DeKALB – Preparing a Christmas Eve sermon can be a challenge for some pastors.
The familiar story of a child born of a virgin, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger has been told for hundreds of years in hundreds of different ways. For pastors such as Robert Weinhold, finding a fresh angle can be just as challenging as it was for Mary and Joseph to find room in an inn.
No such challenge existed this year for the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. John in Sycamore.
Ten days removed from the mass shooting in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, Weinhold said there has never been a more appropriate time to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and the promise of eternal love and life it brings.
“Unfortunately, the tragic events in Connecticut made it abundantly clear how bad and evil this world can be,” Weinhold said. “We have to come together now to see the abundantly clear message of the love of Jesus as our savior.”
While the recent shootings have been difficult for many, the Christmas story shows the perseverance and strength that come with the promise from Jesus, Weinhold said.
One aspect of the Christmas story that is often overlooked, he said, is King Herod’s order to kill all the male children younger than the age of 2 in an attempt to thwart any threat to his throne.
Weinhold said Jesus showed then, just as he will now, that while evil will happen in the world, it can be conquered by his love.
“When we are so blatantly confronted with death, it is an opportunity to celebrate new life in Jesus as a gift,” he said.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School also will be addressed during the sermon from the Rev. Daniel Diss of Faith United Methodist Church in Genoa.
Diss, who lived near the community of Newtown at one time, said it his goal to tie in the major events of the present with the lessons and stories of the past to convey the Christmas message in a meaningful way.
“The shootings in Connecticut are all on our minds at the moment, and those sorts of things shape the message,” he said. “But the goal is for [the congregation] to leave as a people of hope, a people of joy and a people of renewed commitment.”
Diss said one reason there are multiple services on Christmas Eve at many churches is to assure each group of people can leave the sanctuary with a sense of fulfillment.
He said he tailors the message differently for the 3:30 p.m service targeted toward seniors, 5:30 p.m. service focused on children and 10:30 p.m. traditional service, although all three have the same theme.
The Rev. Stacy Walker-Frontjes, pastor at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in DeKalb, said she too would incorporate the Connecticut shootings into her sermon but also focus on the Christmas mystery.
She said her sermon revolves around the “tender and mild” theme from the song “Silent Night” and examines why God chose to come to Earth in the form of a human infant in poverty and in dangerous conditions with Herod’s call to kill newborns.
“Every year when I look at the Christmas story, I’m still struck with awe and wonder,” she said. “Once I sit down to write my sermon, it’s never as hard as I thought it would be.”