On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, thousands of area residents, family members, friends and guests will fill local churches for worship. For the clergy who lead the Christmas service, the elaboration of the sermon is of particular importance. Especially this year, as they will likely see their biggest gatherings in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of denomination, the clergy in the area are doing what they can to create the best sermons possible for the holidays. Reverend Jon-Marc MacLean will lead five services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at the central campus of Hope Lutheran Church in The Villages. He maintains a list of current research and sermons and has kept all of his notes from previous sermons over the years. He learned what it takes to prepare a good Christmas sermon.
âThe story of Christmas is a story that everyone knows,â he said. âYou can’t really do it new, but you can make it accessible. “
MacLean uses ideas he collected throughout the year, as well as anything he didn’t use last year, to write his sermon. It takes about a day to complete. He said this year’s sermon and services will be different, given how unusual the past year was.
âThe past year has been very cut off, socially distant, we haven’t even used real candles,â he said. âLast month we saw a huge influx of people returning to worship in person. Some are snowbirds, others are newcomers to the area, and there are those who have been reluctant to set foot in the sanctuary for almost two years. These Christmas services will be homecoming events for the Lutheran community in Hope. “
Unlike MacLean, Father Peter Puntal of St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Wildwood doesn’t spend a lot of time writing sermons in his office. Puntal is known for his ability to deliver rich and deep sermons without depending on grades.
âEverything is spontaneous,â he says. âI do a mind map before I talk to parishioners and go from there. I find that sometimes, if you have a piece of paper in front of you, there is a barrier between you and the parishioners.
Puntal plans to focus on the theme of gratitude during his Christmas sermon. He said his church had been through a lot in the past year because of the pandemic, but found ways to overcome obstacles. âLast year during Advent we prayed and God answered our prayers,â he said. âWe were able to keep our pantry operational and thousands of people were able to eat. Our new Family Life Center has been built. We have more people than ever helping us with our outreach programs, and we are seeing a healthy influx of people signing up to join the church.
This year marks the first Christmas Sermon for Reverend Samuel Nsengiyumva as Rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Fruitland Park.
âChristmas is unique and the sermon is easy for me,â he said. âYou get the same message every year, so it takes less time to write it. Sometimes I don’t write it down.
Nsengiyumva said he was focusing on one theme for his Christmas sermon – an inclusive message.
âHave no fear, I bring you good news, which is news for everyone,â he said. âChristmas is a season of good news. God loves us and the Christmas message is that God cares about us. Where there is darkness there is light, and Jesus is the light of the world.
Nsengiyumva has said now, more than ever, that such a message is important to convey, given the anxiety that many people have endured over the past two years. But he sees that anxiety fade away.
âPeople are more positive, more confident,â he said. “Christmas is a time to celebrate that positive, the hope, the good news and the joy.”
It’s also Reverend Bridgette Sullenger’s First Christmas at First Christian (Disciples of Christ) in Wildwood, and she knows how important the worship service and sermon will be to the church.
Although there are no recent studies on the subject, it is widely believed that Christmas and Easter worship attracts the most attendance at Christian shrines.
âThis is a service where everyone brings a friend or family member with them,â Sullenger said. âYou want to make this service absolutely special. “
For Sullenger, writing a sermon takes up to eight hours a week depending on the department. The Christmas sermon is no different.
âYou want to focus on the Christmas story itself,â she said. “You make sure the sermon is special, because all worship revolves around the Christmas story.”
First Christian expects a number of his devotees to return to the shrine for the first time in nearly two years for Christmas Eve worship.
âPeople want to connect more, to make it a special experience,â Sullenger said. “They want it to be meaningful, uplifting, and to truly reflect spirituality and faith.”
Principal writer James Dinan can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5302, or [email protected]