Just weeks after Christians joined forces in a chorus of boos for retailers who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is the reason for the season, churches across the country have decided to take the Christians out of Christmas instead. No, they've not given up on the holiday. They're not refusing to say "Merry Christmas." They're certainly not buying "holiday" trees. They've just decided to stay home for Christmas.
Since Christmas falls on Sunday this year for the first time since 2005, some churches have decided to close their doors that morning. The rationale goes something like this: Our folks are busy enough on Christmas morning. They'll have guests in town for the holiday. Attendance will probably be low anyway. Let's just encourage everyone to spend the morning at home with family.
It's not that I have a problem with spending time with my family. In fact, there's very little else I'd rather do than spend time with my wife and kids. However, I do have a problem with canceling church on Christmas morning.
Such a decision not only keeps God's people out of church, it keeps God's praises off their lips. Most of those who decide to stay home that morning aren't going to be singing a rousing rendition of "Joy to the World" at 10:45. Instead, they'll do what they do every Christmas morning. They'll get up. They'll peek under the tree. Dad will get some coffee. Mom will get the camera. Let the festivities begin!
Yet, when you read the biblical accounts of the first Christmas, you see that it's all about worship. Mary worships God when she's told the wonderful news of the impending incarnation (Luke 1:46ff). An unborn John the Baptist worships in the womb. Zechariah worships at the birth of John (Luke 1:67-79). The Magi worship. The angels worship. The shepherds worship. Simeon worships. And Anna worships. Do we see a trend here?
Deciding to stay home on Christmas morning has spiritual implications. Rather than gathering as a body of believers to worship our God and Savior, many will spend the morning doing anything but that. Let's not, in the name of family, join our unbelieving neighbors in denying God the praise He deserves on Christmas morning.
Such a decision also sets a bad precedent. Rather than driving home the biblical message of Christmas to our children, we'll be staying home instead. Rather than emphasizing to little Suzie the importance of church and community, we'll tell her that there are some things that are more important. Rather than training our children up in the way they should go, we're telling them that, sometimes, it's OK not to go at all. Is this the message that we want to send to our children?
Lest someone accuse me of saying that going to church is more important than family, I'm not. I believe that there are precious few things more important than family. However, I am saying that the worship of the one and true living God and His Son is one of those things.
Why can't Christians have both on Christmas Sunday? Church and family. They can. They can take their family to church on Christmas morning and worship God as a family with the family of God. Let's show our children the true meaning of Christmas rather than just telling them about it.
The media has made much of the Christian outcry over the removal of Christ from Christmas. Retailers have raised our ire. We've boycotted. We've called. We've let our collective voice be heard. "Non-believers must know that Jesus is the reason for the season!"
We've won the day. Stores are allowing their cashiers to say, "Merry Christmas," once again. There is, indeed, victory in Jesus. Now, we're going to stay home and bask in the glory of our success?
If we're not careful, our unbelieving neighbors may catch on. By our actions, not our words, they will sense that Christmas isn't that important of a Christian holiday. In fact, their Christian neighbors appear to be doing the same thing on Christmas day that they are. Perception will become reality in their minds. They won't be likely to forget that the next time you tell them how much church means to you.
Many retailers have changed their corporate minds. It's not too late for the church, either. We must save Christmas from ourselves this time.
The Grinch learned a hard lesson after he tried to steal Christmas. As he stood there on that frigid mountain, he realized that Christmas in Who-ville was going on without him, or perhaps in spite of him. Standing there with his Santa hat in hand, "the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!" "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more!"
Let's learn a lesson from the Grinch. Let's not steal Christmas from ourselves. Let's not steal it from our children. Let's not steal it from our neighbors. Instead of staying home that morning, come to church with the sole intention of worshipping God. Bring your family. Bring your neighbors. Let them hear the Gospel. Let them meet the Christ of Christmas.
Peter Beck serves as an assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, S.C. A version of this column previously appeared in Baptist Press in 2005.
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