Every five or six years the calendar gives pastors and worship planners a true gift at the Christmas season: Christmas on a Sunday.
It should be a gift, but in all honesty the idea of Christmas on a Sunday makes many pastors, including myself, quiver. The reason is that we know we will spend weeks trying to help people understand why the church is open on Sunday, and why we will worship on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Sunday. Place that within the context of a worshiping movement that argues that the Sunday after Christmas Eve should be a time for family and not for community worship then we are left with questions as to why do we have church on December 25 and not cancel so we can be at home with our family.
This year, I have found that the simple answer of “because it’s Sunday” works as well as when my parents tried to use the response of “because we said so” to one of my many questions as to why I had to do something as a child. It falls flat and is truly dismissive of the larger question that, I believe, many are asking.
I think our people are smarter than we give them credit and are able to have a deep conversation about faith, worship, and theology. So, why do we worship on Christmas Sunday? Why is it so important for the church to be open, this year, on December 25?
First, worship is about participating in something bigger than ourselves. In a culture that claims life is about what we make of it and about making the self the center of the universe, worship stands as an important counter reality. It reminds us that we are not alone in celebrating the joy of Christ. We join with believers from around the world to announce that Christ has come and that the presence of the Lord remains strong today. When we worship, we participate as a truly global movement of God’s people who express our hope and love of the Lord.
This is an important statement to claim today. In a world that seems to be pulling itself away from one another, worship reminds us to come together – regardless of our cultural differences – to sing, to pray, and to gather as God’s people. We need this reminder at Christmas, because the good news of a child being born in Bethlehem is not just good news for some people. It is good news for all people.
Second, we worship on Christmas Sunday because it reclaims the meaning of the Christmas story. The message of Christmas has been coopted by our commercialized world that seeks to make Christmas to be about profit margins and an unhealthy desire for more and more. Because this message is all around us from November 1 through December 24, we can easily get caught up in the message that it is not Christmas unless we buy a certain item and have a house full of gifts we cannot afford without purchasing with a credit card (or three).
Worshiping at Christmas reminds us that Christmas is not about toys and gifts, but about the joy of Christ. We gather as a people to rehear the story of Mary and Joseph. We gather to remember the message of the Incarnation that the light came in the midst of darkness to bring light into the world. If we do not participate in this act of remembrance, we lose sight of the grand narrative of Christmas and replace it, instead, with the message of the cultural Christmas.
Finally, we worship at Christmas because in doing so we anticipate Easter. Every Sunday is a little Easter, because on Sundays we live into the truth that Christ is alive and lives in each of us. We gather to anticipate Christ’s return and to give space for our hearts praise God. Truly, we cannot claim this hope without first joining our hearts to the story of Christmas. Without Christmas there is no Easter and without Easter there is no Christmas. The two are eternally linked as the message and meaning of Christ’s coming (to bring the light of God into the world) and his resurrection (to redeem all people through the living hope of God’s life).
The church cannot lose that message, especially in this time we find ourselves in today. So on Sunday, we will gather as a community to worship, to remember, and to anticipate the life of Christ that has come and will come again.
There is no better time for the church to do this than on Christmas Sunday.