This year, Christmas Day fell on Sunday. Because of Leap Year, the day is not always easy to calculate. For example, the last time that Christmas was on Sunday was 2011, five years ago. The next time will be 2022, or six years from now. After that, Christmas falls on Sunday in 2033, or 11 years from the last time. Following that year, Christmas day on Sunday will occur in 2039, 2044, and 2050.
Normally, the Sunday following Christmas Day is the lowest attended church service of the year. Probably, that is because kids are out of school and, because of the holidays, one can take four vacation days and get eleven days in a row off. Christmas also, normally, is one of two days when the attendance is at the highest, the other being Easter Sunday.
However, when Christmas Day is on Sunday, all bets are off. I asked a minister this week how he expected the attendance to be on Christmas. He said, “I have no idea.” Then I asked a long-time Southern Baptist pastor the same question. He thought a minute and said, “If we have half the normal attendance, I’ll be happy.” Some churches even cancel Christmas Day services. Most will not as Christmas is one of the traditionally two most holy days of the church year. Some churches who have a strong tradition of Christmas Day services, whatever day it falls on, may actually have a high attendance.
Frankly, it’s a bit distressing when Christmas Day services are not well attended. The reason, of course, is that families often get together on Christmas Day and open presents and eat. Jesus, whose birthday is the only reason of the season, gets lost in the ribbons, wrapping, and calories.
I get that. Or at least I understand why. Growing up, Christmas Day was basically for the kids. We got up early, opened presents, had breakfast, and spent the rest of the day playing with the new toy, riding the new bicycle, or playing with friends who were doing the same.
Our own church has not had a Christmas Day worship tradition. We do have two Christmas Eve services each year which are usually very well attended. But Christmas Day? Not so much. So, this year, we faced a dilemma. Do we change the Christmas Eve services on Saturday evening? Do we cancel the Christmas Day service?
In the end, we decided to do a slight modification. We changed the times of the services slightly. We still had our “kid friendly” service at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Bishop St. Nicholas was to pay a brief visit and give a gift to each child. We moved the other service, a candlelight service, to 8:30 p.m. and, on Christmas Day, the Sunday worship at 10:30 a.m. rather than 10 a.m.
There are a few reasons why we had Christmas Day services. For one thing, it’s Sunday. Christians, since the days of the apostles have gathered on “The Lord’s Day” celebrating His resurrection. For a time, the apostles went to the synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath but, after they were eventually kicked out, Sunday became the standard and has been so for nearly 2,000 years.
For another reason, Christmas is about Jesus — not presents, trees, lights, football games, or even family. It is about Him. And for another, what if someone decided that, on Christmas Day, they have decided to go to church to “give God a try?” And then, what if the doors were locked and no one was home?
So, with church history being on my side, I humbly suggest that Christians should be in church on Sundays — every Sunday. And Christmas Day, when it falls on Sunday, is no exception. Remember the reason for the season — and then celebrate Christ on Christmas Day!
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]