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.