While Some Churches Cancel Christmas Sunday Services, Christ Remains a Scandal

Christmas Day is on a Sunday this year, and just like in 2005, we hearing about churches cancelling their Sunday services because it is Christmas and they want to free people up to be with their families. I understand that the secular version of Christmas is about family and friends and gift giving and what not, and I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with that – those things are worth celebrating and Christians should celebrate them too. But, the Christian version of Christmas is obviously about Jesus and it just seems like a big cave to the secular nature of the holiday for churches to cancel their weekly Sunday worship service because it happens to also be Christmas Day.

Of course, the vast majority of churches ARE having worship on Sunday, but it is the ones that aren't that are attracting attention. Many of the churches that are not having worship are REALLY large – like of the 10,000 to 20,000 members variety. I say something about this here not to cast judgment on other churches (admittedly, I do not know every reason why every church cancels worship on a Sunday). But, since the megachurches usually set the trends for the rest of Evangelical Christianity (what the megas do one year, others seem to do in following years thinking that if the big churches do it it must be a good thing), I think that it is worth considering if this is the best approach.

My view is that it is better for churches to go ahead and have worship on Sunday (radical, I know), even if, perhaps ESPECIALLY if, that Sunday happens to be Christmas Day.  Christmas is the day that Christians have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ. It is when we celebrate the Incarnation, when God put on flesh and made His dwelling among us, when Jesus

Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
   taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!   (Phil. 2:6-8)

Jesus went through a great deal to be our Savior, including being born very, very small, as a human baby, to live among us and take our sins upon Himself and die so that our sins would die with Him and raise from the dead to give new life to all who believe in Him.  Worshiping Christ with the church on the day that we set aside to honor His birth, especially when that day is a Sunday, the day each week that we gather for worship to celebrate the Resurrection, seems like the appropriate thing to do.

It is not my intention to reduce our relationship with Christ to attendance at a worship service on a certain day. Obviously, that would be a mistake. I also do not take aim at individuals or families who, for different reasons, are genuinely not able to be in worship on Sunday – Christmas Day. I am not anyone's judge and do not intend to decide in every case whether an individual or family should or even could attend worship on Sunday. But, I do find it ironic that churches are cancelling their worship services on Sunday. Why would you cancel outright?  Maybe a reduced, scaled down worship service would be appropriate. Worship in church on Christmas used to be one of the biggest days of the year. Now, we are cancelling services because some pastors/leaders say that it is better to stay home with our families and enjoy the day. What if there are even better ways to celebrate than spending the entire day immersed in consumer electronics, wrapping paper, and rich food?  What if being in God's presence with the Body of Christ was actually better?

No, I don't think that you are going to hell if your church cancels worship on Christmas. But, I do think that it sends a message, as a church, about what your priorities are, and that is important too. I will not be looking around my church to see who is there or who isn't and judging anyone. I have no idea what each situation is and why people come and why they don't. But, I will worship God with whoever does come and thank Him for Jesus' birth and life and death and resurrection, as we do every Sunday as a worshipping community of Christ.

I know that some might say that I should not talk about this, that it is better to live and let live and not to make a big deal out of what others do. I am supposed to be positive all the time, especially at Christmas. Ok. But, I also know that Christ is a scandal, a stumbling block, and even an inconvenience. He messes with our traditions, customs, and cultural practices. He calls us to reorient around Him, not the other way around, and perhaps this seems strange to us. But, we are in good company if it does. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 says, 

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

We live in a country with complete freedom to worship how we choose and that can sometimes be a mixed blessing when choices are made according to what we prefer or what seems easiest to us. Everything is very convenient for us. We have air conditioning and heat and automobiles and comfortable seats and nice sound systems and messages tailored for us that are not too long with video and pastors who are entertaining and relevant and coffee and donuts and good friends and greeters and smiling faces and nothing that would make us uncomfortable. And, we have constructed a religion that does not really require us to sacrifice anything at all because it is all so wonderful and easy and hey, let's just spend time with our families at home in our pajamas and I'm sure that Jesus is okay with that.  Maybe He is and I've got it all wrong. Maybe it doesn't matter to God if we cancel worship on Sunday because it is Christmas Day. Maybe God doesn't care if we celebrate Christmas at all. I don't know. I'm not trying to speak for God here. But, it just strikes me as strange, odd even, that those who are known by the name of Christ, as Christ-followers, would be ones who find it too inconvenient to worship Christ together on the day we celebrate His birth.

It just seems to me, that if we are Christians and if we are going to do a bunch of Christmas stuff because it is the time that we celebrate the birth of Christ and we say that Jesus is the "Reason for the Season," that it is contradictory to cancel worship on Sunday because it happens to be Christmas Day and we are used to having that day off.  We only get a chance to have worship on Christmas day once every 6-8 years. Maybe instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, we could see it as a great blessing – something our children will remember and be thankful for. Perhaps we should see it as a chance to make a prophetic statement about what we value most – that we are people who orient our lives around Christ and the worship of the Saints together.

At the time of Christ's birth, there was no room for Him in the Inn and he was born in a stable among the animals. Let us make room for Christ in the midst of our traditions and festivities so that we can celebrate Him with the Body of Christ, His family, the children of God. Let us reorient around Christ, even at, no especially at Christmas.

"Let every heart prepare Him room . . ." 

6 Responses to While Some Churches Cancel Christmas Sunday Services, Christ Remains a Scandal

  1. Alan: It doesn’t make one more spiritual and right with God who attend church today as opposed to those who don’t. Being with family honors God too. In fact so many get so bogged down with church activities that they neglect the family and today could be the start of putting family first, which should be anyway.
    It doesn’t matter if these churches are closed today and had services yesterday or Friday or if they are open today. I went to church today, but not because I thought it would get me blessed by God or I was more spiritual, I just wanted to be there today. But, if I had to go out to be with family, that is where I would have been. That for me was last night after I got off of work.
    As for wishing or causing intentional discomfort, I again disagree. We are who we are in Christ which is why we are blessed, not for what we do, not for a vow of poverty or any other deed. If God has blessed you with comfort, cherish it, enjoy it fully and thank God daily. There is no spirituality to be found by self depravtion or vows of poverty or wishing persecution on yourself. Christ took all that on himself at Calvary and unfortunately to few Christians grasp that but it is throughout the Bible. God gave us all good things to enjoy. That is actual scripture.
    Enjoy life, breathe in God’s blessings, be with family and don’t be at church every time the doors are open, or be at church every time the doors are open because you want to, but don’t judge those who don’t do all the requirements that you and others thrust on them. God will still bless, or he will send famine, not because we failed to be at church but for his purposes.

  2. Debbie, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I appreciate it. I apologize for not being clearer in my post, and will accept all the blame for how I communicated. If you think that I am trying to put people under burdens or say that they are more spiritual or more blessed if they go to church on Christmas Day, you could not be more wrong. Our blessing and righteousness is in Christ and Him alone. I do not see gathering together with the people of God to worship Christ on the day that we set aside to honor His birth as a burden or an example of being there everytime the doors are open in some type of legalistic fashion. You can have those arguments with other people, but I am not one of them.
    I am expressing my opinion. I said that I do not claim to speak for God on this. You and everyone else are free to do as they like. Churches are free to do as they like. I am sure that God’s love and grace is greater than whether or not a church chooses to have a service on a Sunday. If you go back and read, I was careful to not apply this post to individuals or families. I applied it to churches who cancelled services altogether and was trying to make a plea that there is a blessing for us if we choose to meet, even on Christmas Day, and worship the Lord.
    Our church met for worship today. Many were gone. I hope they had a great Christmas wherever they were. Many were there and there were many guests, visitors, family members, and former members back in town. It was a glorious service and God blessed us all greatly. I would not have missed it for the world. God moved mightily and tears were flowing freely as worship was given to the King of Kings. All that I am saying is that it is a good thing and it is good to trust that God can meet us in powerful ways – even on Christmas Day.
    And, we spent the rest of the day with our family. Nothing was lost, but much was gained.

  3. Alan: Of course I read, I have been following you for about 5 years. I love your writing. 🙂
    I must take exception on this post however. I also read the first paragraph. I just don’t think it’s wrong for churches to have canceled services today. Most had service on Friday and Saturday. Many churches knew their members were going to be gone out of town or in town with families.
    Our church did not cancel services, but I think by saying churches should have all stayed open, you are also putting a burden on those who are pastors and needed or wanted to be with their families as well as those other church workers who could use the time away to be with their families. Most have had the hard job of doing church programs and other extras for the past couple of months and a break is not wrong. It is putting an extra burden on whether you mean to or not, and I am sure you are not meaning to. Christ is where we are and that would include in our homes. I don’t think there is a Christian that has not given time to Christ’s birth today. Christ was honored whether the building was open or not.

  4. Debbie,
    I get all of that. We have had our own slew of programs and ministries. Like I said, of course churches are free to do what they want. I plan to take off this next week to get away with my family. Individuals are free to do what they want as well. I am no ones judge.
    For almost 2000 years, Christian churches have met on Sundays to give worship to God. It is only recently that we are cancelling worship because ministers are so tired and need to spend time with family on Christmas. I am not trying to lay down a law. You are running to a law/grace divide that I am not proposing. It is all grace. We get to gather for worship – we do not have to. I am making a case to continue the practice even if the family celebration of Christmas seems to interfere every 6-8 years. It is an invitation to open the church doors on a Sunday to all who WANT to gather on the day we celebrate Christs birth together in corporate worship. Like I said, we did so today and it was a glorious time together. We did not and will not judge any who did not come. As a pastor, it was a privilege to be there.
    We dont see church gatherings as a production or a burden or something we have to do. We get to do this. If I was so exhausted and needing to be with my family so much between 10-12 that I had to cancel church, I would think I might need to take a look at how Im seeing things. By the way, I have spent the rest of the day with my family. It has been great. We also close the church office for the next week and I will take off next Sunday. I have an elder preaching for me.
    Again, our righteousness is in Christ, not performance. But, we GET to gather for worship. Meeting with the church on the day we celebrate Christs birth for an hour made the day better for my family and I, not worse. It was an amazing day. I am making a case to continue that practice instead of forsaking it because we think we can improve on our personal experience by closing the church doors.
    I respect your opinion, Debbie. I am just sharing mine. I guess we see this differently, but that is okay too. I am better for discussing things with people who differ from me. Thank you for engaging.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  5. Our church had a Christmas Eve service, and our regular service on Christmas morning. The two services were not repetitive, but complimentary. Our congregation generally numbers about 90 on Sunday morning, we had over 100 on Christmas Eve, and fewer than 30 on Christmas, but I don’t think that attending either of those sent some kind of message about spirituality or commitment. We celebrated Christ’s birth on Christmas eve, and we celebrated his resurrection, as is our normal practice, on Sunday morning, which also happened to be Christmas day. Many of our members were with their families, and didn’t join us here on Sunday morning, but there were family members of other members who came with them Sunday morning, including the pastor’s Mother-in-Law, and all of his children who do not live in our community.
    I think we should be understanding of the fact that people are going to spend time with family on Christmas, and take a position which doesn’t make them feel obligated to be in their own church, while at the same time making it known that there will be a time of worship. I would gladly volunteer to take responsibility for helping to see that a worship service took place in my church on Christmas if my pastor or other worship leaders wanted to spend that day with their family, who lived out of town.