Keep the Lord’s Day Holy, Even if It Falls on Christmas

christmas-church-2by John Ellis

Writing in 1904, Pastor Daniel Faris fondly remembers the church of his youth. His brief anecdotes of his childhood church are interesting and challenging. One of the constant themes running throughout his recollections is the seriousness with which people engaged the Lord’s Day during his childhood. For example, according to Faris, unless sick or holding a child, people would stand for the entirety of prayers. He admiringly muses over the four hour long sermons. From the tone of the piece, Faris believed that many Christian’s approach to the Lord’s Day was lacking in humility and gravity at the time of his writing in the early years of the twentieth century. Well it’s been over one hundred years since Daniel Faris penned his words, and things haven’t gotten any better. In fact, many professing Christian’s attitude towards the Lord’s Day may have gotten worse.

I frequently encounter posts on social media expressing thankfulness for the shortness of sermons. Some seem to believe that it’s a point of pride that their pastor rarely preaches over thirty minutes. While in high school, I worked at a church camp that frequently featured an evangelist who was “famous” for his sermons that were less than twenty minutes in duration. I distinctly remember him, because lunch was prepared during the late morning service; the weeks he spoke were more stressful than most weeks for the kitchen staff. More often than not, bragging about the shortness of sermons may very well reveal that the individual believes the preaching of God’s Word to be subservient to their desires, plans, and time.

It’s next to impossible to deny that a consumer mentality has pervaded much of American evangelicalism. Many churches have even embraced that mentality by adopting the marketing slogan “seeker sensitive.” Turning church into a consumer centric enterprise is a danger to the church’s mission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As one noted pastor and author frequently says, what you use to get them in the doors is what you’ll have to use to keep them. As Christians, we are called to deny ourselves and take up our cross; Christianity is most decidedly not a self-centered religion. Sadly, many churches and pastors in America have fallen prey to the belief that being a Christian is just one identity among many identities that characterize their church members instead of recognizing that the Lordship of Christ demands that we shed our self-centeredness and find our full and final identity in Jesus.

Our approach to worshipping God on His day reveals much about where our identity is placed. “Shopping” for a church that caters to our consumer demands of short sermons and fun-filled programs while not asking us to give too much of ourselves to the work of encouraging, admonishing, and praying for our church family and to the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a sign that we bow down to false idols.

Sadly, nothing may reveal the idolatrous heart of self-centeredness than the fact that many churches across this country will not be meeting this coming Sunday. This coming Sunday, of course, is December 25; or, as it’s better known, this coming Sunday is Christmas.

For most Christians in modern America, the tension between the warm and fuzzy secular Christmas and the joyful yet sobering reality of the First Advent exists every year. We sing along to the radio as the DJ plays “Jingle Bells” and “O Holy Night” without considering that the two songs are actually about two different things. We tell our kids to remember that the reason for the season is Jesus while we search for White Christmas on Netflix.

For the record, I’m a fan of the secular version of Christmas that celebrates sugar cookies, family gatherings, and the opportunity to heap presents on children. As I write this, I’m looking at four stockings hung by the chimney with care. Across the room from those stockings is an overly plump Christmas tree covered in shiny, silver balls, twinkling lights, and an assortment of hand-made ornaments. Under that tree is a pile of Christmas presents, waiting for little hands to rip the festive paper off with glee. I am no Grinch nor Scrooge[1], but I pray that in the midst of all the festivities and holiday merriment I am communicating to my family that without the incarnation of Jesus Christ, we have nothing to celebrate[2]. To that end, I am looking forward to attending church on this coming Lord’s Day, December 25, 2016.

In fact, if it were up to me, Christmas would be celebrated on Sunday every year. Kind of like how Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday of every November; Christmas should be celebrated on the third Sunday of every December, or the second Sunday, it doesn’t really matter[3], as long as it’s celebrated on the Lord’s Day. This, of course, will probably never happen; I’m resigned to that fact. As a substitute, I would happily settle for my brothers and sisters in Christ joyfully embracing the years when Christmas does fall on a Sunday by making it a priority to attend church that day. Sadly, many churches have canceled services this coming Sunday.

It boggles my mind that Christian churches cancel services on the day that we’ve collectively decided to celebrate the incarnation of our prophet, priest, and king. Out of all the days of the year to discard the Lord’s Day[4], why the day on which we celebrate the First Advent? If anything, churches should hold services on Christmas every year, even the years that Christmas falls on Monday through Saturday. Sadly, the flippant attitude towards King Jesus that characterizes many professing Christians is on full display. Worshiping God on His terms has sunk to the role of a box to check during our weekly itineraries. Some weeks, boxes other than corporately worshiping God take precedence over the worship and praise of our Creator and Savior.

The rejoinder, of course, is that holding church service on Christmas will get in the way of family time. Well, family is a metaphor that points to the true family – the family of God. Prioritizing a socially constructed family time over the praise and worship of God the Father may very well reveal that people worship the metaphor over the actual. Or, to be blunt, not going to church this Sunday may reveal the worship of idols in hearts instead of the one true God. Thankfully, that’s the very reason for Christmas.

Jesus took on the form of human flesh because we are all incapable of satisfying God’s just requirements of holiness; we all are sinners. We all worship idols. Jesus came to earth with the objective of fulfilling God’s just requirements of God’s holiness for us. What’s more, Jesus was born to die. Sin has to be punished; specifically, our sin has to be punished. God became man in order to pay the penalty for the sins of His people. Christmas exists because humans are sinful.

The glorious and gracious fact that Jesus was born to die for our sins should be reasons enough to cause his followers to joyfully flock to church on Sunday morning in order to sing his praises, hear the preaching of the word of his glorious gospel, and to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. The fact that God commands His people to keep His day holy should be the unneeded backstop to protecting the Lord’s Day on December 25, 2016. Christians should be eagerly looking forwarding to worshipping their Creator and Savior this coming Sunday.

[1] Don’t forget, I’m the guy who wrote this.

[2] One of the ways in which I’m doing this is by reading and discussing the excellent little book Why Christ Came during our family devotions.

[3] I’ve never met a single Christian who actually believes that Jesus was born in December, much less on December 25. The date, whether the first, second, or third Sunday, doesn’t really matter. As long as it’s a Sunday.

[4] For the record, no Sunday should be discarded. The fact that churches and Christians even consider “discarding” the Lord’s Day at any point of the year is incredibly shameful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s