I can remember back in 1994 when, for the first time, a family asked the question, “Will you be holding services on Christmas since it falls on a Sunday?” When I assured them we would be gathering for worship, their response was “Oh good! We’ll be there!”
Since then, in 2011, 2016 and as recently as a few days ago, that same question has been raised with increasing frequency. But now, my response of “Absolutely we will be gathering to celebrate the faithfulness of God the Father in sending God the Son!” garners a shocked response. “Really? Don’t you know families have important traditions on Christmas morning?”
Turns out I do know about family traditions. Growing up our Christmas season was all about certain gatherings we attended, special goodies we ate, beautiful songs we sang, and most of all, a certain baby we celebrated. I still insist Jesus was born on Christmas Eve, clamor for stollen and springerle, and I even remember some of the words to “Stille Nacht,” and “O Tannenbaum.”
We celebrated on Christmas Eve, and as children we struggled to contain our energy as my father would read several Old Testament prophecies and their New Testament fulfillment texts before we could open our gifts. And yes, we also attended the Christmas morning service at our church even though I had a hard time listening knowing that new basketball was waiting for me at home.
But somehow, despite the joy they brought, those traditions never replaced what they were meant to celebrate. After all, Christmas in our home was always about the faithfulness of God the Father in fulfilling his promise to send God the Son into the world to save his people from the power and penalty of their sin.
So, when folks ask if we’re having church services on Christmas Sunday, I know a couple things. First, I know they really don’t know me, or our philosophy of ministry at Grace Baptist Church. If they knew either, they’d know the answer without asking. And second, I understand the tension families today face when it comes to making a sincere religious ethic a life priority.
At the risk of offending some, here are a few reasons we’ll be gathering and celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Sunday this year.
First, as I’ve already said, Christmas is – and has always been! – about God’s gift to us of a Savior. That doesn’t mean family traditions aren’t important, but it does mean that exalting Christ in those traditions must always be our priority. As Kevin DeYoung has said, “Family is a gift, not a god.”
Second, in a time when our society is lurching away from a theistic worldview and the truth of natural law that flows from it, and our children are being bombarded with the images and ideology proclaiming that the psychologized, me-centered self is now sovereign, the way families celebrate Christmas matters. As a country we are reeling from the pervasive absurdity that has so recently become dogma. The effects of removing the guardrails of truth and love that have historically been derived from a theistic view of the world are clear for all to see. Natural law and its undeniable facts have been thrown out with yesterday’s trash and it feels like we’re all living inside a perpetual episode of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Spoiler alert: The emperor is naked, and so is the progressive ideology of wokism that is, for some reason, threatening to make cowards of us all.
I’m not suggesting that celebrating Christmas for what it really is and has always been will stop the this flood of silly irrationality. But I do believe putting some historical reality into our lives and those of our children will help us find some stability in the foundations of truth and tradition.
How you and I do Christmas really does matter. For almost 2,000 years, the world – not just us! – has taken time to build traditions, write songs, hold festivals, and engage in joyful celebrations to remember and commemorate that night outside Bethlehem when the most significant event in human history occurred. Are we really ready to say those who do so both intentionally and reverently are “on the wrong side of history?”
Because Christmas falls on Sunday we’ll be open for the business of worship, reverence and celebration. Join us if you can, but whatever you do, take some time to reflect on the historical reality that makes Christmas, Christmas. And when you do, you’ll be joining with millions around the world who are doing the same thing.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.