For the third time since I’ve been an ordained minister, Christmas has fallen on a Sunday. I can still remember the very first time it did, and the concomitant delightful dialog with the elders. According to them, it was a no-brainer. Business as usual. The 2nd time occurred while an Assistant Pastor in West Virginia, and the answer was an obvious to them as well.
Since this would be my first time as lead pastor, I figured I would actually pray, reflect, and get counsel on what to do with Harbor. After interacting with a number of folks, including the “its-a-no-brainer” type, those who tweaked their services, and those who didn’t have an opinion (or at least didn’t mind me asking the question), I came to the same conclusion as my previous lead pastors had. Well sort of.
In addition to our Christmas Eve service, Harbor will have our normally scheduled worship service at 10 am, but it will be an “away” game or a “road show.” You can choose the metaphor. We are going to meet at an Assisted Living Facility called Brookdale. Their chaplain is thrilled to have us lead, as are the residents.
So why have one in addition to a Christmas Eve service?
Well, Pastor Kevin DeYoung wrote a good blog post on the number of reasons not to cancel your normal worship service. So I won’t go through the same list. Let me just mention one reason that I kept coming back. And it’s the same reason why many oppose worshiping together as a church family that Sunday: “family time.”
While we were waiting for our kids to get out of school, a friend of mine asked me, “Why are you having a worship service then? Doesn’t your family need a break too?”
But let’s consider asking ourselves another more pertinent question, which probably sounds too crass to say out loud? Doesn’t Jesus want you to be at home with your family opening Christmas presents instead of worshiping Him on Christmas morning? Isn’t that what Christmas is about?
I’m not sure I can go there. He didn’t go there either. But there is something in my own heart that I’d like to explore along with you. Why was my immediate reaction when finding out Christmas would fall on a Sunday one of, “Well that’s a bit inconvenient?”
The conversation was quite civil and I simply pointed him to the fact that I love my family. I’m beyond blessed to have them. But I can very soon turn a good thing, into an ultimate thing, which if you read Tim Keller or listen to me preach, you know is a bad thing. And you can too. We all can. Jesus is very clear that if we don’t love him more than our families, we cannot be his disciples (Luke 14:26). I’m not sure that many Christians in suburbia think about that one too much. But honestly, if we don’t love Him and seek to follow Him-yes even before our families-then we really won’t be loving our families all that well. If we can’t ever say “no” to family, or friends, or anyone for that matter, then there’s probably an idol in there somewhere to which we’re bowing down. And we are actually loving their approval more than loving them and truly seeking their good. I’m certainly guilty of that one!
I didn’t go that deep, but that’s the gist of what I told him. But I also shared with him some practical stuff. There’s not much set up or break down at Brookdale, so my family won’t be tasked with that if no one else shows up (as they potentially would have at the YMCA). My kids don’t sleep in either, and on Christmas Day, they really don’t sleep in! So after having breakfast, opening some presents, and before heading over to Pop and Gram’s house, we’ll meet with some of our church family and worship Jesus with some elderly folks who may not have any family to visit with them at all.
So my family really won’t be too inconvenienced. But isn’t Christmas about God inconveniencing Himself for us? And I really do think that I need worship every bit as much as my kids do.
On a day traditionally all about presents and family, would it hurt the kids to take a little break and share an hour with their church family and minister to many widowed and lonely on Jesus’ special day (I mean Sunday)? I know that for those who have kids, and multiple houses to visit, this may not even be a possibility. And it may just be too late to tweak plans. And if you choose not to worship with your church family, I want you to know I make no judgment of you.
I’m not insinuating that you have bowed to an idol. That is not what this blog post is about. I just wanted to explore the standard “It’s family” time response a bit more in depth because over time it can become the Christian trump card and possibly reveal an idol. I just ask that you consider the possibility that a Christmas which falls on a Sunday (even if it’s the next several years), while interrupting and inconveniencing our family plans, may be exactly what our family needs.
I know the tired and weary eyes at Brookdale would love to see some little Harbor kids spreading the Christmas cheer through smiles and songs which celebrate our Savior’s birth.
Regardless, of what you decide, just be prayerfully reflective and thoughtful. I’m thankful for all those who will worship with us on Sat night or Sunday morning, or both. May all our hearts be filled with anticipation, longing, joy, and peace this Advent season. For it is a time when Jesus inconvenienced himself for us.