With Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, pastors and churches are deciding when and if the church will gather. This affects both the usual weekly Sunday gathering and the annual Christmas Eve service. With the internet, we can hear what other churches are doing. This is good because these are important matters to consider! But as is also customary with the internet, people’s responses to others often lack charity and grace, disparaging motives and impugning others’ character. At the risk of the latter, the former compels me to briefly explain why we have decided to cancel our annual Christmas Eve service this year and still have our regular, weekly Sunday morning service.
I believe the Lord’s Day takes priority over holidays like Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. Throughout history, most believers have believed that one day in seven is to be set apart for worship to God. Formerly on the last day of the week, this day shifted to the first day of the week for Christian believers after the resurrection of Christ and is called the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1–2; Rev. 1:10). Whether you believe in a shift from Sabbath to Lord’s Day or that the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath or simply that Christians should go to church on Sundays, you are building your conviction on the propositions, patterns, and precedent of Scripture. God has not only instituted how he is to be worshipped but when. This is why most churches meet on Sundays. This is also why we have admonishments not to forsake the gathering of our church together (Heb. 10:25).
If I’m faced with a choice, I’d rather relativize Christmas and elevate the Lord’s Day.
The holiday of Christmas is beautiful (I’m not a grinch, I promise). As a new believer, I remember breaking down in tears hearing familiar Christmas hymns. These songs that I mindlessly sang were suddenly imputed with such significance. I love that these songs play in stores and on the radio. I love celebrating with family and friends. Focusing on the birth of Christ is a win every day, but especially during Advent.
At the same time, we need to be honest. There is no Scriptural warrant to observe any day(s) as Christ’s birthday. It’s not wrong to emphasize or revel in Jesus’s birth any day, so of course, it’s not a sin to do in December. Also, unlike Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, we don’t know the exact day Jesus was born. Therefore, while it’s undoubtedly profitable to set aside time to emphasize Christ’s birth (anytime, but especially at Christmas), we need to put these meetings in their proper place. They are gatherings we have the freedom to have as believers—they are lawful and profitable. However, unlike the Christians gathering on the Lord’s Day, there are no Scriptural propositions, patterns, or precedents for holiday meetings. I don’t mean to diminish them, but I do mean to relativize them. The Lord’s Day gathering of God’s people should be prioritized, and nothing else the church does should compete with it.
The Lord’s Day gathering of God’s people should be prioritized and nothing else the church does should compete with it.
I live and pastor in Watertown, Mass, a town bordering Boston. There aren’t a lot of Christians here. The desire to go to church–even on holidays–likely exited with the last generation. We can’t just put out a sign and expect a bunch of people to come (either on Christmas Eve or Day). Also, we don’t have a large church; many of our members are traveling over the Christmas break. But there’s one factor that allows us some flexibility: we have our own church building. This allows us some flexibility on what we can do. I’m sensitive to my friends’ concerns who are planting churches, and their landlord won’t permit them to use the space on Sunday. That presents several logistical challenges. In our context, with several challenges and some flexibility, we believe that it’s consistent with our convictions and best for our church family not to have a Christmas Eve Service and encourage everyone to come on the Lord’s Day.
Everything we do communicates our priorities. As a pastor, I want to communicate what I believe to be God’s priorities. I think this comes from a place of conviction rather than convenience. If I’m faced with a choice, I’d rather relativize Christmas and elevate the Lord’s Day. I also realize that the elders of every church have to make their own decisions for their congregation. Different people face different circumstances. But in the end, we need to do our best (2 Tim. 2:15) because we will all give an account to God for how we’ve led Christ’s flock (1 Pet. 5:1–3).