Christmas is on a Sunday this year, and I’ve been hearing a good deal of chatter about what a “problem” this creates. There is an assumption people won’t come because “Christmas is family time 1.”
This notion of a Sunday Christmas being a problem is actually a sign of a larger problem which spans across both the denominational and theological spectrum of contemporary American Christianity.
We have no sense congregational worship possesses, in and of itself, any intrinsic spiritual value.
This has been true for Protestant Christianity, in particular, for decades. We reduced worship to a lecture 2, and then replaced a lecture with a concert. While preaching and music are important facets of Christian worship, the rise of portable entertainment allows these to be better experienced on demand, and often with a better quality than a local church can create. Why listen to a mediocre preacher when a megachurch master makes his sermons available online? Why sing with people who may not be able to carry a tune when you can open Spotify and listen to the best worship music currently being made 3?
If worship is seen as nothing more than a manifestation of certain components we enjoy, and if those components are better experienced elsewhere and elsewhen, the notion of coming together for worship loses it’s purpose. After all, we can be inspired at any time, not just 10:30 AM on a Sunday morning 4.
And if that is how we view worship, it’s no wonder we can hear people voicing their doubts of it’s value for our development as a people called by God. It’s why some churches will “selflessly” cancel worship on Easter Sunday in order to do service projects, because the “Gospel has to be put to work.” It’s why people tend to stay home on a Sunday when the pastor is away 5. It’s why people can say, “I just don’t get anything from a sermon” or “the music doesn’t move me” as a reason for not attending worship, and expect people to accept this as a perfectly reasonable explanation 6.
It’s why we’d even consider the idea of “Christmas Sunday” a problem.
But here’s the thing. Worship is not merely a distillation of it’s individual components, weighted according to those we find more personally appealing. It is not, in fact, even the product of the sum of it’s individual components.
Worship is a door into another reality. It draws us into the throne room scenes seen in the Book of Revelation 7.
When we transform worship into an on demand experience of the most excellent versions of our favorite worship components we lose something. We lose the notion of the breadth of God’s incredible mercy, and the awesome magnitude of Jesus’ grace to include our flawed congregations in his plan to illuminate the world. We miss out on the experience of mystical transport, the revelation which shows us worship joins a congregation with the innumerable crowd around the Lamb’s throne. A crowd made up of every tribe and tongue on Earth and in Heaven.
Worship isn’t supposed to be selfish, but this is how many of us have been trained to approach the discipline. Rather, worship is about losing ourselves in exaltation as we declare the great things the Lamb has done. It’s a discipline which is meant to open us up to experience the Lamb’s reign. And, because we both experience and affirm the mystical reality of Jesus’ reign in worship, it is meant to fill us with the desire to be Jesus’ hands and feet in this world — thus expanding the Kingdom 8.
That is the intrinsic value of worship to spiritual development. We give worship to God and the Lamb transported, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the throne room of heaven. So we might be changed, together, and better formed for service in this world.
Sunday Christmas isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity to renew our appreciation for both the intrinsic value of worship for spiritual development, and the reality it conveys.
- I find it ironic the same people who spend the entirely of Advent demanding people say “Merry Christmas” and reminding people “Jesus is the reason for the season” tend to be the most prone to not holding worship “because it’s Christmas.” ↩
- This has actually been the bane of a wide swath of Protestant worship for centuries. ↩
- Or, really, the most popular. Much of current Christian worship music is little more than endless candy. I can’t call that “good.” ↩
- Central Baptist Church of Riverton-Palmyra, maybe we’ll see you some time? ↩
- Or decide to attend when they are away. It’s dependent on how people feel about the pastor. ↩
- For the record, I think far too many pastors like to be impressed with themselves. I typically tune them out after the second “Here’s a story to show how spiritual I am” illustration. I like my sermons short, and my self-congratulatory pats on my back for my own preaching brevity to be similarly short. ↩
- No, Revelation is not about “the end of the world.” It’s primarily a book depicting a worship service, painted against the back drop of resistance against the God who is worthy of this action. In the end, the Lamb overcomes, and “all things are made new.” Revelation is about longing for that new world in the face of serious opposition — which is what worship pretty much is. ↩
- Or, we “put the Gospel to work” because we worship as a people, not in spite of it. ↩