is be faithful.’

“Some readers will find this concept irrational. Is it? Oswald Chambers wrote, ‘God will tax the last grain of sand and the remotest star to bless us when we obey Him.'” (www.CrossMinistry.org)

From the January – February issue of Preaching …

In discussing how we can share the gospel in a culture that tends to mistrust the church, Dan Kimball relates, “I think the biggest thing a church leader can do is see themselves and their churches as missional training centers. We’ve got to start thinking, ‘If our church and our leaders were lifted from whatever town we’re in and put in rural China or somewhere else, we’d probably go about things differently because then all of a sudden we are all missionaries in this foreign culture.’

“You would study the people there. You’d study what their values are. You’d study what their religious beliefs are. All of that is very accepted. You probably wouldn’t send people into the streets to start yelling out bad things about Buddha or Mohammad. Most of the ways missionaries work is through relationships. They start praying for someone, meet with someone and start talking.

“I think as a church leader, the primary thing we can do is start seeing the people of our churches like missionaries. They need preaching and teaching to equip them and to build them up as believers. They need strong communities so that they’re cared for and prayed for, and they have each other for support. But then you train them that that’s not the end. Our purpose is to be out in the world so all these perceptions of ‘not liking the church’ can start being broken and the stereotypes can be changed. It’s us getting Christians — who are living out Galatians 5 ‘fruit of the spirit’ lives — out into the world so people start learning not all Christians are like the stereotypes that they have.”

Every issue of Preaching contains insightful articles on preaching, plus great model sermons and practical resources. If you’re not a current subscriber to Preaching magazine, click here (or call, toll free, 1-800-527-5226) to go begin your subscription!

Also in the January-February issue of Preaching: A series on missional preaching, including an article by Ed Stetzer and interviews with Stetzer and Dan Kimball, plus Al Mohler on Preaching & Theology, Ben Awbrey on Preaching with Unction and much more. Order your subscription today!

Here are several spots where you can find resources for Christmas and Advent preaching and teaching:





If you have other sites you’d suggest, please pass them along to us and we’ll share some of them with 20,000 other PreachingNow readers!

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.” (Andy Rooney)

The Church Leader’s Answer Book (Tyndale House) is a hefty reference guide for pastors and other church leaders. Produced in cooperation with Leadership Journal, the volume contains ideas from nearly 250 leaders, including Bill Hybels, Joe Stowell and Gordon MacDonald.



Speaking of leadership, two Christian management professors (George S. Babbes and Michael Zigarelli) have jointly produced The Minister’s MBA (B&H Books), a useful tool offering church leaders the kind of insights they might gain in an MBA program. Readers will learn about management, strategy, innovation and more. This might be a valuable Christmas gift for yourself!

With publications by aggressive atheists hitting the best-seller charts recently, books like A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists (Jossey-Bass) offer a helpful response. Subtitled Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn’t Evil, David Myers’ book acknowledges religion hasn’t always lived up to the ideal, but demonstrates faith can be embraced even by skeptics.

(Click on the title to learn more or order a copy from Amazon.)


Two young fellows went deep into the frozen woods searching for a Christmas tree.

After hours of subzero temperatures and a few close calls with hungry wolves, one turned to the other and said, “I’m chopping down the next tree I see. I don’t care whether it’s decorated or not!”



The Left Behind Series Practical Survivor’s Guide.

A Monopoly Acts 16 “Get out of jail free” card.

A “Begats” family tree chart.

A Christian Supply House “Woman at the Well” water cooler.

A Gospel Land Bookstore Fourth Watch baptistry swimsuit.

Golf club covers with the 12 disciples’ faces on them.

The Damascus Road auto fog light (It’ll blind ya).

A Bobble-head statue of the Apostle Paul for the back of his car.

A LifeWay Dead Sea bathroom deodorizer.

An official Cokesbury hellfire and brimstone backyard grill.

A half-size replica of the Popemobile.

A rooftop hot tub.

And the No. 1 bad Christmas gift for your pastor: Frankincense Aftershave.

(from Sermon Fodder, http://www.sermonfodder.com)

You only thought your family gave bad gifts.

Here is a selection from New York-based www.stupid.com‘s top 10 list for 2008:

Screaming Chicken, The World’s Most Annoying Toy
This rubber chicken doesn’t squeak or squawk. It screams.

Wealth Redistribution 2008 Holiday Ornament
This tree ornament announces the ornament that used to be there has been removed and given to someone who needs it more. The Redistribution Holiday Ornament will let everyone know you’re spreading the wealth whether you want to or not.

Potty Putter
Why waste time on the toilet when you can use it to get ready for the fairway? Potty Putter contains everything you need for an exciting round of golf without leaving your seat, including a putting green for around the toilet, mini putter, flag stick and two golf balls.

Men’s Underwear Repair Kit
In this troubled economy, don’t throw away your old underwear! Repair it with the Men’s Underwear Repair Kit. This handy, inexpensive kit provides everything you need to get your unsightly undershorts back into presentable shape.

Obama “Yes, We Can” Opener
Every election spawns some interesting products, but this has to be one of the stupidest. To Obama fans, the “Yes, We Can” opener, seizing on his campaign refrain, could be a treasure.

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