Care to guess whether worship attendance will be up or down December 25? There are several reasons not to be present. Hospital employees, firefighters, police, and emergency medical technicians are just a few of those who will have to work Christmas Sunday. Some will be traveling, literally not in town, while others will have traveled and find it difficult to arise for worship on the birthday of the King.
A trio of reasons pervades the lives of those with sensitive hearts. If a loved one has passed on this year, they may be so missed that grief and a sense of loss make it difficult to celebrate the music and traditions once shared. Others find it all but impossible to leave family and friends behind who do not believe in Jesus or attend regularly. They do not want to offend especially at this time of year. Nostalgia looms larger to those with big hearts than others. They simply to do want to rearrange or change the way they typically celebrate Christmas. Their traditions and the comfort of enjoying a “typical” Christmas are simply too close to their heart to miss out on.
Of course, the top seven reasons are rounded out by those who are a bit more self-serving such as feeling Christmas morning is “me” time. I would have to wake up instead of sleep in. I might have little children who wake up early some day, or already have paid my dues with those energetic early risers in the past. It is time to sleep in while I can or because I deserve it, right? And really, I do not need to go to church. Which only leaves the intriguing reason that “I went to church on Christmas Eve. Why do I need to go again?”.
Hearing these reasons ‘not’ to go made me ask, “Why would anyone want to be in church Sunday morning rather than at home”? Sunday morning worship is a little like being on the journey through the wilderness with the Hebrews. God’s presence by cloud or by fire protected them, provided food and water, hope and progress to a better life, forgiveness of sin, and a deeper relationship with the Creator of the universe and the lover of every soul as well as with others in the faith family.
God’s presence brings the same results today. Worship brings to remembrance what He can do and helps bring it to pass; provision, protection, hope, forgiveness and restoration. This was reflected in responses to the question, “What gift would you want Jesus to wrap for you and place under the Christmas tree this year?”. They included the power of the Holy Spirit to come, family, and a spirit of contentment.
Of course the focus at Christmas should be on the birthday boy, not those they invite to the celebration, don’t you think? Those invited are wanted, cared for, and loved. Party favors may be extended, but the best gifts should be those given to the one with the birthday. What kind of guests demand to receive better party favors than the gifts they bring for the birthday boy?
This Christmas let’s remember it is not MY birthday. Jesus is the one we come to celebrate; perhaps not with gold, frankincense and myrrh this year. Praise, joy, and thanksgiving would be better gifts for the Risen Messiah.
The shepherds risked their jobs and livelihood when they gathered to worship Jesus in the manger. Their flocks could wander off or be killed by predators. Surely there was not room for every shepherd in the area of Bethlehem to come with their flocks to the manger.
The Magi risked their lives traveling from a very long distance across geography known to have thugs and thieves that attacked travelers through their territory.
What do we risk coming to church on Christmas Day?
What do we gain? Is there any mention in Scripture of anyone leaving the presence of the Christ unchanged? They left healed, rejoicing, in peace, with renewed hope in tomorrow or frustrated, angry, or befuddled.
Is it really worth missing Christmas Sunday worship?