So, should we have services on Christmas Day, or should we cancel?
The first time I heard about a church canceling a Sunday, ANY Sunday, for a reason other than dire emergencies, was early December 2005. This girl I was dating at the time told me that her family’s church, the squarely cool North Point Conglomerate Church in the Atlanta area, was canceling their services on Christmas Day.
Naturally, we broke up on Christmas Eve.
Thanks be to God, I eventually married a Methodist. The good kind, with plenty of good liturgical sense.
These days, I’m hearing about taking this annual snow day more and more, especially on these occasions when the 25th just happens to fall on a Sunday. You’ve heard the supporters, some of them even here on Patheos Evangelical, talk about how great it is that they’re not bound by this stuffy, rote, religious-not-relationship liturgical custom and are free to give back to their volunteers and their families by not putting them through the whole Jesus thing again on Christmas, which, again, falls on a Sunday.
Here is what some of these churches are saying about their benevolent decision to not worship together on one of the church’s traditional sacred days:
North Point Community Church; Alpharetta, GA
Please join us for our Christmas services on December 23 and 24, 2016. We will be back in 2017 on Sunday, January 8, with a brand new series with Andy Stanley.
[Yes, this big box is taking 2 weeks off! But don’t worry! Senior Motivational Speaker Andy “Big ol’ Church” Stanley will be back later on in January to help you with your anger problem and save you marriages!]
Imago Dei Church; Peoria, IL
Christmas Day: No Service or Breakfast Club
Antioch Community Church; Waco, TX
No Service Christmas Day!
We will not have Christmas services on December 25th. We hope you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful time with your family.
[Baylor friends: Let me know if you see someone out with the cross on castors during this time! A picture would be great!]
Lighthouse Coastal Community Church; Costa Mesa, CA
No Service on Christmas Day
This year, Christmas falls on a Sunday. However, we will not be having service on Sunday, December 25th. Enjoy your family.
The Door Church; Coppell, TX
Christmas Day: No Sunday Service
We will not have services on Sunday morning December 25th. Please enjoy the time of celebration with your family and friends.
Radiant Church; Newport, OR
No Service on Christmas Day. You’re invited to join us online at radiantchurchnewport.churchonline.org for a very special Christmas Day message for the whole family. So grab your hot chocolate and connect online as every hour on the hour we’ll be sharing a message about the “Greatest Gift of All.”
[Well, that was certainly unexpected. A gathering where nobody gathers.]
It truly is hard to believe that the month of December is here and that the Christmas season is upon us. This year has simply flown by, seemingly faster every year. It feels as if it was only a few weeks ago we were celebrating the resurrection on Easter Sunday! And now here we are in a season where we’re feeling the anticipation and excitement of Christmas morning. Oddly enough, this year Christmas day falls on Sunday, December 25th. Therefore, there will be no formal gathering that day, as you spend time with family and friends.
Timbers Community Church; Somewhere in Canada
There will be no service on Christmas day – its a good opportunity to visit another congregation in our community!
[Another unexpected twist!]
River Pointe Church; Missouri City, TX
[Live Chat Operator]: Hi! So our service times are: Fri Dec. 23- 4, 5:30, 7/ Sat. 2,3;30, 5, 6:30, 8 & 11. There will not be service on the 25th.
[Their website advertised numerous Christmas Eve services, but no official word on Christmas Day. Through their live chat feature, I was able to find out that there will be no services on December 25 and January 1.]
Some of the homes of Christian entertainment culture’s biggest stars are meeting on the 25th, some aren’t. I looks like at least some Saddleback campuses are meeting. Willow Creek Chicago has a Sunday service, other locations don’t. My biggest surprise? Lakewood Church in Houston will have a full slate of Sunday gatherings with Joel “I Praise God By Not Eating Pork” Osteen at the helm. All 735 NewSpring locations will apparently worship together every day but the actual day itself. Bishop Ed Young is proud to report that Second Baptist Houston will be open for business on the 25th. Life.Church.will.not.gather.together.but.you.can.watch.online.at.your.convenience.
So, hold the phone, we’re not going to let worship get in the way of celebrating Jesus’ birthday.
Friends, I’m going to say this as kindly, as gently, and as astutely as I can, theologically speaking:
This. Is. Bullcrap.
[FYI: If you read that last line correctly, it would have sounded a lot like Johnny Gilbert saying “This… is… Jeopardy!”]
Allow me to share a few reasons for calling out this nonsense:
- It’s Sunday. The whole “church” thing happens on Sundays.
- It’s CHRISTMAS, for God’s sake. That whole thing about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us? Yeah, that’s what this whole Christmas is all about.
For me personally, I think those are more than enough reason to take an hour or so off from celebrating the indulgent, gluttonous, sentimental, Hallmark reasons for the season and get your happy butts to church. But in case you aren’t quite convinced, read on.
- Canceling Christmas services turns Christmas into a civil observance instead of a sacred day. I do love many things about this time of year. The weather, hitting the mall late into the evening, holiday parties, watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (“Where’s the Tylenol?”). But, as fun and exciting as these things can be, the discipline of the church year helps us realize that these things are merely periphery. Our lives are divided up into semesters, work schedules, electric bills, tax deadlines. Intentionally choosing a gospel-centered organization system helps us to maintain our first allegiance to Christ and his kingdom.Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Stop worry being the “Happy Holidays” police or petitioning to keep the nativity scene on City Hall lawn. We serve a higher throne that calls us to rise above that noise.
- Even if it’s a low-attendance Sunday (shouldn’t be, but often it is), people will come. They will bring their families and out-of-town guests. Is worship only worth it if we get lots of butts in the seats? I would hope we haven’t sunk that low, but apparently, some of us have.
- It unites us with the holy catholic church, past, present, and future. Christ wasn’t crucified during the Clinton administration, and we don’t do the Christian life in a vacuum. We are part of a long faith tradition, one that wouldn’t have canceled Christmas for anything in the world until, oh, the rise of the megachurch.
- It’s theologically negligent (also practically unnecessary…maybe stupid) to deny your people the Word and Sacrament. Of course, most of the megachurches and aspiring megachurches don’t believe in all the sacrament stuff, anyway, but still. If what you have to offer is so important that it constitutes the life blood of those who claim Christ’s holy name, why would you take a week off? Oh, right, family. And volunteers.
- The suggestion that cancelling church on ANY Sunday, particularly on Christmas, is a pro-family idea just doesn’t make sense. Is the church a drain on families in general? Really?!? On a Sunday when virtually everyone is off work for a day, and often longer? I would hope that our official position would be different; that corporate worship is vitally important, that the gifts God has to offer would grow, refresh, and strengthen us as individuals and as families. Certainly, don’t guilt anyone for not coming to your church, but don’t delude yourself into thinking giving families one more hour of toys and calories is going to strengthen them more than God’s gifts. And, oh yeah, again, Christmas is about Jesus, not family.
- If your volunteers are so over-taxed that you have to give them all a Sunday off, perhaps you need to scale back your ministries in other areas during the rest of the year. Christmas Sunday shouldn’t be the first thing to get the ax. Cancel all your other regular Sunday opportunities. Cancel Sunday School. Cancel breakfast. Cancel yoga. Cancel Bible study. Cancel life groups. But please don’t cancel worship.
So, church, for the love, keep Christ in Christmas.
Remember what Christmas is.
Remember who you are.
Central Church’s pastor, Rev. Jan Davis, was involved in a serious automobile accident while returning from visiting members of Central Church who were receiving physical therapy services in a local rehabilitation facility on Thanksgiving morning.
Following several surgeries and procedures, Pastor Jan is herself currently receiving rehabilitative services, and is anticipated to return to active ministry at Central Church sometime in January. However, a rotating cast of visiting pastors and lay speakers have enabled Central to maintain its regular worship schedule, and support for daily ministerial needs during Pastor Jan’s absence is kindly being provided by the pastor of one of our local sister Churches. (If you have a ministerial need, please contact the Church Office at (724) 846-3474.)