I love Christmas Day on Sunday. I think it should always be on a Sunday. I think it would be easier to hold on to the “real meaning of Christmas” if it were on a Sunday and the day began not with the frenzy of presents under the tree, but with worship in the family of God. I think that is the way it ought to be.
Now, that being said, I realize that I am in the minority. And that even some of the most devout and eager worshipers in your congregation see this calendric sleight of hand as an offense against the family’s observance of the day. Many churches surrender and cancel services all together or hold some brief, modified or drop-in service for those diehards who will show up whenever the door is open. Others decide to have a party of some sort, a celebration of family and faith and friends. Some determine it is a children’s day, let them come in their pajamas, and bring a gift to talk about.
Do what seems best to you in your setting. Do what works and what the community will support or at least tolerate. But also remember that this is not really our day or the family’s day. This is about Jesus. First and foremost, this is the day when the distance between heaven and earth was removed and God set up camp among us; God moved into the neighborhood or “tented among us,” which is what the Gospel of John says (John 1:14 – lived among us literally is tented in our midst). It is about the closeness of the living presence of God, incarnate in the one we call Jesus.
So, this is a day of praise. If part two of our two-day celebration, then now is when the trumpets blow and the shouts go up. This is “Joy to the World” time; this is “Hark! The Herald Angels” time. It is hard to be too loud or too happy today. It is hard to be too exuberant or overly playful today. Let it out as you sing, as you pray, as you greet one another on this glorious Christmas morning.
But keep in mind those who are struggling today—those who are grieving and feel the loss of a loved one most keenly today. Accept their sadness, even as you welcome them with joy today. And don’t expect to replace what they are missing, but remind them in tangible ways that they are not as alone as they feel today.
Do you change schedule today? Offer only one service? If there was a day that called for change, this might be it. If you decide to change, to reduce or simplify, then do so with conviction and with grace. On the other hand, if you decide to keep the usual schedule, let it be a witness that this day is repeated every time you gather together as a community of faith for worship and fellowship. There is no clear “right” way to observe this day, except that whatever you do, make sure that Jesus takes center place.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.