No better place for families to gather
The case for worshiping on Christmas Day, every year
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Every few years, Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, which causes some Christian congregations to cancel their regularly scheduled Lord’s Day services, which causes many Christians to fight.
When this last happened six years ago, Kevin DeYoung pleaded with pastors not to cancel services, arguing that the Sunday-ness of that particular December 25 should take precedence over its Christmasy-ness. Religious celebrations, he argued, should trump family ones. On the pro-canceling side, Josh Daffern justified his congregation’s decision by appealing to the pious desire to give a sabbath rest to their overworked volunteers as well as the worship-requirement-sufficiency of their Christmas Eve services. This year, similar arguments have been tossed around in the Christian corners of social media.
If we want to have a greater sense of unity as we approach the coming Christmas Sunday, however, let us ask not why we’re canceling services when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. Let me ask a good Lutheran question: Why we don’t have a Christmas Day service every year?
Likewise, ask not whether the Lord’s Day should trump Family Snuggle Time. Ask why a Christmas Day service isn’t already an essential part of the Christian family’s Dec. 25 rhythm.
In many ways, the concept of Christmas is too big for one service. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is far too rich a theological topic to digest in one sitting, which is why we would be best served by adding more services to our Christmas celebration docket. The glory of God becoming man to bear our sins and be our Savior cannot adequately be covered in one sermon or one series of scripture readings or one handful of hymns. Frankly, it cannot be covered on one lifetime.
Let me make a Lutheran case for worship on Christmas Day. I love the way the Christmas story is divided in my church’s Christmas lectionary. In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Christmas Eve service is centered on Matthew’s account, which gives us Joseph’s perspective. It’s the story of Jesus being the rightful heir to David’s throne, sent to rule us in love forever. In the Christmas midnight account, we get Luke’s account, which gives us Mary’s perspective and the story of profound humanity and humility where the glorious Savior of the lowly enters this world in lowliness, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Then, on Christmas Day, you have John 1, the apostle’s beautiful meditation on the eternal Word of God, through whom all things were created, becoming flesh and dwelling among us that we might become the children of God.
If God gave us such multi-layered, unfathomable riches in the birth of His Son, it’s only fitting that we aim for something greater than one service that only permits us to pick and nibble at the various aspects of the Christmas miracle. The birth of God’s Son is an invitation for us to feast repeatedly. It’s fitting therefore for us to eat our fill of Good News on Christmas Eve, then return to the table for a similar but different meal the next morning. And it’s fitting for us to do this whichever day of the week we name Christmas.
Likewise, while “let families have Christmas day” advocates may be right that Christians are capable of meditating on Christ’s birth from the comfort of their homes on Dec. 25, it’s important to remember a major lesson of the incarnation, namely that worship is something greater than merely thinking about Christ. It’s receiving Him. If God was not content to hear our prayers from afar but insisted on becoming our Brother, there is no better place for families to gather each Christmas Day in the house where their Brother comes to greet them.
What better way then, for families to cherish each other’s company on Christmas Day than to gather together at the altar of their Brother who, as Lutherans affirm, in Holy Communion feeds them with the flesh that first appeared in Bethlehem’s manger? What better way for us to rejoice in family unity than to begin Christmas Day by drawing near the baptismal font where Christ united us with God and each other, where He made all the baptized into the family of God?
In Matthew 12, when told that His mother and brothers want to speak with Him, Jesus motions to His disciples and declares “here are my mother and my brothers.” As Christ’s disciples, and thus as His brothers and sisters, the greatest way our families can celebrate Christmas Day each year is to draw near our Brother and receive His eternal gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
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