Today, this thought struck me. Thousands, if not millions, will wake up tomorrow morning, exchange gifts, visit with family and engage in other holiday traditions, all the while thinking they are celebrating Christmas. However, the stark reality is that they celebrate something completely other than Christmas. Why is this? Because they will intentionally and willfully skip services with their local expression of the Body of Christ to take part in other holiday traditions. I decided to share this thought with friends on Twitter and Facebook. I phrased it like this:
Know this: if you skip church tomorrow morning to celebrate Christmas….Christmas is not what you celebrate.
One of my friends from church asked a thoughtful and honest question on Facebook in response to my post. In short, he was questioning whether my statement was correct. Does skipping church on Christmas really relegate your celebration as something less than honoring to Christ? His reaction was that it did not. He reasoned that if it did, the church would need to schedule a worship service on the 25th of December, no matter what day it fell on. I decided that my friend deserved a thoughtful answer to his question. So here it goes.
For over 2,000 years, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has gathered on the first day of the week to worship our risen and reigning Savior. This is what we do. Worship and fellowship with the church has been the priority since the beginning. It is part of the warp and woof of the Christian life. Yet, in the recent years when Christmas has fallen on a Sunday, this strange phenomena occurs. Christians, in droves, skip meeting together (even more ludicrous are the churches that close down altogether…but that’s another issue for another day). Why is this? Why skip church on Christmas? Frankly, it’s just easier. There is family, presents, traditions, breakfasts and lunches to prepare. Church is just an interruption in the day. Church requires getting ready and leaving the house. Church makes it more difficult to coordinate schedules, etc. But what does the choice of ease and comfort over worship in word and song say about us? Can we truly say we celebrate the advent of our Lord and Savior while we cloister ourselves away from the very ones Jesus has saved? Can we call what we do tomorrow morning “Christmas” when we ignore the weekly gathering of Christ’s body? I submit that we cannot. For in that act, we repudiate the very thing Christmas teaches us. For it was not for ease and comfort that Jesus came into this world. From the get go, his life was difficult. He was the adopted son of a poor carpenter from a backwater town. He had no place to lay his head. He was the suffering servant who bore our sins and suffered a terrible death on a cross that belonged to us. Thank God Jesus did not choose ease and comfort. Otherwise, there would be no Christmas to celebrate.
This is why I firmly believe that you cannot call your celebration “Christmas” and remove yourself from the weekly scheduled gathering which heralds all that Christmas set out to do. It smacks of hypocrisy and poor theology (this is not to say my friend is a hypocrite or poor theologian. I am speaking of those who practice such things). The logical end of thinking one can skip Sunday services and still honor Christ is the abandonment of the church all together. For if skipping the weekly scheduled gathering on Christmas is no harm, neither should any other weekly scheduled gathering. Suddenly, the foundation for worship and fellowship with the church crumbles. And the author of Hebrews warns us against this very thing. The end of those who neglect meeting together is not rest, but wrath. Eternity is at stake in these matters!
Another question I have is why would any Christian want to skip church on Sunday? Is not gathering together in corporate worship a delight? Is it not a joyful reminder of the future that awaits us in the presence of our serpent-thrashing Savior King? How is a bigoted fat man with rosy cheeks and red suit a better option? If skipping church is the desired choice, what does that say about where our joy and treasure really lie?
At the same time, I do not believe churches should schedule a worship service every December 25th (but I am a fan of Christmas Eve services). I am simply critiquing the prioritization of other culturally adapted holiday traditions over Christian worship. Priorities have the tendency to reveal idolatries. And if Christmas falls on Sunday and corporate worship is not the priority, then don’t fool yourself into thinking what you celebrate is Christmas. In fact, you really just skipped it. That’s all I was trying to convey in my tweet (irony: 800 words to explain 140 characters).
As far as it depends on you (because sometimes, it doesn’t), when Christmas falls on the Lord’s day, make corporate worship the priority. The fellowship, the opportunity to sing songs of salvation and the conviction of the Word preached will outstrip any inconveniences that hour and half may cause you. I will guarantee you that one.
I hope and pray that you and yours have a very Merry Christmas.