For the first time in my pastorate, Christmas falls this year on a Sunday. And for the first time I can ever remember, that seems to be a source of conflict for churchgoers. Christian families are dealing with high emotions, as their families are pressuring them to skip church this year. Here are just a few of the reasons that are mentioned, and why none of them are valid.
Reason #1: “It’s Christmas!”
Let’s take a quick look again at that word: “Christmas.” It’s made of two parts: Christ+mas. The whole holiday is about Jesus Christ. December 25th probably not the very date He was born (the Bible doesn’t say), but it’s the date Christians have set aside to honor His incarnation. Christmas is all about Christ, and Christ is all about the church (Eph. 5:25). We’ve never added a special service during the week, just for Christmas, but I could way more easily understand adding a church service on Christmas, than canceling church for Christmas!
You wouldn’t celebrate someone’s birthday, without them being a part of the celebration. Now I understand that you can invite the Lord into your home that day, and make Him central to whatever you are doing. I understand that you could have a nice time of worship and devotion with your family. But you can do that any old day. Why on His day, when He has instructed His church to gather together?
If you would skip church and just do something spiritual with the family this Sunday, why not do that every Sunday? If church isn’t that important on Christmas Sunday, why not just do what’s comfortable and convenient every week? If you believe that Christ instituted the local church, and that faithful attendance to that church is important, why would Christmas Day, which is all about Christ, change that commitment?
Reason #2: “It’s Family Time!”
In all aspects of an American Christmas, Christmastime is family time. It’s in every book, every movie, every song. It is engrained into every nook and cranny of Christmas culture. The absence of a single family member seems to put a damper on Christmas. When the holidays don’t bring everyone together like they used to, people descend into depression. After all, without your family, what is Christmas anyway? I’ll tell you what it is: it is the time when Christians honor the birth of the Saviour!
I’m all about family. You’d be hard pressed to find a man who loves and enjoys his family more than I do. But Christmas isn’t primarily about that! And I have news for Christians everywhere: family is not the most important thing in life!
In our post-Christian America, where church attendance and interest in religious things have been declining for many years, something had to fill the gap. People need to believe in a cause, in an institution that is honorable and bigger than themselves. In American culture, that institution is the family. It’s understandable why we would be tempted to put family first, but it’s wrong.
The Lord should always come first – period. Family can be a wonderful thing, or it can become an idol in your life. Keep those you love in their proper place, and always second to your commitment to Christ.
Remember it was Jesus who said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sister, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) The use of the word “hate” there is similar to how it was used two chapters later in Luke 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
The issue is, when push comes to shove, which will you choose? When your family is pulling you one direction and your Saviour is pulling you another, who will you love and who will you hate? Which comes first in your life – them or Him? It’s not a trick question: it should always be Him.
Jesus made it pretty clear that as important as our biological family might be, the family of God is greater in importance. “While he [Jesus] yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)
Honestly, I’m going to miss getting together with some of my extended family this Sunday. But at the same time, I’m really looking forward to celebrating the Lord’s birth with my church family! Those who are gathered together in His name, to do His will – there’s no one I’d rather be with this Christmas.
Reason #3: “It’s Tradition!”
I can already hear Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof singing “Tradition! Tradition!” It can be a powerful thing. It can be fun thing. Traditions serve an important purpose in a family and in a culture. But they can never be allowed to come before the clear commands and principles of the Word of God.
The religious leaders of Jerusalem were outraged and critical of Jesus and his disciples for committing a major faux pas. They asked, “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” As He often did, Jesus answered their question with a question of His own: “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matt. 15:1-6)
Traditions – no matter how good they are, or how long they have been held – should never be followed to the disobedience of the commands and principles of God’s Word.
And here’s a quick case for the Biblical principle of why we have church on Sunday: Jesus rose from the grave on the first day of the week. To commemorate that, Christians began gathering on Sunday, rather than on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday). Consider the following verses:
- “Then the same day…being the first day of the week…the disciples were assembled…” (John 20:19)
- “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together…” (Acts 20:7)
- “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store…” (1 Cor. 16:2)
Those set examples, and establish a principle of believers gathering together on the first day of the week. They are not really commands, but this one is: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24)
So if Scriptural principles and commands tell you that you ought to assemble with God’s people on the Lord’s Day, but tradition says you have to spend it with family, which will you do, if you can’t find a way to do both? Will you honor family tradition over the clear teaching of God’s Word, or obey the Bible over your Christmas tradition?
There ought to be a way to do both this Christmas. Why can’t going to church on Christmas morning be something we do as a family, as a part of our celebration of the Lord’s birth? It can only help us as we endeavor to keep Christ first in Christmas. Family members who don’t normally attend church ought to be respectful of those who do have a desire and a commitment to go, and not pressure them to skip. Why not attend with them instead, and then when the service is over, continue on with your family Christmas? Presents can be opened any time of the day – probably even that morning before church, if you want. But when the church of God assembles, I urge you to drop whatever else you could be doing, and choose to honor the Lord on His day. Get out of your pajamas, and come let us adore Him!
The whole issue boils down to this: What has first place in your life? I know this is emotionally charged, which can make it difficult to discuss rationally. Some family members won’t understand. It may cause hurt feelings. But none of that changes what is right. For the Christian who is committed to follow the Bible and put the Lord first in everything, it’s a pretty cut-and-dried issue. Don’t allow all these good secondary things in your life to take the best and first place of your heart this Lord’s Day. The honor of that position belongs only to Him.
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