It has been a while since I have blogged. Over the last several months, I have taught theology and church history part-time to a bunch of 7th and 8th graders. But for over a month, I have been mulling over the thesis for this blog post. I found some time to write it this week, and I am offering it up now. Here is my thesis that is bound to rankle some feathers. Christians should prioritize church this advent, especially on Christmas Sunday. Some might wonder why this take is considered a “hot take.” Well, when Christmas falls on a Sunday, there is a battle between family traditions and prioritizing the Lord’s Day. The tension is not felt during Easter because Easter always falls on a Sunday, but Christmas is a different animal.
My thoughts on the matter intensified after I reposted an article by pastor Kevin DeYoung on Facebook. You can find his article here. It was also trending on my Twitter feed, and I noticed strong opinions. His article is a plea for pastors not to cancel church because Sunday is Christmas Day. On the whole, I agree with him. But my blog aims at another audience. My plea is for church members not to neglect the gathering, especially on Christmas. I can’t entirely agree with every word of DeYoung’s article, but I agree with the trajectory of his article. I agree that Christians should gather to celebrate the birth of Christ. I will offer one area of agreement with KDY and then a few additional thoughts.
The Lord’s Day
DeYoung rightly reminds us that Christmas falls on The Lord’s Day. He swims in Presbyterian circles, so The Lord’s Day language is more familiar to Prebys than those in Baptistic and nondenominational circles. But DeYoung has a point. Once a week, Christians set aside time to worship God corporately. We live in an age where it is easier to make excuses to miss The Lord’s Day, and pastors need to shepherd their churches to reenvision the importance of gathering. A familiar passage emphasizing The Lord’s Day is from Hebrews 10.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.– Hebrews 10:23–25
Take note of what happens on The Lord’s Day. 1) We are stirred up to love one another and to do good works. 2) And we are encouraged. Of course, when you show up on The Lord’s Day, you can not only be the recipient of love and encouragement, but you can love, serve, and encourage others. You have the privilege of being the source of these attributes.
I understand that there are various opinions on the nature of The Lord’s Day. I am not diving into that pool of sharks now. But I’ll throw some blood into the water with this conclusion. I believe The Lord’s Day was established in creation (Genesis 2:1-3), not the Law. However one understands the nature of The Lord’s Day, there is broad agreement from church history and the testimony of Scripture that it is essential to set aside one day a week to gather as a church. I am not suggesting that missing church is a sin. I am not saying that your church attendance card needs to be punched 52 times. What I am suggesting is that our understanding and attitude toward attending church might need to change. Now here is the wrinkle for 2022. Christmas falls on The Lord’s Day, which introduces another dynamic, which I will discuss in a moment. But first, what about offering a Christmas Eve service and not a Christmas Day service? Is that acceptable? The answer depends on theological convictions about The Lord’s Day. A Presbyterian will not budge on The Lord’s Day. If a cat-5 hurricane makes landfall at 10am on Sunday over the Presbyterian church (e.g., PCA), they will still gather. However, a Baptist might have different convictions. If the weather forecast says landfall is at 10am on Sunday, the Baptists (and many nondenominational churches) will gather on Saturday night.
If your convictions are with KDY then gathering on Christmas Sunday is important. If not, then a Christmas Eve service will suffice. Either way, gathering to celebrate the birth of Christ is important.
I now want to seque and offer three more reasons why a Christian should attend church on Christmas Sunday (especially if you and not attending a Christmas Eve service). My goal is not to shame. Any attempt at shaming someone to do anything is a classic case of legalism. I do not want to shame, but I want to attempt to persuade. And if my attempt at persuasion fails, my feelings will not be hurt. And if at this point of my article I have lost you, just watch this and enjoy a good laugh.
I grew up Catholic, and almost every year, the Powers family attended midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I am not sure where the tradition came from, but I suppose it was an attempt to cram a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day service together. Regardless of why midnight Mass is a thing within the Catholic Church, I am amazed at how many committed Catholics went to attend the service. Families, including the Powers, would make their way into the cathedral a little before midnight. Everyone was dressed for the occasion. Adults, youth, children, and infants all descended in unison. Looking back, it was remarkable to see the beauty of the attendees’ commitment.
So what can we learn, dare I say, from the Catholic midnight Mass attendees? We can learn the importance of being committed to worshiping God during one of the two most important days of the year. Now, I am not about to implement a midnight church service at Redemption Hill. However, in our quick and easy microwave culture, where everyone is moving at breakneck speed, especially during the holidays, the essential components of the advent season are being dismissed. The reason for the season, and the day we celebrate the reason for the season, is at odds with the to-do list. May I suggest that a way to recommit to what is most important is to reshuffle the to-do list?
I love traditions. Growing up, my mom would make potato and ham soup, and it would be consumed before four boys shuffled into a burgundy Astro van for midnight Mass. Until the day I die, I will associate potato and ham soup with Christmas Eve and the midnight Mass. But what happens when family traditions get in the way of a Christmas Day church service? How many families wake up on Christmas Day with breakfast and opening up presents in mind? The tension that rightly exists every eight years is, what will hold sway? Traditions or church?
May I suggest an avenue forward to address the tension? Instead of a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service being an add-on to your traditions, I want to offer that church be the center of your traditions. I know that will require flexibility every now and then but think about what is being communicated to the people around you. When you prioritize church (especially on The Lord’s Day), you declare that Christ is King over your preferences, time, meals, and traditions. Do you have family in town? Invite them to church. Or if they don’t want to go to church with you, imagine the testimony you are showing with your priorities. In short, you are being salty (Matthew 5:13). When you are at church, and your extended family stays back, they will get the taste of salt in their mouth.
One final point about traditions. I know many families travel over the Christmas holiday. If I were not a pastor, I do not doubt there would be some Christmas days when I would be out of town visiting my parents. I have never been discouraged because church members travel over the holidays. But here is my plea to anyone traveling or staying close to home. Go to church and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Unless you are in the backwoods where the Grizzly Bear population is larger than the human population, make every attempt to attend church.
Husbands and Fathers
My final appeal is to husbands and fathers. I do not want to forget about single folks, but husbands and fathers play a particular role in the natural home. I want every husband and father to consider what he communicates to his wife and kids if he takes them to church, especially on Christmas Sunday. Even if the kids moan and groan because they want to open presents, you can graciously and patiently insist that the presents can wait because celebrating the birth of Christ is more important than presents. Do not get me wrong, opening up presents is to be enjoyed. It is enjoyable for parents to see the smiles on the face of their children. But presents can’t be the priority. Husbands and fathers are the head of their homes (Ephesians 5:25-30; Genesis 2:19), and they set the tone in the family. Husbands, your wife needs you to lead. Dad, your kids are watching what you prioritize. The husband and father relay to the family what will be spiritually prioritized, which has temporal effects.
An Unpopular Opinion?
It is not lost on me that I am offering an unpopular opinion. Elon Musk might be more popular on the political far left than my opinion, among some Christians. Tis the season, right? But I am not suggesting anything new or novel. Only in the last 30-40 years has a new and novel approach to church during the holidays been introduced to the American Christian ethos. It is not a coincidence that the new and novel coincides with the rise of “easy-believism” in American Christianity. They go together hand-n-glove. But now can be the time for Christian families to reverse the trend and reclaim the importance of gathering with other families and singles on Sunday. Further, what better days exist for Christians to gather than Christmas and Easter? Even if you can not gather in your local ch urch due to travel, other churches exist that exalt the name of Jesus. I want to encourage you to find one.
Soli Deo gloria
Shawn Powers is the lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church. You can follow him on Twitter at shawn_DSM.