Would Christian churches cancel services on Easter Sunday? Are you kidding? That would be akin to the United States canceling Independence Day celebrations. Question many Christians’ celebration of those two events and said group would “Occupy” in a way that would make the Arab Spring merely a blip on the radar of history. In some circles you need but question Independence Day celebrations on Sunday to experience a plague of Mosaic proportions. Just ask my “former-pastor” brother.
Yet, for at least two months, Christian churches have considered what to do about services when Christmas falls on Sunday. Ed Stetzer began crowd sourcing on his blog on October 27. “What does your church plan to do?” Research conducted by Lifeway noted that at least 90% of pastors surveyed were planning worship on Christmas Day this Sunday.
The thought of not having services on Christmas never crossed my mind. No, we are not worried that we might miss out on an opportunity to take an offering – even if we are Baptist. No, we are not having services so that we might shame “pagans” and guilt “saints” who have other plans.
Maybe the critique from those who stand outside the church, for whatever reason, results from an honest assessment of what passes as important for a local church. Could be that my friend, The Ex-Reverend, would suggest Christians do something different than gather on Sunday because his former ways included an understanding of the church as prophetic community rather than market niche for a consumer economy.
When I mention the church as prophetic community I do not have in mind the church as long-bony-finger pointed at culture with a condemning glare. No, I am thinking there is a rightful numbness to self-described righteous indignation that flies under the banner of fear in the loss of Christian consensus. There are too many indicators said consensus is more rhetoric than substance.
The Church’s posture in the world needs a good dose of Christmas. We will suggest our members invite their friends. We want a crowd come Sunday on Christmas. Well, at least we want a crowd on Easter. Christmas not as much.
It is not that we Christians do not like our creches’, our Nativity Scenes, our Christmas pageants. We do like a good bit of glam to go with the Season. It is just that we expect to have sunrise services on Easter. Getting up for worship on Christmas is another matter. Resurrection outdistances Advent. Outreach Magazine will soon arrive with ideas for making much of Easter. Door hangers. Banners. Theme ideas. Powerpoint suggestions. I don’t recall the same for Christmas.
Make no mistake, I am a big fan of Easter. Resurrection, according to the Apostle Paul, frames the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God. In Jesus’ suffering and death the soldier remarked, “Surely this is the Son of God.” There we have it. Jesus is declared by friend and foe to be the Son of God. Without Resurrection the Apostle Paul notes we should be pitied.
The thought of not having worship on Christmas Day just did not make sense. Without the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection seem more ideal than real. If Crucifixion and Resurrection are simply ideals, then those who argue for a non-material Christianity should receive a greater hearing.
Christmas as therapy for what ails the Church would focus on our own “incarnation.” Christmas would be the place where conversations about an embodied ethic begin. Incarnation would force claimants of Christian faith to take the same risks Godself did in self-disclosure taking on flesh and blood. Divesting of power and position would be the first move we make, not some second “blessing” should we ever feel the move of the Spirit.
Christmas as corrective for a truncated Gospel might be a good start. Scot McKnight argues it is the short story that undermines the mega-narrative. In the short story we cut away the back story. Setting Jesus in context in that framing is only important to my personal need. Christmas-lite helps us race quickly to Passion Week without the accompanying pain wrestling with Jesus’ life. We want his death but how often do we want his life? We want his resurrection but how often do we want to live resurrected lives?
And if Scot, among others like Willard and Wright, assess the Gospel correctly, Jesus embodies what Israel should have been for the world and what the Church should be. Set against that backdrop, we should certainly spend an equal amount of time with Christmas – with the Incarnation.
We follow the Christian Calendar for at least the benefit of memory. We need the story – the longer version. We need the time to spend with Epiphany and the Sundays that follow. We need the challenges of incarnation so that we notice our need for crucifixion and resurrection. The Church needs Christmas before we presume to tell the world that incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection matter for them and the cosmos.
We will gather for worship on Christmas Day this Sunday to be challenged by the Incarnation and hear the call for our own.