Christmas is too good to miss

The nativity scene at Village Lutheran Church on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2015, in Ladue, Mo. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

by Rachel Bomberger

A few weeks ago, I heard from one of our Lutheran Witness readers, who contacted me to express concern that her church had decided to cancel not only its Thanksgiving service but also its Christmas Eve service. She wrote:

To think that my little hometown country church will be dark and cold and bare on Christmas Eve is just really sad. Jesus will be there waiting for us in the cold, dark lonely church, but WHERE will His people be?

She went on:

I work alongside several Hindu and Muslim people. They take notice of all of this and have told me on numerous occasions that they think it’s odd when us Christians have the doors closed on Christmas Eve. They say, “Why aren’t you celebrating the birth of your Leader on Christmas Eve? He must not mean all that much to you.” I used to kind of apologize and tell them that we celebrate it on a different day or time, but the past few years, I make no more excuses. They’re right. We can do much better when it comes to how we conduct our services. The unchurched folks out there do notice.

The scheduling decision that provoked this reader’s letter is, sadly, part of a larger movement away from the religious observance of Christmas in Christian churches. As long ago as 2005, Christianity Today was already reporting on this trend. That year, a number of evangelical megachurches, including Willow Creek, Mars Hill and North Point, all conspired to cancel their services on December 25. (Since Christmas Day happened to fall on a Sunday in 2005, the decision to cut both holiday and regular Sunday worship a single stroke was doubly regrettable.)

According to a spokeswoman for Willow Creek quoted in the article, the decision was about “being lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy.”

Since that time, many churches large and small have struggled with their own versions of this Christmas dilemma. Should they bow to the culture, become “lifestyle-friendly” and cut back on scheduling to accommodate busy families? Or should they continue to hold services and proclaim the Gospel on Christmas — whether anyone comes or not?

Thanks in part to the cozy, nostalgia-laden ad campaigns and media extravaganzas that bombard us each December, Christmas has in recent decades come to be seen primarily as family time. Private family gatherings (usually revolving around feasting and gift giving) now frequently take precedence over church services. I know of families that “do Christmas” together days or even weeks ahead of the actual holiday, so that they can turn around and “do Christmas” again with other branches of the family on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and Christmas day. 

The temptation for church leaders to cancel services becomes harder and harder to resist when members, swayed by these broader cultural trends, quietly begin to vote on the issue with their feet.

Our family’s previous congregation once held three Christmas services — a children’s Christmas Eve Vespers, a Christmas Eve candlelight vigil and a Christmas Day Divine Service. After one dark and sleety Christmas Eve when only five people showed up, the vigil was the first to go. Cancelling one service, however, made both of the others vulnerable as well. The last year we were there, even the children’s service was moved to the Sunday before, and the church was dark on Christmas.

I do get it. Everyone’s busy during the holidays. Everyone wants an unobstructed shot at that picture-perfect Christmas — possibly replayed several times over to indulge a range of in-laws and exes. Everyone has someone in their circle of friends and relations ready to give them grief for skipping even part of a cozy family Christmas celebration to go to church.

As busy as everyone is — and as important as family time may be — our LW letter writer’s non-Christian coworkers still make a very good point. From their perspective, Christmas is “the birth of our Leader,” and our failure to celebrate publicly in worship with our fellow Christians is a minor travesty. From our perspective, though, it’s even worse. “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The very God who spoke the universe into existence became a tiny baby — a real-live, flesh-and-blood human being — for us. Yet we’d rather commemorate the occasion by staying home than by coming together with the whole Church on earth to hear His Word, receive His gifts and glorify His Name? Say it isn’t so!

To pastors and church leaders, then, I say this: Even if only five people show up on a sleety Christmas Eve, open the doors. Light candles. Sing. Read Scripture. Preach the Word. Do not let the world bully you in to yielding ground on this holy Feast of the Nativity.

To my fellow Christian laypeople, however, I say this: Let’s not let give our churches any cause to cancel Christmas. Two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, God fulfilled a promise made at the dawn of creation (Gen. 3:15). He invaded earth and became one of us — and that event changes everything.

So this Christmas, enjoy time at home with your family. Feast. Make merry. Open presents. Sing carols. Deck the halls. Drink a glass of eggnog for me.

But whatever else you do, make time for worship. Go to church.

Because frankly, Christmas is just too good to miss.

Rachel Bomberger is managing editor for The Lutheran Witness

The Lutheran Witness — Providing Missouri Synod laypeople with stories and information that
complement congregational life, foster personal growth in faith, and help interpret the
contemporary world from a Lutheran Christian perspective.

7 Responses to Christmas is too good to miss

  1. Rev. David R. Mueller December 12, 2017 at 8:07 am #

    Every year, for the December newsletter for my dual parish I include a poem by Kipling, “Eddi’s Service”, about a poorly attended Christmas service, which ends with this precious line: I dare not shut God’s chapel On such as care to attend. It’s not unusual that Christmas morning sees single digit attendance, but it’s Christmas, nevertheless.

    • JoAnne Fox December 12, 2017 at 4:38 pm #

      Thank you for that. My congregation (decision was left to the Pastor) has cancelled Christmas Eve service this year – I feel so torn. There are many who come to church only on Christmas/Christmas Eve and/or Easter. If we’re aren’t there to welcome them and invite them to grow in their faith and the practice thereof, who will?

  2. Gail Vandeburgt December 12, 2017 at 9:50 am #

    We are called to be faithful, to be in the world and not of the world.

  3. December 12, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    It is my understanding that the observance of Christmas was not celebrated within the church for a long time but it was the celebration of Easter that drew all the attention. Since we celebrate both in our worship each Sunday, do we truly miss the celebration? Perhaps this is the message to give to others that ask. Saying this, I will admit that there is nothing more moving for me than singing Silent Night during a candlelit sanctuary on Christmas Eve. Because our pastor serves two congregations and many of our members are employed in the oil field, one congregation celebrates their Christmas Eve on the last mid-week service in Advent and the other traditionally has a Christmas Eve service. However, we have not had a Christmas day service in well over 20 years by allowing the ending of our Christmas Eve service to acknowledge Christ’s birth with Joy to the World.

  4. Alesia Reinisch December 12, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    This article is right on! Everything has gotten so worldly in recent years that is appears that attending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services has taken a back seat to all of the family gatherings and secular celebrations. What must our Lord think of all of this? God sent his Only Begotten Son on Christmas, and what does He get in return? We turn out the lights and close the church doors at Christmas. If Jesus hadn’t been born and lived out the perfect fulfillment of the Law and died and rose again, we would all be doomed to eternal death and damnation. Can’t we at least muster the enthusiasm to go attend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services and be “Joyfully” Lutheran and celebrate our Savior’s Birth? What better thing could we be doing with our families on Christmas! There will be plenty of time for family time after we have attended church services. Better yet, get your entire family together and take them to church. As scripture tells us, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

    The whole Advent season is spent anticipating Christmas. The excitement is building each week as we look forward to the culmination of the Advent season in the joyous celebration awaiting us on Christmas Eve! Christmas Eve should be the highlight of the entire Advent season. We should pull out all the stops and join the Heavenly chorus in singing our Christmas carols. How can we even think of not having or attending our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. Since when do we “vote” on whether we will have Christmas Eve services in our church? This is an insult to our Lord and what He has done for us. It makes me very sad when I see this happening in so many churches. What’s next? And the real concern comes when we see that once a service gets “cancelled”, it usually never gets “uncancelled”. This has happened to Thanksgiving Day services, and now we’re starting on Christmas Eve services. The trend takes over and continues on year after year. That’s the scary part of all of this. This apathy is getting more and more widespread, and no one even seems to care. We think nothing of sitting out in the blinding snow to attend a ballgame, but can’t seem to gather the energy to go down the block to sit in a warm church on Christmas Eve.

    We are a continual witness to the unchurched. They do take note of when our churches are closed on Christmas. It looks like other things are more important than celebrating our Lord’s birth when the churches are closed and sitting in the dark on Christmas Eve. No Lutheran church should be in the dark on Christmas Eve. That’s the time when we could have a full house and even bring in those who would not normally attend. We are losing a good opportunity for outreach and evangelism when we don’t hold these services. It’s high time we take a good long look at the road we are heading down and reverse this trend before it’s too late.

    I wish you all a blessed, Christ-filled Merry Christmas. Glory to God in the Highest!

  5. December 12, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

    Perhaps attendance is not where it should be for the Christmas worship at the church I am the pastor of, but… I find it positively bizarre that Christmas Eve worship would be cancelled by any Christian church for any reason. If you really can not make time for the birth of the Savior, you may want to reconsider if you are Christian.

    • December 17, 2017 at 4:53 pm #

      I can only hope & pray that our Congregations will have standing room only on Christmas Eve & again on Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of our dear Savior & Lord. Merry Christmas to all of you.

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