Church on Christmas?

I preached my very first sermon on Sunday December 25, 2005. At the time I was a seminary student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, but that Christmas I was back home in Amarillo to visit family. My home church gave me the high honor of preaching on Christmas day, my assigned text was Luke 2, and I was asked to preach about what it means that Jesus was born to be the “Savior.”

I think about that sermon every time Christmas falls on a Sunday – something that happens four times over a twenty-eight-year period. Simple math says this would happen once every seven years. However, our observance of leap years means that we have Christmas on a Sunday after eleven years, then after six years, then after five years, then after six years. Do the math, and you’ll find that we’re due this year, 2022, then again in 2033.

One of the oddest questions that popped up in 2005, 2011, and 2016 is the question of whether or not churches should have Sunday services when Christmas falls on a Sunday. This question has resurfaced again this year, and I’m quite certain it will pop up in 2033. Personally, I’m Baptist enough to believe in the autonomy of the local church – meaning, my church doesn’t have the right to tell your church what to do on Sunday December 25.

While my Baptist DNA prevents me from telling you what your church ought to do, I also feel strongly that churches should not forsake meeting together. With every fiber of my being, I believe that every church ought to gather for worship on the Lord’s Day – even when, and especially when, the Lord’s Day falls on Christmas. Without getting too preachy, here are a few reasons Immanuel will have church on Sunday December 25.

One, Sunday is the Lord’s Day, and the Lord’s Day is the day when Christians observe the Sabbath principle. Sunday is a day to rest and worship. It’s the day the early church met together for prayer, singing, preaching, and fellowship. It’s the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and it’s a fitting day to celebrate the miracle of the incarnation that preceded Jesus’ sacrificial death and victorious resurrection.

Two, conservative Christians regularly lament the fact that “Christ” is routinely taken out of Christmas. My tribe is guilty of whining when it comes to Christmas trees being renamed “holiday trees.” My tribe is guilty of complaining when prayer, the Bible, God, and Jesus are taken out of schools. How strange that so many in my tribe openly advocate the closure of churches so that families can stay home and open presents.

Three, the church gathering for worship is essential, not optional. If the COVID experiment taught us anything, it taught us that virtual church is not – I repeat – not the same as real church. Persecuted Christians around the world certainly have no category for free people choosing not to meet for worship. Above all, the word “church” literally means “congregation” or “assembly” because that’s what churches do – they congregate and assemble.

For these reasons, we will have church at Immanuel on Sunday December 25. Granted, we will have only one service instead of two services, our small group Bible studies will not meet, and we will not provide nursery for children or babies. But we will pray together, sing together, fellowship together, and gather together under the authority of God’s Word. We will celebrate the birth of the Savior, and Lord willing, we will do it again in 2033.

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