This Fox News Op Ed article by Dr. Jeremiah Johnston first appeared here: https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/5-reasons-why-should-go-church-sunday-its-christmas
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.
Churches that remain open on Christmas Day fill a vital mental health role in our society by ministering to those who feel forgotten, invisible, or neglected by society. Indeed, we face a mounting mental health crisis in America and the church has an opportunity, in no small way, to be part of the healing equation by not closing church on Christmas Day.
4. To pass on a legacy of faith
This Sunday, December 25th, our 10-year-old son, Justin, will be baptized at our local church in a special Christmas Day service at Prestonwood Baptist Church. Indeed, I have the privilege of baptizing Justin. Christmas will be extra-special to Justin and our 29 other baptismal candidates because they will “go public” in believer’s baptism with their faith on Christmas Day. Young people touch their phones 2,000 times and view 10,000 media messages daily.
Don’t worry Mom and Dad, your kiddos can endure a 60-minute Christmas Day service. No matter your tradition, denomination, or creed, don’t miss the opportunity to remind your family that without Christ’s birth, Christmas wouldn’t exist.
For those who may be considering canceling your service, I pray you will reconsider.
5. Embrace creativity and diversity in Christmas Day worship
At the height of the Civil War, the American Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the “Christmas Bells” lyrics on Christmas day 1863, “I heard the bells on Christmas Day …. Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Following the devastation of losing his wife in a fire and their son several wounded in battle, his words ring true, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail.”
The number has declined since 2016, but Lifeway Research reveals that 84% of Protestant pastors in the U.S. say their churches will be holding services on Christmas Day this year.
Even so, the Christmas Day worship service can be modified, flexible, and innovative. For example, after leading ten Christmas Eve services in English and Español, our church offers one abbreviated, late-morning worship service at all campuses on Christmas Day.
We’ve encouraged our congregants to come as they are, even in pajamas if necessary. Our Christmas bells will ring on Christmas on Sunday morning. In an increasingly marginalized and fractured world, how we need to hear the bells on Christmas Day this Sunday.