I spoke to someone the other day about how we would be adjusting our family Christmas morning activities because of Christmas falling on a Sunday, given the fact that our church would be meeting for worship that morning.
“You’re having church on Christmas?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s Sunday.”
“And you are having a Christmas Eve service, too?”
“Wow,” she laughed. “That’s a lot of Jesus.”
She’s right, in a way. But is that bad?
I’ve spoken with pastors whose churches are canceling services on Christmas morning, most so that they do not disrupt special family time. That’s an honorable and precious motive, but one which may be tilting in the direction of the not-too-glorious triumph of the family. As my friend, Geoff Henderson, has often pointed out, and does so eloquently in this context here, the church in an attempt to honor the family runs the risk of idolizing the family.
Certainly left unchecked the church can become a hub of activity that draws husband away from wife and child away from parent. But an equal and perhaps greater danger is the ‘corrective’ that subtly communicates to our children that their personal preferences are more important than the worship of God. I know the challenges and have faced them when sporting events are scheduled during Sunday worship. There are hard decisions here, decisions which aren’t always clear. But do we not at some point subtly communicate to our children that public worship is and can be a secondary matter? Whether we mean to or not, when we choose family tradition, i.e. Christmas morning, over the worship of God (ostensibly the origin of that family tradition) we have chosen family over God. And that makes me sad.
But you think I’m overreacting. I know. Maybe I am. What is one Sunday, after all? That’s an important question. It’s one Sunday, but maybe we need this Sunday more than most.
It has been a hard year. It’s been hard for our family personally, but it has been hard for us all culturally. In the light of this past year, I was asked twice in one day this week how I keep pressing on through all the realities that threaten to pull us down. My response was, without any sense of pastoral piety, and without hesitation, “Advent.” Advent, of which Christmas is the culmination, keeps me going.
The promise of Advent in the Christian calendar is that the sad things in this world are going to be undone. The promise is that those things which are broken will be healed and that the evil that has embedded its terrible talons in our flesh and threatened to drag us to the ground will be stripped of power and banished from doing us harm. The hope of Jesus’ birth is that with his coming God has begun a work which he fully intends to complete. Advent and Christmas is the season that confirms to us that there will be a time when
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)
This is not simply an ‘in house’ kind of hope. Memoirist Mary Karr, whose spiritual convictions are unknown to me and certainly not revealed on her Twitter feed, tweeted this week a quote she attributed simply to the prophet Isaiah.
“Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
Make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened,
Be strong, fear not.”
She feels it. She longs for it, as we all do. The hope we have, absent from her tweet, is Advent. For the hope that was Isaiah’s is ours:
“Behold your God…. He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)
What we all long for whether we know it or not is the coming of One who will make things right. Worship on Christmas is not an interruption in our family lives. It is an act of desperate hope.
If three or thirty or three hundred gather for worship on Christmas morning, it will be a time to bow before the one who has come and is coming, and to drink deeply of the hope we celebrate in the gifts we give.
Heaven knows, we need it.
We need Jesus. We need, in fact, a lot of Jesus.