Christmas Sanity

One of the reasons I’ve heard offered by some of the mega-churches not having worship services is so the staff can have some family time. I understand the desire for family time. During my years of pastoring I have often wondered about our talk about Christmas as a time for family when I had to spend most of Christmas Eve working. (For that matter, I jokingly wish for more secular holidays celebrated at the end of the week rather than on Mondays. I’m jealous of those folks that get 3 day weekends.) I see a few things in tension here that may be worth looking at more closely.

First, Christianity is less about family than we tend to make it out to be. If Christianity was all about family, it would have never moved beyond the bounds of Judaism. The early Christian community – especially in the ministry of Paul – was all about going beyond bloodlines, ethnicity and culture.

Family was relativised even in the ministry of Jesus. One time when Jesus was teaching his family came to pick him up – and put him away. They thought he’d gone off the deep end. Jesus’ response? “Who is my mother, my brother and my sister? Whoever does the will of God.” Sure, there are the commands for husbands and wives to love each other, for children to obey their parents, etc. But the relationships with other believers appear to create new semi-familial structures in the early church.

Second, we too easily reduce “church” to what we do on Sunday morning. If “church,” from a biblical point of view, describes the people of God and their ongoing shared love relationship with God, then surely there are ways to do/be church other than what we traditionally do on Sunday mornings. Now if all we’re doing is sitting around our own living rooms celebrating materialism (even materialism “in Jesus’ name), I think we’re missing out. But if we join with other believers at Christmas, celebrate the birth of Jesus – and give Him gifts appropriate to his status as our Lord and Savior – that’s something different.

Third, the idea of taking Christmas Sunday off for family time hints at an important observation. As leaders we easily think that church is something we make happen. We not only aim to do the all important work of helping people get off the road to Hell and on to the road to Heaven, but we want to do all we do with “excellence.” (Just check how many church mission, vision and value statements mention that word – “excellence.”) I know by experience that “excellence” is tiring. It’s hard work. Too often it requires we sacrifice our families – and the people close to us – so the stranger can get our best. As I read scripture, however, I see a life better described as “sane” than “excellent.” Sanity is a way of talking about the health Jesus offers. Do you remember Acts 4:12? Those interested in arguing for soteriological exclusivism point to this text as claiming salvation is found only in Jesus. Certainly a biblical case can be made for that. But do we remember the context? Peter’s not talking to the San Hedrin about how people get saved: he’s talking about how people get healed. The point is this: We need to find saner ways to do church year-round, not just at Christmas (actually it’s even narrower – in the years Christmas falls on a Sunday).

Have yourselves a Merry, Sane, and Birthday of Jesus!

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