Saturday, December 31, 2011

Footnote on Christmas Day 2011

Last Sunday was December 25th, which as was noted in the last post, was a very special day. It was, of course, Christmas Day, which makes it special enough. But what really made it a rarity was that the same day was in two seasons.

December 25th, Christmas Day is the last day in the secular season of Christmas that starts off right after Halloween in early November. It is also the first day of the Christian Season of Christmas that runs right up to Epiphany on January 6.

On the way to church Sunday morning I pondered the possibilities.

It would be, after all, the Lord’s Day, so would there be a “regular” service with Scripture, sermon and Communion?

Or might the day offer an extension of the Christmas Eve service the night before, with Christmas carols and hymns and other special music?

Or would it be something else altogether?

It’s not a surprise that it was option number three—something else altogether.

It was actually a nice Christmas morning event. There were hymns and carols as well as other “songs of the season” such as “Jingle Bells”. The story of the birth of Jesus was rehearsed in outline, though no Scripture was read. Because the pastor had lost his voice, there was no sermon as such, but a conversation between him and the congregation.

The “service”, if you can call it that, was very much like a family gathering, adults and kids of all ages enjoying being together on this Day so long awaited. Children and young people were allowed to come in their jammies. It was a festive occasion, filled with laughter and good feeling.

The theological content of the service was solid. We were reminded that it is the Gift of Christ in our lives that makes all the difference, and we should seek and celebrate that Gift above all.

You’re probably waiting for the other shoe to drop, but before it thuds on the floor, I’d emphasize that there was nothing wrong with this Christmas Morning worship in and of itself. It was celebrative, respectful, joyous, and faithful.

Here’s the other shoe: What was wrong was not what was in the service, but what was missing.

The pastor made it clear to everyone that Christmas Day was the end of the season—and he said as much. The ubiquitous Christmas carols and other songs will fade from the radio, and the shopping malls will go back to playing “elevator music”. Now we can get back to normalcy.

The church service I attended Christmas Day was very much the product of our modern American culture, even though it had a strong emphasis on the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. It was the end of the secular season of Christmas. But it did not begin the Christian Season of Christmas.
So the next eleven days, for all intents and purposes, were consigned to liturgical limbo—they were days in search of a place in the Church Year.

Now we might expect that the next Sunday, which is in the Season of Christmas, will be devoted to exploring more fully how we observe and celebrate the coming of God to us in human form by means of a young Jewish woman. We might hope for such, but that’s probably not to be this year.

The Second Sunday in Christmas this year is January 1st. My guess is it will be a New Year’s emphasis. Or, because it’s the Sunday before Epiphany (January 6), that may set the worship theme for the day. In most people’s minds, Christmas is over, and all that’s left to do is take returns to the department store.

When we neglect the Christmas Season in this way, we minimize the impact of the Incarnation. When we worship God it is not that we come to God, but that we know that God has come to us. It is a Gift unearned, undeserved, and for many people un-thought-of. God has bridged the abyss between God and humankind by becoming a human, to share this life with us, and to lead us in a new life. It is a mind-boggling mystery that requires more wonderment and awe from us than the secular season of Christmas allows.

One humble suggestion to improve the situation is that every Christmas Day deserves its own worship service, whether on Sunday or not. This would be complete with Scripture, sermon, communion and glorious music of Christmas to give a blast of a start to the season, and the other Sunday (or Sundays) would continue the theme.

What happened at your church on Christmas Day? Lord’s Day worship in standard form? Something different from anything before?

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