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On Christmas Day in the Morning

December 24, 2011

I had not attended Christmas Day worship until I was ordained and serving as a pastor in my first call.  Growing up, my family worshipped on Christmas Eve, typically at the candlelight service, after we had opened gifts and eaten dinner.  Christmas morning wasn’t for church.  Christmas morning was for quickly opening the gifts left by Santa and then bundling up and loading into the minivan to visit the grandparents.

The large congregation I served in my first call had seven Christmas Eve services, all attended by several hundred people.  Christmas Eve was a joyful time in our church, but for the pastors it was very busy and afforded little time to spend with family on Christmas Eve.  As the youngest member of the pastoral staff – unmarried and childless – it became my role to lead worship for the much smaller crowd that showed up on Christmas morning so that the other pastors could be with their families.

But a funny thing happened.  I fell in love with worship on Christmas morning.  While Christmas Eve brought large crowds, Christmas morning was intimate.  Christmas Eve worship was worship with all the stops pulled out; after all, next to Easter, Christmas Eve is the “big show” in most congregations.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but gathering in simple worship around Christ incarnate in Word and Sacrament provided the perfect complimentary experience.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services have become for me not two options to meet the same need, but two necessary components of a single worship experience.  Neither is sufficient to unfold the mystery of Christ’s blessed Incarnation in our world.  On Christmas Eve I find myself tapping into the tale of the shepherds who heard the heavenly host proclaiming glory to God and peace on earth; shepherds who then respond by glorifying and praising God.  Christmas Day lends itself more to Mary’s experience.  Luke tells us that the Mother of Our Lord “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”  After the joyful proclamation of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day becomes the chance to ponder what we’ve heard anew, to treasure the great gift God has given to us in the little boy of Bethlehem.

This year, Christmas falls on a Sunday.  There has been talk in certain quarters of cancelling Sunday worship because people don’t go to church on Christmas Day.  I find myself a little bit incredulous, since I can’t for the life of me imagine not offering worship on Sunday, which is always a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.  But I have no desire to scold those who cancel, or the many folks who simply choose not to show up.  It’s a busy time.  There are minivans to load and grandparents to see.  I rejoice that we’ll be together in worship on Christmas Eve.

But with the appreciation I’ve gained for worshipping Christmas morning, the congregation I now serve worships on Christmas even when it’s not a Sunday.  I would encourage you to consider joining us, or worshipping in the morning wherever you are.  It doesn’t work for every family, but my children will grow up with the tradition of worshipping on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (after presents, I’m sure they’ll insist!).  I hope they will find the joy in this that I have discovered.  I can’t wait for the festive worship experiences I’ll have tonight.  And in the light of Christmas, I’ll gather with God’s people once more tomorrow, treasuring up and pondering the gift of Jesus Christ.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

Merry Christmas!

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”  John 1:12

From → Advent/Christmas

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