A Book for the Season

Advent season is coming up (for those who want to celebrate Christmas!). I do not wish to engage in that debate. I merely want to point out a book that would be very useful for anyone desiring to focus on the beauty of the Incarnation ‘long about November 30 and following.

The book itself is a collection of sermons on the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, as well as the first chapter of John, which focuses quite a bit of attention on the Incarnation. Dan Doriani is doing the Matthew commentary in the Reformed Expository Commentary (which will be coming out in December, Lord-willing), Phil Ryken is doing Luke, and Rick Phillips is doing John, all in this series. Luke and John will probably come out next year. In addition, then, to giving help for the Christmas season, this book also gives the reader a preview of coming attractions.

One other note is in order before continuing on to discuss the substance of what is said, and that is that there are significant liturgical helps in the back of the book, including an essay by Mark Dalbey on Christ-centered worship connected to the Nativity; an order of worship for a Christmas Eve service of lessons and carols (submitted by Rick Phillips), and 5 newly composed Christmas carols, the music written by Paul Jones (music director at Tenth Presbyterian Church), and the words written by Phil Ryken, James Boice, Paul Jones, Derek Thomas, and Eric Alexander. And lastly, there is an appendix of Dan Doriani’s reflections on Christmas customs. The appendices make for a well-rounded discussion of Christmas. The only thing lacking is a defense of celebrating Christmas, with an eye to explaining to those who don’t celebrate it why it is done. But a book cannot do everything. This book does almost everything you would want out of a book that is intended to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

The Matthew sermons take one through chapters 1-2 of Matthew. Just for comparison’s sake, here are my four sermons covering the same material (1, 2, 3, and 4). Doriani makes the following points: that the identity of Jesus if important (including the Gentiles who are in the family line!); Jesus is from the family line of David, but is not from the flesh of David (p. 23); God is with us in Jesus; how one responds to the command to worship Jesus is all-important (an interesting and helpful incidental note is that Joseph and Mary probably used the gifts of the magi to fund their flight to Egypt, p. 50); and the search for Jesus to end his life is part of the far larger picture of Genesis 3 and the battle of the seeds.

Phil’s sermons take the organization of the Latin names for the songs of the nativity in Luke: Magnificat (go here for the most beautiful musical rendering of the text EVER); Benedictus (listen to Telemann’s rendering); Gloria in Excelsis Deo (listen to Bach’s rendering); Nunc Dimittis (Holst has an excellent rendition). There is not much I could say about these sermons that wouldn’t be gilding the lily. They are simply brilliant.

Rick takes on the monumental task of preaching on John 1:1-18. He does a great job of keeping the reader’s head above water (for it would be quite easy to drown in such deep waters). Rick keeps the Gospel front and center, as is evident from pp. 144-145, where Rick ties in the living Word to our human sin problem in a very helpful way. Also, Rick uses illustrations in a way that actually supports the point he is trying to make, rather than simply quoting an illustration for the sake of telling a story to entertain. The illustration about Harry Ironside on pp. 154-155 is eminently quotable, but also makes the point that the Gospel changes people by warming them to their Savior.