Yes, You Should Go to Church on Christmas

By

You should go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or both! And you should do this, not out of begrudging obligation, but rather with joy for the special blessing God pours out on you through this glorious feast.

In this article, I will begin with a discussion of the blessings that come from going to church on Christmas. Then I will present four counterarguments by those who oppose Christmas services, together with responses to those arguments. Finally I will consider the special case when Christmas Eve or Christmas Day fall on a Sunday.

Sponsored

The Blessings of Going To Church on Christmas

Everyone knows there’s something special about Christmas church services, especially on Christmas Eve. Pastors and congregations prepare with particular focus, polishing sermons, practicing carols, setting out candles to light.

The excitement is not merely because visitors will come to church at Christmas (even more than at Easter). The excitement is in the Christmas story itself, that God visited us at Christmas, the Son of God coming down from heaven.

Thus there is a palpable sense of the presence of God as we rehearse his promises through the ages, to bless his people and to bless the world through his people. Especially striking is the promise that this blessing would come through a child. What a paradox: the grand purposes of our creator God, and the basic dependance of a baby, somehow brought together.

What comes through is not only the presence of God, but also his character, in freely emptying himself of his heavenly glory to take our shape, out of love (see Philippians 2). This humility, we realize, is the very shape of love, a truth at once counter-intiutive and yet deeply familiar.

Thus we begin to see that humility has a hidden glory. Can there really be something greater than heaven? Yes, when heaven comes to earth. When light comes into the darkness. These are the mysteries into which angels have longed to look.

On Christmas, God reveals them to us.

No, We Should Not Go to Church on Christmas

Of course, what would Christmas be without a few Ebenezer Scrooges, who would prefer we not celebrate Christmas at all? Here are four arguments you might hear from your resident Grinch:

  1. The Book of Acts shows the early church gathering to worship on the first day of the week, which is Sunday (for example, see Acts 20:7). So the only time we should gather to worship is on Sundays.
  2. Paul teaches that you should not “let anyone judge you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16). Because Christmas is a festival not mandated in scripture, we should neither celebrate it nor let anyone tell us we should.
  3. Even if we acknowledge Christmas, there’s no need to celebrate it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We can have concerts or special events at other times in the season, and then cancel church so everyone can spend more time at home. After all, family is the whole point of the season.
  4. Plus, didn’t Christmas begin as a pagan holiday?

Yes, We Should Go to Church on Christmas

Here’s how I would respond.

  1. Yes, the Bible emphasizes Sunday worship, but it does not exclude corporate worship on other days. Moreover, the Biblical view of time includes both a weekly day set aside for rest and worship (the Sabbath), as well as an annual cycle of specific feasts, such as Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths (see Leviticus 23). Jesus himself worshipped in both ways, both by gathering weekly in the Synagogue, and by going to Jerusalem for the annual feasts, keeping this pattern from his youth up until his death (See Luke 2:40-52, Luke 22:1-23).
  2. Yes, Paul teaches that we should not let others judge us on whether we keep the festivals, but then Paul himself insists on going to Jerusalem for a feast! (See Acts 18:26). In other words, Paul is not denying the value of festivals, but rather denying their necessity for salvation. More specifically, Paul is arguing that Gentile Christians, such as those at Collosae, do not need to become Jews; neither circumcision nor the ceremonial law are required, since they have these already fulfilled in Christ. This is why Paul goes on to say, in Colossians 2:17, that “these are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” What could be more appropriate, then, than for Christians who do not keep the Jewish feasts to rather keep a feast of the Incarnation, for “the substance belongs to Christ!”
  3. God came to earth, but the shepherds and the wise men still had to come to baby Jesus (see Luke 2 & Matthew 2). And in coming to Jesus, they discovered that they were a part of a new family, whose shared DNA was the Holy Spirit. Christmas is indeed about family, particularly the new family of God in Christ. Thus the full celebration of Christmas can only happen in the church. Home worship is essential, but it cannot not replace the church.
  4. Actually, Christmas did not begin as a pagan holiday. The church arrived at December 25th from the tradition that Jesus was conceived on March 25th (March 25th + 9 months = December 25th!). Of course we don’t know for sure when Jesus was born, but December 25th is a best guess. The point is not a literal birthday party, but rather the annual commemoration of the incarnation of the Son of God.

Bonus: When Christmas is on Sunday

Every few years, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, which means even those who oppose Christmas services are forced, if they are consistent, to go to church on Christmas. Isn’t it wonderful? God has his way, even with Ebenezer Scrooge!

Then such folks face a dilemma: should they talk about Christmas or not? If they do, they are acknowledging the existence of a feast that they would otherwise deny. But if they don’t, they’ll discover, like the Grinch, that they really can’t stop Christmas from coming.

Banish the tree, banish the presents, banish the lights – let them try. But they cannot banish the songs. Carols come to the mind, unbidden. The angels are already singing. Joy will go out to the world, because the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King!

Published on

December 23, 2022

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

Comments

Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

3 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments