Christmas weekend is coming, and I am guessing most pastors are sweating by now. I know they are. For thirty two years, I came into Christmas Eve and morning services with fear and trepidation. What do you say that hasn’t been said? And should anything be said that hasn’t been said?
There are things you would like to say, especially to those who dress up and enter into that once a year pilgrimage. They are kind and wish you well, and you do love to see them. But for these, church is simply one more tradition to celebrate—like holiday poppers and fruitcakes. For them, it’s nice to add a religious touch to the merriment. Light the candles and please the parents. And if a pastor says anything interesting, well, it’s all the more reason to continue the tradition next year.
I’m currently an interim teaching pastor. I couldn’t stay away from the pulpit once I retired to focus on seminary teaching and writing. And now I am again facing Christmas. I could pick a most unimaginable text like I did last Sunday. I preached the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1. Who would preach this? It has all the curb appeal of a loan title report. Matthew was a tax collector before meeting Jesus. He was probably good at putting together lists and sending out personal tax and compliance reports (something I received this week from the Department of Revenue). It was on the edge reading.
I like to imagine an editor reading these first lines of Matthew’s manuscript and responding. It might have sounded something like this:
Enclosed, you will find my comments on your new book. Overall, it looks good. The story has suspense, mystery, and lots of good characterization. But some improvements need to be made, especially with the introduction. You may want to consider shortening, if not deleting it altogether.
The easiest decision a reader can make is to stop reading. And readers will stop reading your book after the second or third verse. Those who read in today’s culture (and there are not many) have the attention span of a goldfish. Did you not learn anything from the Book of Numbers, as well as Chronicles? And by the way, those books don’t sell! You have to get to the point. Tell us why we should read this book. Tell us from the start. Genealogies are nice for people who are into reading the fine print of prescriptions, but that’s a really small market. Do we need to know who fathered who? And here, you must be more creative. The verbs are hopelessly redundant. “Begat” twenty-seven times? Try to use a thesaurus.
It is important to engage our senses. Tell us in a couple of sentences how our lives will change. Maybe even add something brief about you. You do show up later in the book, but it is a bit like Hitchcock making his one cameo appearance in each of his movies.
It’s not that we want to discourage you. Spirituality and narrative are big in our current market, so you’re timing for this work is very good. This could be hot. And publishing this at Christmas could be timely.
One last thing. We need to work on the title. Gospel of Matthew doesn’t appeal. Gospel is also a bit overused. We need something more intriguing. The Jesus Code maybe.
We wish you well in your future endeavors–
I like to imagine Matthew responding—
“Thanks for the advice, but I am not trying to please the market. And by the way, if you haven’t noticed, my initial words explain Christmas, which most people have no clue. Just look at the market for inflatable snowmen and the number of houses decorated with pigs in the yard dressed up like Santa. Look closely and you will find I am making a compelling case for the fact God has come to connect with humanity—in all of its mess. If Jesus had not taken this long, tedious, circuitous route to submit to human nature and enter our lineage—than we are strangers to salvation.
As much as it would have been a pleasure working with you, I have been recently approached by the Holy Spirit. Merry Christmas-Matthew
PS-Given your readership, you might want the Reader’s Digest version: To be born of God, God must first be born of us.
I do think I will work on something more imaginative for this week (though this Matthew text would have been fun to exposit for those once a year “Chreasters.”) Wait, there’s always Luke’s genealogy.