The New York Times recently published an article entitled “O Come All Ye Faithful, Except When Christmas Falls on a Sunday.” (12/18/22) The article explored the various issues for Protestant churches regarding worship this year when Christmas falls on a Sunday, when many families want to be doing what they normally do on Christmas morning— sitting around in their pajamas, opening gifts and enjoying a nice breakfast. While Roman Catholics are required to attend worship on Christmas day (although many attend a late Christmas Eve service that goes past midnight in order to fulfill that requirement), Protestants generally do not worship on Christmas day. Most of the focus is on Christmas Eve.
When Christmas falls on a Sunday, many Protestant pastors and worship leaders find themselves in a bit of a bind. As The New York Times article conveys, Christmas Eve is a sort of “Super Bowl” event for a lot of churches, leaving little in the way of energy or interest in holding worship the very next morning. One of the pastors quoted in the Times article summed things up this way, “We still believe in the Sunday morning experience, but we have to meet people where they are.” That pastor’s church will not be holding worship on Christmas morning this year, when Christmas lands on a Sunday. The last time Christmas landed on a Sunday, in 2016, “practically no one showed up for services” at that church.
This all seems terribly backward to me. Sure, Christmas Eve is a big deal and a lot of work and energy is expended in putting together a meaningful experience. At the end of just the one service we hold at Old South, all of those who lead or participate in the service are exhausted. For Old South, Christmas Eve is usually the best attended service of the year. Christmas morning will likely attract only a small group. Still, we will worship. It’s not about “meeting people where they are.” It’s much more about meeting God where God’s at, and recognizing the significance of worship even when it’s inconvenient.
It feels important to me that the church be open for worship every Sunday (in person, hybrid or just virtual/remote). This isn’t about drawing a crowd, or coaxing people to worship when they don’t want to. It’s about recognizing that one of the most fundamental things that churches do is to worship and, therefore, that’s what they should be doing. Even if hardly anyone shows up. Sunday is the Lord’s Day and ought to be recognized as such.
Churches and church leaders that have decided to cancel Sunday worship on December 25 this year simply because it won’t draw a big crowd seem to me to be missing something important in their decision-making process. If it’s not worth having worship if there’s not a large audience, is it actually worship that these churches are engaging in on all of the other Sundays? Or has their worship become a concert or show instead?
At Old South, we will gather for worship on December 25, whether we have our usual small group or an even smaller group. Because it’s Sunday and we are a church and that’s what we do. You know, honor the Sabbath. And keep it holy. Or at least try to keep an holy, instead of giving up without any effort at all.