The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Help needed - ideas for UR-themed Christmas sermon

Hi everybody

Due to the lay pastor (my Dad) being ill, I have been asked at short notice to step in and lead the Christmas Carol service at my church this Sunday. It is a small evangelical ‘free’ (ie non-denominational) village church. I would really like to use this opportunity to spread the UR gospel, but I don’t think it would be appropriate to go ‘all-out’ UR, as it were - there will be a mixed congregation of our regulars - traditionalist believers mostly - and the usual ‘Christmas, Easter, weddings and funerals’ agnostics.

I would be really grateful for your suggestions on a ‘UR friendly’ theme for my sermon - which will be short (c8-10 minutes) and hopefully of some topical relevance. With the recent terrible tragedy in Connecticut I’m in two minds whether or not to mention that - again, your advice would be much appreciated.



Yeah, any message of hope for the shooting would have to involve post-mortem salvation at least, which could be dicey. A great way to introduce the consolation of UR, of course, and several important theological emphases connected with that, but not a topic to bring up unless you want to go the distance. Moving on then…

Hm. Not many direct UR themes in the Nativity stories. Very broad scope, especially for GosMatt’s outcaste shepherds and probably-pagan astrologers, but not a lot about God saving all His enemies. In fact the various hymns in GosLuke tend to have a theme of “Yay, God is finally going to save us righteous Israelites, it’s about time!” :wink:

I’ve been doing a commentary project on the Gospels (not yet having posted much of it), the next portion of which would be the Nativity stories, which is why I know things are a bit sparse there. :slight_smile:

Some of the OT scriptural references are interesting: Gabriel’s message to Zechariah about John quotes Malachi 4, which John himself strongly references later in his ministry, which in connection with Malachi 3 (the chapters are the same in the Jewish Bible I think) indicates that the coming wrath of God on all sinners is to purify and save them. But this topic in itself doesn’t seem to be referenced in Luke 1. (The connections are much stronger in John’s Synoptic preaching scenes later.)

The “name of Jesus” theme could be extrapolated on: to deny that God saves anyone from their sins is literally to deny the name of Jesus, which we’re warned about later in the Gospels–but not here. (Alternately, to ask who “His people” are, trying to find exclusions whom He did not come to save, smacks of the lawyer’s question “And who is my neighbor?” But again, not really a theme here in the nativity stories.)

The “Course of Abijah” timing could indicate a conception around Dec 25 and thus a birth 40 weeks later for the Feast of Tabernacles, which is itself connected to the Day of Atonement. We know some obscure things about that, of course–how the day of Atonement was for everyone, and how some Jews thought no one would have to spend more post-mortem punishment than a year maximum before being processed through the Day of Atonement. But that would require a lot of setup and is a bit speculative; nor does it seem to be a theme of the Gospel nativities themselves. Also, challenging when Jesus was actually born?–not something I’d recommend as a guest preacher for a Christmas weekend sermon to traditionalists. :wink:

I do rather like the translation of Zechariah’s hymn where he says,

“that we, being rescued
from the hand of our enemies,
might offer Him fearless and divine service
in kindness and fair-togetherness
before Him, for all our days!”

That’s something a little unusual worth building a Christmas sermon on, I’d say. :slight_smile:

It also has some topical connections to God’s covenant with Abraham to keep faith with Abraham’s heirs, a covenant God went out of His way to ensure that only He signed onto, not Abraham, so that the sins of Israel would not nullify the covenant! But to unpack that would take a while, and the full force of it would require a lot of digression into the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The end of Zechariah’s hymn, on the other hand, is more immediately suggestive. “Those who sit in darkness and under the shadow of death” were supposed to be the pagans, but Zechariah applies it to Israel, thus acknowledging that in their rebellions Israel became like the pagans; consequently, the salvation promised by the covenant of God to Abraham (a covenant of fullest scope which God graciously ensured could not be broken on the human side, and which God will not break) applies to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews, as the Evangelists themselves make note of later in the Gospels! There are some strong (although very tacit) connections to universal salvation there, including post-mortem salvation: sitting in darkness under the shadow of death is emblematic of hades/sheol/tartarus, too.

If the Birth takes place at the beginning of the Tabernacles feast, that would easily explain the shepherds being out in the fields watching over their flocks: it helps prevent them from being stolen by thieves! Jesus later in GosJohn, during one of His Tabernacle Feast discourses with opposing rabbis, distinguishes Himself as the Good Shepherd from rebel/thieves who break into the fold to steal, sacrifice, and kill. (The Greek there isn’t usually translated accurately.) This provides some strong topical constraints to how to interpret GosMatt 25: the (baby) goats there are part of Christ’s flock, too; and to claim that He “apollums” (kills/destroys/loses) His own flock, runs against the promises of GosJohn!–moreover, to try to present God as someone Who sacrifices and kills the sheep for His own sake, as though this is appropriate to His glory, is tantamount to trying to flatter God as a rebel brigand, which gets the person who tries it in the preceding parable of Matt 25 (about the talantons of silver) thrown out into the darkness where the goats are going!

But that may be rather too extensive and challenging for a short sermon.

You’re welcome to borrow a sermon I wrote for the Cadre Journal back in 2010, if you like, on translating “Peace among men of His delight” and how that could still be good news. Paidion and I debated somewhat over how the term at the end of that phrase was best translated, and I thought he scored some good points, but if he’s right it certainly doesn’t hurt my argument. :slight_smile:

Simeon in the Temple (who may have been intended to be a cameo by Simeon son of Hillel and father of Gamaliel I!) sings,

"My eyes have seen Your Salvation
"Which You are making ready to fit
"the face of all the peoples!
"Yes, the Light (as it is written) ‘for the revelation to the nations’
“and the glory of Your people Israel!”

Note that some English translations obscure the meaning there by translating instead as “Your Salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all people.” Preparing salvation in the presence of everyone isn’t the same as preparing salvation for everyone!–and the more literal rendering indicates that God is preparing (through the Son) to conform all people (or at least all people-groups) to Himself!

Simeon’s citation is a phrase from several places in Isaiah–9:2; 42:6; 49:6, 9; 51:4; 60:1-3, and maybe elsewhere, too. I haven’t checked them yet, but we all know Isaiah’s a good book to go hunting UR testimony in. :mrgreen: I seem to recall offhand that chapter 42 is especially pertinent on that topic.

Simeon’s quiet warning to Mary, that Jesus “is appointed for the fall and the rising of many in Israel”, could have a meaning similar to Paul’s in Romans 11, that those who still are stumbling over the stumbling stone have not stumbled so as to fall but will be eventually raised and saved with everyone else. (But to be fair it might be a contrast comparison instead: the fall of the great and the rise of the oppressed righteous.)

Matthew’s appeal to Jeremiah 31:15 as prophecying the Slaughter of the Innocents, is rather interesting because the actual prophecy has nothing in the least to do with innocent children being slain by an enemy of God and everything to do with righteous Israel (as Rachel) weeping over her rebel children (typified as wayward daughters and even more importantly as Ephraim, probably in reference to Absalom, David’s rebel son slain in the forests of Ephraim, speared while hanging from a tree with a bleeding scalp :open_mouth: :exclamation: :open_mouth: , for whom David would rather have died instead) slain by God for their sins! God, in comforting Rachel who will not be comforted, promises that He has not forgotten Ephraim, that He still loves him, and that Ephraim will learn to repent from this and so be restored to Rachel by God!–which can only be post-mortem salvation of rebels punished to death by God! This portion of prophecy ends with God saying that He will accomplish this somehow by some new thing He will be doing which involves a woman encompassing a man: in hindsight, that seems awfully like a riddled prophecy of the Virgin Birth!

That’s pretty much all I’ve got. :slight_smile: Good luck!–maybe someone else will have some more useful suggestions.

Hi Johnny, 8-10 minutes is not long, altho it will probably feel like forever to you. If your talk comes immediately after or immediately before the hymns, I would pick the most EU hymn and kind of elaborate on how God reached out to all mankind by sending Jesus and how Jesus became one of us, a human being–Divinity Incarnate to defeat sin and death.

This is a Chistmas service, so I don’t think heavy duty evangelizing (of either type) is needed. But you could mention how Jesus is available to anyone who prays and how much better and more meanful life with Him than without Him. The H word need not be mentioned.

If you mention the tradgedy at all,----well I can only tell you I believe, those children are spending Christmas with Jesus in Heaven—and so are the heroes who tried to save them. You might ask for prayers for the Holy Spirit to comfort the families.The infamous “goats” passage actually works in your favor this time, I would say dying attempting to save children is about as “in” with Jesus as a person could get.

Well, thats my 2cents. And I admire you for doing this.

Yeah, I’d probably be shaking something fierce if it was me :laughing: But then again I’ve spoken, even sung, in front of large groups of people before, and somehow managed it okay :wink:

Anyways bro, I don’t think it would be inappropriate to bring up the Connecticut shooting, at least in passing, as it is something on a lot of people’s mind. And maybe a good topic to focus on is love. Very basic, I know, but it is a good one. :slight_smile:

Perhaps you could point out how this world needs more love, more awareness of the love of God for us, and more love between one another, and how such love, which includes forgiveness and grace, can bring healing and light where there are wounds and where there is darkness, in which case you could mention the Connecticut shooting as an example, and how there is so much love and support being shown and offered to the community of Newtown, Connecticut, even from the other side of the world, and how it is a sign of God’s Spirit at work… and you could even mention God’s love even for His enemies and his call for us to love our enemies as well and all people, because He loves all people, and how, though we should be completely against and seek to put a stop the horrible actions of shooters like Adam Lanza, we should not hate them or condemn them, only their actions, and should remember that there is darkness in each and every one of us, and each and every one of us is in need of God’s grace and love, which can transform us from within, and enable us to live more and more in the light, and walk more and more in love… and then you can encourage the congregation to continue to pray for Connecticut, and for all the world, and to remember that love, in the end, will prove stronger than darkness and hate, than violence, and even death… and to remember that when Christ entered into our world, it was Love Incarnate entering into the world, the very face of the Love of God, so he could leave his mark here, and that is cause for hope and joy…
And here’s a poem you could maybe share:

But then don’t let me preach your sermon for you :laughing:

Whatever the case, I think you’ll do fine :slight_smile:

Blessings to you bro :slight_smile:


Hi Johnny, Sorry to hear your Dad is ill and praying you can fill his shoes with confidence. You don’t need to hit them with the full monty, just intrigue them with a message of hope - light breaking into darkness, turning point of history etc. There are plenty of verses in the Christmas readings which you can pick up on, which emphasise that there is hope for everybody - nobody too low, dirty or sinful. e.g. Luke 2:10, 1:78-79, John 1:4-9. That’s all I’d recommend. Just open up hope and show them Jesus.

Hi all

Thanks very much for your helpful suggestions. I’ve prayed about this, and am really glad to report that in my mind a clear ‘message’ is coming together, which actually incorporates elements of what everybody here has said. Anyone would think there was actually something *supernatural *going on … :smiley:

Jason - all I can say is wow! So many good ideas. So much good material. Obviously I will have to store most of it away for future reference, and as you say yourself, some of it is too ‘heavy’ for my little 10-minute homily. (Although I can already see myself stretching to 12 minutes, maybe even 15 …)

I like the idea of linking OT prophecies to the gospels, as the synchronicity at work here is, in my opinion, strong evidence that the Bible is true. But I think I’m going to take the route of least resistance and steal a sizeable chunk of your *Cadre Journal *sermon as the spine of my sermon - so thanks very much for that, and for all your excellent suggestions. I may even name check you, so if your ears start burning some time late morning this Sunday, you’ll know why :smiley: .

Lizabeth - thanks for your sage advice. I think I am going to touch on the Newtown tragedy. Partly because I think some people will almost be expecting to hear some kind of Christian ‘response’ to such a dreadful event. But as you and Matt have suggested, I am going to focus on the love, the heroism, the good human qualities that were manifest there. And the hope, of course, that the Incarnation brings for all of us.

Matt - yes, following on from what I’ve said above, I want very much to focus on Jesus as our hope, the light in the darkness who shares our pain. And I will certainly lead prayers for everyone touched by the Connecticut tragedy. Thanks for your poem too.

Drew - thanks for your prayers for my Dad. He has had pneumonia (his second bout in a year), but thank God he is slowly recovering now. And despite what I’ve said above, I am going to try and ‘keep it simple’. I’m going to use the opening verses of Luke 2 as my text, which will enable me to explore a little the UR implications of 2:10, as you mention, and also 2:14, as per Jason’s sermon.

So thanks for all your help and good wishes everybody. I’ll report back how it went next week.

Peace and love to you all - and while we’re at it, hope you and everybody on this forum have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas


Sounds good bro, and you’re welcome :slight_smile: Yeah, let us know how it goes :slight_smile: And if at all possible, if you have your homily written down, maybe you could share it with us? :wink: That would be great :slight_smile:

Blessings to you bro and will pray that all goes well this Sunday, and that you touch at least a few hearts. :slight_smile:

And Merry Christmas :slight_smile:


Hi everybody

Just a note to say thanks once again for your helpful suggestions. I think I managed to shoehorn something from all of them into my sermon, which I’m pleased to report seemed to go down pretty well with a mixed congregation. I did talk about Newtown, and a number of people told me they were glad I did, which was a relief. I know it sounds very presumptuous but I really got the feeling that God was speaking through me, rather than me just saying what I wanted to say. A strange feeling I can’t say I’ve ever had before …

Anyway, Christmas best wishes to you all

‘Pastor’ Johnny (not! :smiley: )

That’s wonderful Johnny!
All I could contribute was my prayers but I’m delighted that God used you and may you continue to be used by God in this way.
Happy New Merry my brother in Christ.

Thank you John. May God grant you everything you wish for in 2013.

Love and blessings


I’m glad it went over well, mate :slight_smile:

Would have loved to be there to hear it myself :slight_smile:

Do you have it written down anywhere?

Hi Matt

Thanks for that matey. Sadly I only wrote short ‘prompts’ not a full speech. Still, I doubt posterity will be much the worse off; it wasn’t the Gettysburg Address :smiley: .

Is 2013 going to be the year Mr Wiley becomes Mr and Mrs Wiley, I wonder?



Ah well, I’m sure it was great though :slight_smile:

Yeah, I’m thinking it’s more likely that it will be sometime in 2014, but hey, ya never know :wink:

Cheers to you as well, mate :slight_smile:


Well my Dad still hasn’t recovered well enough from his recent bout of pneumonia, and after another church member has led the Sunday service for the last two weeks Dad has asked me to step into the breach this weekend. Bit short notice, but I’m thrilled, and here’s why.

For the last few weeks we’ve been looking at Paul’s first letter to Timothy. And guess what Dad’s text for this Sunday was going to be - 1 Timothy 4, which as we all know includes one of the key texts for EU - 1 Tim 4:10 - “God is the saviour of all people, especially those who believe”.

Well, I’ve got to go for it haven’t I? If that isn’t a direct invitation from the Spirit to at least broach the subject of UR then I’m a monkey’s uncle! I’ll be careful not to go in too hard. But the door is ajar, and I really feel it’s my duty to start leaning on it.

Will let you know how I get on next week.



Interesting… that’s the book that the pastor at the Baptist church that I was going to was going to before I left, and he used those passages as an opportunity to point out how wrong universalism was. :neutral_face:

How refreshing that you want to do the opposite. Wish I could be there, mate :slight_smile:

Hope all goes well, and blessings to you :slight_smile:


PS I hope your dad gets better soon :slight_smile:

Thanks Matt. It just seems like too good an opportunity to miss. We’ve just looked at 1 Tim 2 as well, which of course includes another verse that is highly conducive to the EU message - 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Blessings to you too matey


Just a line to say I hit the congregation with my ‘UR themed’ sermon. Highlighted how God “is the Saviour of all men, especially believers”, based on Christ’s atoning life, death and resurrection which is efficacious for all people everywhere, for all time. But stopped short of going the whole UR hog, as it were and talking about post-mortem salvation - which in my opinion is just about the only thing separating classical Arminianism from UR. At least, it was for me.

Seemed to go down pretty well. One day soon, I hope, if I get invited back, I’m going to be able to come right out and preach the UR gospel in all its glory. :smiley:


Yay, good to hear! :slight_smile:

Glad it went well, mate :slight_smile:

Keep us posted on whenever you get called up again. :slight_smile:

Blessings to you :slight_smile:


Will do Matt, cheers. :smiley: