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 . . ."