This Fox News Op Ed article by Dr. Jeremiah Johnston first appeared here:

More than 90 percent of the U.N. recognized 195 countries of the world recognize Christmas as a public holiday in honor of the birth of Christ. The earliest evidence reaches back to c. AD 200, where Christmas was recognized in Africa as a feast celebrated by assembling Jesus’ followers.

Notwithstanding 1,800 years of Christians gathering to celebrate Christmas, a vocal but numeric minority of churches in the United States plan to close and offer no services on Christmas Day because, wait for it, Christmas falls on a Sunday this year.

Citing a “meeting people where they are at,” “leading with love,” “blunt realism,” and a desire “not to be the Pharisees of this generation” as the reason(s) to skip services, a recent New York Times article highlighted 61 percent of non-denominational pastor’s plan to “opt-out” of church on Christmas Sunday.

As a New Testament scholar, historian, and a dad of five children, here are five reasons I wish these pastors would reconsider:

1. Our word “Christmas” literally means “Christ’s Mass”

In old English, Christes masse with variations appears in the early 12th century (c. 1123) as a descriptor for the special mass celebrated on that holy day.

Our earliest use of Christmas occurs in 1568, for Mass of Christ. St. Francis of Assis (1181–1226) should be credited for the first Christmas production and popularizing the nativity scene.

To illustrate the importance of Christ’s birth, Assis obtained permission to display a manger scene along with the midnight mass at Grecchio. He included Matthew’s wise men, shepherds from Luke’s Gospel, and used live animals.

Assisi’s’ vision was realized, and Christians have gathered for the last 800 years with increased devotion to Jesus on Christmas Day.

Christmas without Christ’s Mass betrays the great tradition and legacy of the faith, flies in the face of history, and simply doesn’t make sense.

2. Attending Christmas church is not “legalism”

Attending a church service with family or friends on Christmas Sunday does not equal legalism. Even though legalism was referenced in the New York Times article, many readers may not be familiar with it.

Legalism is defined as an excessive adherence to rules. Did you know if it weren’t for Leap Year, Christmas would fall on Sunday once every seven years? The math is a bit more complicated thanks to leap year, and Christmas falls on a Sunday cyclically in 28-year intervals every 11, then 6, then 5, and then finally another 6 years.

Virtue signaling is rife in our culture and, sadly, has become popular in the church. Doing something four times (attending church on Christmas Sunday) every twenty-eight years is not excessive (i.e., legalistic). Taking our family or meeting friends at church on Christmas Sunday carries on a beautiful tradition in Christendom.

3. To encourage the lonely and grieving

If you’ve lost someone special this year, Christmas is going to look and feel different. Thank God churches will be open offering us hope as an alternative to the despair, loneliness, and hopelessness grief brings in the quiet moments. If you are worshipping with your family this year, make a point to find someone in the congregation who may be alone or ask them to sit with your family.

In the Scriptures, Jesus’s favorite recorded command is “fear not” and thanks to the Gospel promise of Christmas we have the sure and certain hope to be reunited with our loved ones again. The grief is real, but thanks to Christmas, only temporary.