Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas on a Sunday

Take a deep breath and relax – this essay will not re-hash all the old issues about whether or not and to what extent the church should celebrate Christmas. Yes, friends, there are fresh new issues to hash! In a recent article (“Closed for Christmas,” Leadership Weekly,, Skye Jethani considers the deeper implications of the decision by many American mega churches not to have worship services this Christmas Day (most if not all will have numerous services in the days before), basing this decision on a desire to help their many volunteers, staff, and of course members enjoy Christmas morning with their families.

Jethani takes us through a whirlwind review of the American church’s attitude toward Christmas, some high points of which are as follows: The Puritans were “stridently opposed” to the celebration of Christmas, seeing no biblical support for it and decrying its pagan connections. Indeed, as late as 1855 a newspaper in New York reported that Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches would be closed on Christmas Day because “they do not accept the day as a Holy One.” This sentiment was so strongly propounded that by the 1860’s only 18 states officially recognized the holiday! America’s opposition to Christmas finally weakened in the early 20th century “with the rise of Santa Claus in the secular pantheon.” Retailers embraced Christmas as “the premier season for shopping.” In response, church leaders’ objections shifted from the holiday’s pagan connections to “the ungodly materialism they were witnessing in the name of Christ.”

Jethani wonders if the mega churches’ “spend the morning with our families” explanation may simply be putting the most positive spin on what is essentially a capitulation to the commercial juggernaut that Christmas has become, i.e., we better cancel church services because most of our people would choose to stay home and open presents anyway.

David Wells, a theology professor and frequent critic (from within) of the evangelical Christian movement in America, claims, “This is a consumer mentality at work: ‘Let’s not impose the church on people. Let’s not make church in any way inconvenient.’”

In what may be the height of irony, many Christians are pushing for “Merry Christmas” to be re-instated (as opposed to “Happy Holidays”) in department stores. Jethani notes, “Strangely, the historic outcry of churches over the materialism of Christmas seems to have reversed. Now it appears that evangelicals are upset when rampant materialism in December is not explicitly associated with Christmas.”

Well, friends, that’s a lot to chew on, isn’t it? Little ‘ol West Houston, perhaps more inadvertently than not, won’t be having alternative services in the days before Christmas. There is just our Christmas morning assembly at the regular time (no classes, though). Maybe we should have offered choices of services. Or maybe, again inadvertently, we are “forcing” one another to make an important choice. Keep the Christ in Christmas? Let’s keep the Christmas in Christ.


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