What We Celebrate At Christmas Is Why We Go to Church

As Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year, church leaders across the country are making decisions about whether their respective congregation will hold services or forgo them. As one who holds a firm resolve about the prudency, even the appropriateness, of arbitrarily canceling services on any Sunday, no matter how noble-sounding the reasoning, I appreciate Grayson Gilbert’s thoughts on this matter, posted for Chorus In The Chaos:

Every set number of years, the church has an opportunity to gather with the saints on Christmas Day—and yet this often becomes a point of controversy for professing Christians. Some churches cancel services, while many others keep their doors open. I will admit at the onset of this that I believe those who shut their doors are not only doing a disservice to their congregants, but are in disobedience to the Scriptures.

The call to gather with the saints in the local assembly of believers is one that holds few exceptions to the rule. What has been traditionally held is that unless one is barred from attending church due to the providence of God or works of necessity, Christians should be among God’s people on the Lord’s Day (i.e., Sunday service). That time should be a designated time for all who profess faith in Christ simply because it is a time where the Spirit is uniquely present to work in and through His people as they serve one another, through the proclamation of the Word, the public reading of Scripture, corporate prayer, and congregational signing. In other words, unless we are providentially hindered or performing works of necessity, church attendance should be a non-negotiable to us. That is the general rule.

While there are many reasons people give as to why Christmas Day should be an exception to the general rule, at the heart of it is a rejection of why we gather in the first place. We gather, as the body of Christ, each and every week to submit ourselves to our Head. We gather in celebration of what Jesus accomplished in His life, death, burial, and resurrection, and what He promises to accomplish when He returns. We come together, as one body, for service and our mutual edification, until the day we are made complete in Christ. These are the most basic elements of the Christian faith, where we look upon our Savior, week in and week out, and see the faithfulness of God in sending His beloved Son. In every aspect, the celebration of Christmas is the celebration of God’s covenant love toward His people.

When we cancel service to free people up for family time, what we communicate, whether intentionally or not, is that we operate within two spheres of life. One sphere is the realm where the Christian faith is lived out, but the other sphere is the realm where our personal lives are lived out. This sort of dualism is part and parcel to so many underlying issues within the broader church, but the true pity of it is that we bifurcate parts of our lives as if to say God is the Sovereign Ruler and Savior, in only the parts we deem necessary. To put that even more clearly: we compartmentalize our lives, as if Christ is not the very center of our being, and therefore, the One under whom we are to rearrange everything, in worship and adoration.

What Christ accomplished in His death and resurrection was not merely the salvation of sinners, but a new set of affections, a new life to be brought under submission to His commands, and even a new family. That family, according to Jesus, is to be treasured far and above our own immediate family, as precious as they may (and should) be to us. Yet even greater than that blood-bought family we find in Christ, is our union with Jesus Himself.

This is particularly why Jesus simply tells us that the one who loves father and mother, brother and sister, son and daughter, more than Him, is not worthy of Him (Matt. 10:37). Despite how very often people try to soften the hard words of Christ, these things have to mean something, and often have to play out in exceedingly simple ways. One such way is to faithfully attend church this Christmas Sunday, and each and every other Sunday for that matter.

However, this is the age where many will miss weekly attendance for ball games, soccer practice, or even enjoying personal leisure. The rather blunt point I am making is that this problem is not merely relegated to Christmas for most, and likely, especially for those who would find Christmas morning a reason to cancel church services. The root issue though remains the same. It is born out of a fundamental rift in our thinking, and our thinking reveals we have a rather trite sense of what it means to be a faithful Christian before the gaze of our God.

When we relegate the commands of Scripture to the sidelines in favor of unwrapping presents with our loved ones, we showcase what it is we truly treasure. But more than this, we showcase what it is we truly believe. More to the point, we showcase the idea that God, and the gathering of His saints, somehow needs to cater to us, rather than we being the ones who need to rearrange our priorities for the things that truly matter. It is part of the same consumeristic mindset prevalent within Evangelicalism as a whole, where our own individual preferences sadly outweigh the genuine needs of the body as a whole.

Am I saying that celebrating Christmas with your family and friends doesn’t matter? By no means! What I am saying is that the very reason we celebrate this day is because we celebrate the Giver of all our celebration days. When we celebrate birthdays, we do so in celebration that the Lord is the Giver of life. When we gather around the table to feast, we do so in celebration of the Lord’s providence. As we come together to exchange gifts with those we love, we do so in celebration of the Lord giving the most incredible gift of all time to His own children, whom He loves to the uttermost. In all of it, the singular purpose of praise and thanksgiving should inform every celebration we enter into, for the Lord is the Giver of all good gifts.

What better way is there to celebrate the incarnation of Christ, than with God’s people, whom He gloriously provided Christ for to begin with?

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