There is a question that looms for pastors, elders and other church leaders this year. The last time we had to answer it was in 2016 and the next time will be in 2033.
Should we cancel worship services on Sunday, December 25th?
Most Presbyterian congregations normally hold services on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas morning. Many families that are a part of the denomination also follow a practice of gathering for family time, including the exchange of gifts, on Christmas morning. When Christmas falls on a Sunday, things get complicated. The pastor, and others who help lead and coordinate worship, have the prospect of back-to-back services (Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning) and with the likelihood that attendance on Sunday morning will be very low.
What to do?! In 2016, a good number of congregations solved the problem by cancelling worship services on Christmas morning. But I’d like to take my remaining column inches, here, to offer a plea not to follow that approach in 2022.
Sunday remains the day of our Lord’s resurrection. This alone is, I think, sufficient warrant to maintain the practice of worship every Sunday morning. Although Sunday worship only became widespread with Constantine in the fourth century, worship on the first day of the week is clearly attested in the New Testament. The bar should be set very high indeed in terms of the reasons we would accept for the cancellation of worship on the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
The pandemic has reminded us of the vitality of in-person worship. For most of us, holding in-person worship services was difficult or impossible for much of 2020 and remained complicated for a good part of 2021. But in 2022 we have rediscovered the joy and the imperative of gathering in person for song, around the table, with prayers, and listening to God’s Word. With this immediate history in mind we especially have to ask what sense it could make to cancel in-person worship on the day we celebrate . . . God with us, in person, the incarnation!
Remember those whose first family is the church. The question of where we belong, and to whom we belong, is particularly important in relation to the “family gatherings” of Christmas morning. Not everyone has immediate family with whom to gather on Christmas morning. For these, their sisters and brothers in Christ are precisely those with whom and among whom the celebration of Jesus’ birth makes sense. (This is also an argument, incidentally, for adding Christmas morning celebrations when Christmas does not fall on a Sunday.)
Keep it simple!! It doesn’t have to be a service of lessons and carols. It doesn’t have to be four hymns and a sermon. Rather, toast up some bagels (make sure to have cream cheese on hand), offer prayers to the God who has come near to us in Jesus, sing carols of the season, and read the story of his drawing near.
I’m not one for making guarantees, generally speaking, but I’ll make one here: You will be enriched, and blessed, and thankful that you gathered.