12.20.2011

The Christmas Controversy, Canceling Worship, & Merry Christmas



















I'm always nervous about what new controversy will present itself as Christmas rolls around. In Texas, there remains a controversy over the placing of a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. In South Jersey, a controversy brews over a sign that reads, "Keep Christ in Christmas." Then comes the raging national debate over whether we should say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" as we greet one another during this season. As Christians, we have made this our fight, and who dares to stand in our way for the freedom to say "Merry Christmas?"
Nevermind, however, that a great number of Christians this year will give greater priority to their families and opening of presents than to Jesus himself. I say this because Christmas this year falls on a Sunday. Many churches have already announced that they will be canceling worship on Sunday to accommodate those who want to be with their families on Christmas.  So Christians will stand for the right down at WalMart to keep Jesus' name in the seasonal greetings, but then dishonor Jesus by avoiding him in worship on the Lord's Day since it happens to fall on Christmas. Does that make sense?  How does this not equate to making the commandment of God of no effect by our tradition (see Matt 15:6)? If anyone wants to know how Jesus feels about this, Matthew 15:1-9, along with chapter 23, would be a good start.

It’s painful to think about what this really demonstrates, namely, a Christianity without Christ. Is this now the depth of our offense? Is this ultimately the witness that we want to leave to the world, that our battle in the world should be over the freedom to say "Merry Christmas", but that we are indifferent about the freedom to worship Jesus? The devil must gloat at a time like this, it's just what he wants. People will never be forced to think beyond the birth of Christ to what his presence and the coming of his kingdom really is about.

When Christ was born, it wasn’t a fight over Christmas greeting cards, or rights for people to sing Christmas carols, or even to give presents. His coming inaugurated a war over the eternal destiny of souls. His whole presence was a stumbling block to the world and his message the height of offense. Using the words of Luke, "this child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel". Christ's arrival on the scene of history was met with nothing but opposition and murderous attack. From his birth, he had to flee for his life. Even by his own he was "despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."   The conflict that we are experiencing at this time of year is over the world's hatred for Christ, not a right to greet.  That offense is not what we like to think about in connection with the birth of Christ, but its something we cannot escape. Such hatred was the response of the world to the coming of Christ. 

Ultimately, Christmas has nothing at all to do with our giving, but instead has everything to do with God lavishing down upon us the indescribable gift of his son. Christ the king came to lay down his life to save his people from their sin. This was the purpose for which the wise men came to worship. There was nothing greater than the truth that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them." This is God's answer to a world under the dominion of sin. That's what makes our message worth telling, and it requires so much more than a right to greet people with "Merry Christmas", that's cheap, that's easy. We've got a far geater message to now share with the world.  But for the world to understand our message in any sort of meaningful way, it has to come in sincerity, and sincerity is a fruit that results from the life we receive from Christ as worshippers of him in Spirit and truth.  Sincerity cannot come if we can so easily supplant him in worship if Christmas falls on the Sabbath. That kind of disregard is the height of hypocrisy.

Obnoxious Christians kill the message. Let the world see sincere Christians enjoying the liberty they have to worship the risen Christ, and they might begin to understand that Jesus is not just the reason for the season, but the reason for the whole of our existence.

19 comments:

  1. Going to read Matthew 23 right away. A sibling of mine is going to Cross Pointe which has canceled their service, and I want to discuss this with her.

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  2. Walking through town earlier this week I saw a sign at a church posting all the times for the Christmas Eve services but below it declaring no services on Christmas...how sad.

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  3. Well put Pastor, I was thinking along similar lines. Much of it also has to do with people wanting to worship God the way they want to worship God. They only want to worship God if it is convenient for them, just like the Pharisees. I was also thinking of Leviticus 10 and Acts 5. The sons of Aaron and Ananias and Sapphira wanted to worship God the way they wanted to. In a way that was best for them and not for God which defeats the meaning of worship. What is interesting about these two passages is that they both come at the beginning of God instituting worship in both the Old and New Testaments. So the argument that God is different now than He was in the Old Testament, our God is a God of love argument; is not only false on the basis of who God is. That is, He is unchanging, but also that we have these examples of the Lord requiring He be worshiped in the manner He has decreed. If He is not worshiped in the way that he as prescribed, well we know what happened in Acts 5 and Leviticus 10. We can also think of Cain and Abel in their sacrifices to the Lord. Abel did not only give his best to the Lord but he also gave what the Lord commanded in giving a blood sacrifice. Cain gave what he wanted to the Lord, and the Lord rejected it. What is also interesting is that in this story, when Cain was shown that his worship was invalid and not acceptable to God, he became angry and and jealous of his brother and murdered him, first in his heart and then in his actions. He did this instead of repenting of his sin and seeking forgiveness from the Lord, which the Lord, who is most gracious was willing to give.

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  4. Dave, I added Matthew 15 because it might be a less combative approach. Start there, and then, if obstinate, turn to chapter 23. :)

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  5. Kirsten, it's probably better if I don't know who is doing this, mainly because I'm afraid they have the name Reformed on the sign. Sad indeed.

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  6. Jimbo, haven't heard from you in a while! Sounds like you are getting some good training. I only would add that I believe this proves that, for all the pomp and glitter churches are offering today, people still don't believe that the worship of Christ is all that meaningful to their lives--in whatever form it comes.

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  7. It never ceases to amaze me about the hypocrisy that abounds in our so called" Christian nation". They are willing to fight over the use of Christmas or Xmas, or to be able to say "merry Christmas", yet are unconcerned about a worship service being cancelled due to a conflict with a holiday. There were churches in the town I used to live in that cancelled services on Super Bowl Sunday, and instead had a super bowl party.The crowd was much larger at this party than would have attended church that day. Another church had a Halloween party instead of a service. Needless to say it was hard to drive down the street with all the people in costumes "heading to church". Lets worship God in the way we want to, and not be concerned about how God wants us to worship seems to be their commandment. May God have mercy on us.

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  8. Churches doing this sort of reveals what "Christmas" is really about, doesn't it? I wonder when we will quit pretending that the practices of this syncretistic morass we call "Christmas" has any real connection to the worship of Christ. How would it go over if instead of Christmas, we just have a "Family Gift Giving Fun Day" on some Saturday in the middle of February? Would there be howls of protest if the church stopped holding "Christmas services" and rather, held only regular Sunday worship services that throughout the year that focused on his Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension?

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  9. Mark, This whole time of year is extremely distracting, artificial, and idolatrous. The normality of a Word and Sacrament ministry just isn't enough for people. We love to make the commands of God of no effect in this celebration and then explain it away as the worship of Christ? Thanks for these comments.

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  10. We expect very light attendance this Sunday in DC, as the city is transitional and most of our folks are young and travel home to be with their families.
    Church planters preach to many empty pews. But our doors will be wide open.

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  11. An as yet unmentioned point regarding the benefit of pre-Christmas services is that unbelievers unused to going to church would be more likely to go to a service before Christmas than on Christmas day. People without the priority of Christ on Christmas day would also be more likely to go then, also. For evangelistic purposes, a service before Christmas might be a really good thing. That is not to say, of course, that services should not be held on Christmas day!

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  15. Merry Christmas!=Happy holiday!

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