No Reason for Christmas
Celebrations don’t generally need justification, as most of us find plenty of reasons for celebrating.
Friday night, for example, is when lots of people let their hair down after a long week at work. In our modern industrialized culture that values work and production above most everything else, a Friday night “out on the town” is a sort of celebration of finished work. It’s a celebration that grows out of the human need for leisure.
While joyful celebrations are a normal and healthy part of the human experience, how and what we celebrate matters a lot more than we may realize. How we celebrate and what we celebrate reveals our understanding of the world and our priorities in it.
This year, one of our most important human celebrations falls on a Sunday. I’m of course talking about Christmas. This happens about every six years or so accounting for leap years.
Surprisingly, when Christmas falls on a Sunday, there is no lack of churches that will decide to cancel services. Similarly, there will be no lack of Christians who will choose to stay home and pursue a more “family-oriented experience” around the Christmas tree.
This is not only sad and disappointing; it’s simply wrong. At best it shows how ignorant we Christians are of our own faith, and at worst it reveals the selfish delusions of our sinful hearts.
While much more than what I’m prepared to offer could and should be said on this matter, I did want to throw in my two cents and offer at least three reasons why it’s wrong for churches to cancel services when Christmas falls on the Lord’s Day.
First and foremost, it is the Lord’s Day.
Christians have a reason to celebrate and a command not to neglect that celebration. The reason is Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and Christians have, since the first century, gathered to worship on the first day of the week (Acts 20:6).
The author of Hebrews reminds believers, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25, ESV). How much more should this be true when the church’s celebration of the resurrection and the celebration of the incarnation land on the same day?
Biblically and reasonably speaking, unless there is a really good reason not to gather together on the Lord’s day, like being providentially hindered in some way, Christians should want to be faithful to the covenant renewal service, the gathering of God’s redeemed to celebrate the covenant of new life we have in Jesus Christ, by feasting on the Word and Sacraments.
Second, prioritizing a “family experience” over the corporate covenant renewal experience is dangerous, if not potentially damning.
What does the Christian do with the invitation to come to the Lord’s house and partake of the grace of his Word, to feast at his table of bread and wine, and to fellowship with his people in corporate prayer and confession of sin?
Is it not a rejection of the Lord’s invitation? And what does it say of our faith? (Matthew 7:21-23)
By canceling services, church leaders deny God’s people the Word and Sacraments; and Christians who exchange the Lord’s Day services for a sentimental “family experience,” ironically deprive their family of spiritual nourishment and teach their children sentimentality is to be valued above reality.
Finally, skipping church or canceling Lord’s Day services on Christmas relegates the holiday to a civic celebration, and not a sacred one.
The very word Christmas means Christ’s Mass. Though Protestants would reject the Roman Catholic Mass on its own terms, the fact that the name of the sacred observance of the incarnation refers to a worship service has huge implications.
By its very etymology, to celebrate Christmas is to worship Christ as part of a covenant renewal service.
In that case, Christmas is not for the family; the family is for Christmas. We must recognize everything joyous about our Christmas celebration is because we are invited into Jesus Christ.
Without celebrating Jesus there is no Christmas celebration. It becomes nothing more than an empty, commercialized civic holiday, like Labor Day, or Presidents Day. Without Christ, there is no reason for giving and receiving presents. No reason for lights and decorations. No reason to sing and laugh. No reason at all to celebrate.
And just to add insult to injury, what’s most intriguing about the mindset here is that the people who often begrudge Church services on Christmas are the same ones who believe that burning the American flag is a desecration of all that the flag stands for. In a word, to burn the flag is to desecrate the idea of freedom.
And in a word, to cancel church services on Christmas is to forsake the reason for celebrating altogether. Apart from the church, there’s no reason for Christmas.
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He shares valuable tips on writing and teaching, rich insights into theology and literature, and meaningful perspective on living a life of significance. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.