Every 7 years, Christmas happens to fall on a Sunday, and people get all frothed up about whether they should go to church. The arguments usually fall along a few lines:
- The birth of Christ is more important than presents, and if you don’t go to church you clearly don’t have your priorities in line.
- We should honor the Lord’s day and Christmas simultaneously.
- Shouldn’t we be focusing on the incarnation more than presents?
I understand all these arguments, and if you want to go to church on Christmas day, great! It would be insane to say that you shouldn’t go to church. What kind of pagan grinch do you think I am?
But I start to struggle when people say that not going to church on Christmas is clearly an indication of an idolatrous heart. That I must love consumerism more than Jesus if I choose only to go to church on Christmas eve. That I’m just like the rest of the world, ignoring the most important part Christmas (and saying, “Happy holidays!” to boot!).
Why does it bug me?
Because these things aren’t true and they create unhealthy and false guilt in people, like myself, who have an overly scrupulous conscience.
I think we need to be clear on what idolatry is.
Idolatry is choosing or loving sin more than God.
It’s not particularly complicated. Greed is making an idol out of money. Lust is making an idol out of sex. You get the point.
If I believed it was a sin to miss church at all, then yes, it would be idolatry to miss church on Christmas. That would mean I would love present time more than Jesus time.
But it’s not a sin to miss church. This goes somewhat deep into my understanding of Jesus as our Sabbath, his complete fulfillment of the Mosaic law, and the current role of the Lord’s Day in the life of the Christian. If you want a quick summary of my take, you can find it here.
Under the New Covenant, I’m called to gather regularly with other believers, take the Lord’s Supper, witness baptisms, exercise church discipline, and many other things. There is no specific day given on which those things must take place. I’m all for gathering on Sunday, but gathering on Saturday or Tuesday work just as well.
This Christmas, I will be joining my fellow believers on Christmas Eve to celebrate and remember the birth of Christ. Is that gathering somehow less valuable to God or morally wrong?
No, it’s not.
Let me put it to you bluntly: I don’t love consumerism more than Jesus. Frankly, I think that whole idea is somewhat silly. If it was a sin to gather with family and open presents instead of go to church, I would go to church.
Plus (let’s be honest here), I’m a grownup. Most of my presents will be drawings and knick knacks from my kids.
If you believe you must go to church to honor God on Christmas, that’s 100% okay. But to push that as morally better than attending church on Christmas Eve can lead to unhealthy guilt in some and toxic moral superiority in others.
When in doubt, come down heavy where scripture comes down heavy and be flexible where tradition is involved.
If you want to get me fired up, let’s talk about egg nog and the song, “Mary Did You Know?“