We're holding Christmas Day worship services at our church, but I wish we weren't. I tried to convince my boss not to do it but he's insistent (read stubborn). He thinks that not having a service on Christmas day when it falls on Sunday is quite undersirable. I think his exact words were, "That's the most asinine thing I've ever heard." He may be right but that never stopped me in the past. So the church I serve will be having a service on Sunday December 25 at 10am and I myself will be participating in that service, with joy because it's worship and I love Jesus.
In the intrest of fairness, I've asked Will to post his opposing view on his blog. He's off making a hospital visit thrity miles away right now, so perhaps he'll get to it later. Doubtless he'll make good, perhaps passionate arguments. There's certainly no lack of passion around this issue as evidenced by posts on some other blogs, blogs I appreciate very much and whose every post I read.
Like most other churches we are having services on Christmas Eve, one at 7:30 and another at 11pm. I will be preaching at llpm as well as supplying most of the music. My colleague Will is slated to be in the pulpit at 7:30pm and again the following morning.
But I'll tell you what, I'd much rather be at home with my family on Christmas morning, even though it's a Sunday. I'd much rather head over to see my parents and brother and sister that morning than have to be at church offering a worship service for people who, if they're there at all, were already there a few hours before exercising their calling to offer themselves in corporate worship.
Christmas is a major festival day in the church year. Since it's a "feast" day, it might be cool if we scrapped our service and held a communal feast that perhaps included some elements of worship, sort of like a seder meal. I probably would not attend that, but it's a wonderful idea.
Some insist that churches are somehow shirking their responsibility to worship on the actual day of Jesus' birth. That's fine but December 25th is an arbitrary choice (actually, not so arbitrary, it dates back to about 335AD and was chosen to coincide with the winter solstice and as an alternative to more pagan winter celebrations). Jesus probably wasn't even born in December. If we celebrated his birthday when it really took place we'd likely be having our Christ Mass much earlier in the year. In fact, there is still no universal observance of December 25th, Sunday or not.
The current celebration of Christmas (and I mean the winter holiday that has evolved since those ancient times) has more in common with paganism than Christianity anyway. The reasoning that says we're not honoring Jesus' birth if we don't have a worship service on Christmas Day doesn't really square with the scriptures, though it sqaures pretty well with long standing church tradition. The same holds true for Sunday as a worship day in general, it's a choice made at some point in history and affirmed throughout centuries of practice. But it's still a choice.
Yes, Christmas is a Sunday this year and that is the traditionally recognized Christian day for worship. But we're having two services on Saturday evening and though Will insists otherwise, the same people (though a lot less of them) will be there on Sunday. Scripturally speaking, there is simply no institution of any kind of birth celebration. The nativity story isn't even in two of the Gospels. Christmas itself has little ground to stand on when you think about it theologically.
One could argue that it is Christmas Eve services that are a waste of time and we should celebrate instead on the closest Sunday to the most commonly agreed upon date for the birth of Christ. From a purely theological standpoint, I find that option kind of attractive. But we've established a church tradition of celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve. I'm not sure why that happend, I had a hard time finding reliable information about the origins of Christmas Eve celebrations. My guess is that the celebration of Christmas Eve originated because of Matthew and Luke's birth narratives, which have Jesus being born at night, or at least the announcement being made at night.
What I do know is that some of the most powerful worship experiences for me personally and for the congregations I've been involved with have occurred on Christmas Eve and on Easter Sunday. The one time in my ministry career that Christmas fell on a Sunday, I enthusiastically and with great naivete volunteered to help with the worship services. It was a pain in the butt, hardly anyone showed up and those who did were, almost to a person, there out of a sense of obligation and in a foul mood. Give me an authentic worship experience on Christmas Eve over that any day.
I think it would be worth unruffling your feathers in this case, provided they were ruffled in the first place. And I know that those of you who are concerned about having Christmas Day worship services do plan on being in church that morning, at whatever church is holding them, like ours.
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