Monday, December 05, 2005

Christmas Culture Wars

'Are we still having church on Christmas Day?'

I wonder how many other pastors around the country have heard that question this year. No one ever asks that on Easter (in fact, oddly enough, you have to print extra bulletins that week). No one's even asked it about New Year's. Side note: I just thought of what I'm preaching on for New Year's. We always celebrate communion the first Sunday of the month. Maybe I can compare and contrast all the champaign drinking from the previous evening with the sign of grace in the communion cup. Maybe I should think about that a little longer before that morning.

Is this Christmas' commercial side rearing its ugly head again? It's too bad I can't do much about that, as apparently cutting off one head produces two more. It's one of those regenerative monsters that can only die in small increments when it gets ignored. And these are VERY small increments, I'm afraid.

Truth be told, I asked it once upon a time. Christmas had fallen on a Sunday that year, and I, who was maybe ten years old, asked my pastor father if we still had to go to church. You can guess what his answer was. What else was there to think about for a little boy than staying home and playing with his new Legos? We had just talked about Jesus last night and now we have to do it again? What's the deal? It's like he wants all our time or something.

Now I'm 26, soon to be 27. I've gotten older, and so has everyone else, and yet the question still arises when the calendar lines up in such an inconvenient way. The monster whispers, 'Take a little more time for me. You've been to church once this week. You'll get him next Sunday...maybe.' New Year's can go either way on this one.

What if people were trying to get out of Christmas Sunday for reasons altogether different? What if someone had approached me and had added certain qualifiers? 'I'm sorry pastor, I can't come to church on Christmas. The soup kitchen has a special holiday dinner and they want us to come in at ten.' 'We won't be with you on Christmas pastor. Habitat is putting in some extra hours so that the family has a place of their own for the holidays. No reason to put it off.' That would blow my mind. It would actually make me feel guilty. What the heck am I doing here in my fancy robe? People need to eat!

And what if other Christian days were like this? What if, beyond Christmas and Easter which are so easily identifiable because the monster has co-opted them, Christians started questioning other days of the year. 'Oh no, Epiphany is on a Sunday. That's when we recognize the incarnation by visiting the nursing home.' 'Sorry pastor, can't make it to Pentecost this year. We'll be worshipping with a Bulgarian congregation that day.'

Is it that much of a stretch to imagine the inconvenience of worship in such a way that it impedes our ability to serve others, rather than serve ourselves? Worship is for naming the holy in our midst, for recognizing the presence of One who creates, redeems and sustains. If we skip doing that on Christmas, whether it's through the familiar Sunday morning rituals or through actively seeking that presence in other places, then the monster has fully triumphed.


Unknown said...

The trouble for us with New Year's is that I will be away and the musician wants to be away, and how do we find subs for both of us? A Deacon was willing to lead worship in my stead, but finding a musician seemed unlikely. We ended up making an arrangement with the new church start that rents our space in the afternoon. I'll have a service in the morning on Christmas Day for both congregations; my colleague will have one in the afternoon for both on New Year's Day.
We never considered cancelling, although I don't expect a big turn-out. (My kids and I, Molly the Church Dog, a few others...)
I appreciate your thoughts about how we identify our holy days.

Karen Sapio said...

Here's my slightly cynical take on the megachurch's cancelling: They like success. Full pews. The idea that they'd do something for Christmas and have a half full (or less) arena was simply unpalatable.

Jim Jannotti said...


A propos of nothing in particular, and since you're in NE Ohio somewhere, I thought I'd mention that a group of local musicians sponsors a Christmas Coffeehouse each year (this will be the sixth annual). It's a lot of fun.

It happens on Sunday evening December 18th from 6pm til pretty late at The Bay Lodge on Bradley Road in Bay Village. I'll be there (I'm doing a set with a local guitarist named Sam Getz, scheduled for 10:20).

It's the kind of thing I'm guessing you might like from what I read here on your blog. And of course, there will be coffee and probably some philosophy too.



will smama said...

pcit - That reminds me how some folks have kind of warned me that there won't be many in church on Christmas Day. I try not to look at them disgust, but rather in love when I say, "So?"

We are doing a baptism that day and I have invited children of all ages to bring their favorite gift from the morning. Of course the eventual tie-in will be The Gift.

I will not be here for New Year's and I am sure that one will most definitely be a small crowd. Again, "so."

Jeff Nelson said...

Jim, thanks for the heads-up. That sounds like fun.

Will, what a great day for a baptism!

I like having fun with the smaller crowds. This is definitely the season for it too, because when the weather gets bad a lot of people stay home.

Kathryn said...

Goodness....Here it really wouldnt' be an option. Though a high proportion of the congregation will have been to the Crib service, or to the Midnight Mass on 24th, they will turn out in droves for either the 8.00 Eucharist or the main 10.00...and then we'll get a whole other lot appearing for the Family Service. Just glad that it's all happening on a Sunday this year, so that we don't have the issue we had last year, when hardly anyone did come on 26th...but we still had to offer our full diet of 2 Eucharists and Evensong. Can't get my head round the possibility of no service on Christmas Day at all...

see-through faith said...

we celebrate communion on the last Sunday of the month - which happens to be Christmas Day

I've put a suggestion forward how we might do it

New Years Day isn't a spiritual holiday in my opinion - the start of the church year Advent Sunday is way more important for me personally but maybe I'm old fashioned.

I have no idea what kind of service we'll have on NY's morning, but know that at 11am I'll be there!

6th Jan here is a holy day too. In past years we haven't had a service which has made me rather sad.

I just don't think you cancel a Sunday service. Full stop . But maybe I'm missing something ? who knows?

PS our congregation is decimated at Christmas, Easter and June - August beczasuse so many of our congregation are uni. students, but we are I think the only UMC Finland church (Swedish speaking) to have services through the summer, and I'm glad we do. So many new people find us when visiting our city and our own congregation - those who actually live in the city - need to worship togetehr no matter how few of us there are (usually about 30 most Sundays 'off season')

Each and every person counts!