Christmas Day Worship
When Christmas last fell on a Sunday - in 2006 - the media had a field day when they realized that a number of evangelical mega-churches were not holding Christmas Day services. The New York Times interviewed pastors who said they were instead en-couraging "family observances," pointing out that hundreds of volunteers and staff are needed to pull off the huge services at such churches and that after a long Christmas Eve Saturday families needed time together. Commentators clucked their tongues at these consumer-oriented churches. Christmas is one of the holiest days of the year! How could Christmas Day services be "cancelled"? There was a gleeful edge to these questions, since that was the year many evangelicals launched campaigns against de-partment stores that wished their patrons "Happy Holidays."
Although it was satisfying for wee liberal kirks like Summit to see the mega churches take a hit, it was unfair and theologically unsound to criticize them for their lack of Christmas Day services. As we know -- being one of them - many Protestant Churches have services only on Christmas Eve. Having no worship on Christmas Day is nothing new. Christmas itself is a latecomer to the Christian calendar; it was not widely observed until about 400 years after Jesus was born. American Protestant churches, especially, have been lukewarm towards the holiday. Puritans didn't like it because they thought it was unnecessary, idolatrous and too much like those English Roman Catholics who enjoyed 12-day celebrations. In Massachusetts, Christmas was outlawed from 1659 to 1681! Christmas has become a wonderful celebration of the incarnation among nearly all believers, but theologians consider it secondary to the celebration of the Resurrection -- since the birth of Christ takes on special meaning only in light of his resurrection and presence among us through the Spirit. The resur-rection that we proclaim on Easter and, indeed, every Sunday.
And this is where the scandal truly lay. The problem was not in canceling Christmas Day services. The scandal was in canceling a Sunday service. The earliest Christians designated Sunday as "the Lord's Day," both to keep the sabbath commandment and to proclaim the resurrection of the crucified Lord. It was on a Sunday - the first day of the week in the Jewish calendar - that the women discovered the empty tomb, and so it was on a Sunday that early Christians gathered for the Eucharist. With few excep-tions, churches in all times and places have insisted that the community gather every Sunday, so that no week is missed in keeping one day holy to proclaim the risen Christ and to give thanks to God. So this year we'll celebrate the resurrection on Sunday the 25th and remember the birth of Christ, as all good Christmas carols do: "Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings" -- Hark the Herald Angels Sing!
So -- I'll see you on December 25th. It's a Sunday!
Grace and Peace,