Cover Image: Joy to the World

Joy to the World:
Preaching the Christmas Story

Paul Beasley-Murrray (Leicester: IVP, 2005)

Blurb Review by Peter Dickson

Review by Peter Dickson

It is surely better to say something true than something new at Christmas time? But to say something true and stale doesn't hold much appeal. Paul Beasley-Murray's expressed conviction that expository preaching enables the preacher to remain fresh will lead those who assimilate the teaching of his book Joy to the World to say something both true and new at Christmas time.

Perhaps in a uniquely subtle way, the opportunity that Christmas services afford us to preach God's word can lead us to subconsciously put our trust in anything but the work of God's word in our midst. In a general sense, this excellent book holds us to a ministry of integrity at Christmas time because every section of every chapter is grounded in clear and applied scriptural exposition. A general introduction to each chapter is followed by careful and accessible handling of Bible passages. Joy to the World locates the message of the incarnation in the sweep of scripture as a whole; carefully relating the famous passages which we associate with the Christmas message to their context in their different scriptural books as well as in the unfolding revelation of the whole Bible.

Beasley-Murray sets out to help preachers and listeners alike to have increased clarity in their teaching and understanding of the Christmas message and his book from start to finish makes a bold attempt to stick to this goal. It is perhaps this which makes it most helpful as we teach the Christmas message to a culture (and increasingly to congregations?) which has only the most vague and generalised grasp of the relevance and significance of the birth of Jesus Christ.

In dealing with the three gospels which are used at Christmas time Joy to the World gives an extremely helpful explanation of the distinctives of Matthew, Luke and John as they write. The three chapters on these Gospels serve as an excellent introduction to the differing styles and aims of each Gospel writer as well as a source of helpful and clear exposition on the relevant passages.

The struggle that so many of us have with Christmas is in part due to the fact that there are only a limited number of ways of hanging the 'simple gospel' on a handful of 'Christmas Texts'. The great corrective of Joy to the World is that Beasley-Murray reminds us that the Bible does not present us with a simple gospel. Rather God gives us, in his wisdom, a gospel of such incalculable depth and immeasurable significance that our normal evangelical 'simple gospel' is exposed as the inadequate and trite offering which non-Christians are perhaps wise to treat it as.

Using Christmas to get at people is unlikely to be as effective in winning people for the kingdom as preaching the richness of the Lord Jesus from all the scriptures. Of course it is relatively easy to quickly whip together a Christmas sermon from a recent headline, a common misunderstanding of Christmas, a quick jibe at an inadequate carol and a gospel challenge at the end. Beasley-Murray helps us, especially in his chapters on the Old Testament prophecies and the New testament epistles, to do the hard work of understanding the meaning of the text in its own context before applying it to or own.

Joy to the World will help the diversity of our Christmas preaching to truly reflect the diversity of genre and style of Christmas texts that we find in scripture. Presumably a sermon on the magnificat should be substantially different from a sermon on the tightly condensed theology and thematic writing of John's prologue? As I read Beasley Murray's book I am not forced to reckon with these differing features of the gospel, but rather he writes in such a way that he has given me a desire to give people in our congregation a taste of and access to the real diversity of God's word.

In our anxiety to make the most of the evangelistic opportunity that Christmas is properly viewed as by the living Church, it is possible to starve the believers in our congregations, who are also the people whom Christ came to save. Beasley-Murray provides a steady stream of applications for Christian people for whom Christmas does not often seem like good news. To press gang hurting Christian people into a frenzied month of evangelism without enabling them to feed on God's word and worship the new born King together with profound thanksgiving and praise is a common dis-service which Joy to the World helps us to avoid.

Joy to the World demonstrates beyond doubt that it is this exposition of the Christmas message for the Church; in its fullest most appropriately varied, and carefully prepared sense, which is the power of God in the gospel and the unveiling of Jesus Christ that those outside the kingdom may see his grace and truth which Christ came to reveal. Beasley-Murray's book restores confidence in the thought that Biblical Exposition is our evangelism. Biblical preaching on the incarnation is without endless contortions and gimmicks to make Christmas relevant to people, the means by which lives of worship will be both restored and begun at Christmas time.

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