Culture, Legalism, and Christmas Morning

Eleven years ago, our current building was just finishing construction. While we tried to keep our eyes on ministry around us, “the big move” was obviously a distraction as well. We were receiving nearly week to week updates on when the building would be completed and when we could potentially move in. I remember sitting in a staff meeting in the basement of Fair Street when we started looking ahead at our calendar and it hit us:

Oh no. Christmas is on a Sunday this year. What do we do?


We weren’t alone in that question for it almost immediately became a conversation for Christian radio, podcasts and even blogs. It seemed like two camps were seeking to pull churches in opposite directions. “Jesus should come before family, gifts and figgy pudding. If you are not at church you are caving to idolatry!” one voice would shout. The other side would respond, “What’s one week out of 52? Couldn’t we send a positive message about family by encouraging people to stay home? Besides, we don’t want to be a legalist.”

Ultimately, we decided to go ahead and hold services. I’m so glad we did. In fact, that experience meant that it wasn’t even a debate for our elders when this Christmas Sunday rolled around. We are having our Christmas Eve service at 7 pm and Christmas morning service at 10 am. These are two different services entirely. But now the ball is in your court, and I want to encourage you to consider what you plan to do this Sunday, but also to consider the issue of creating culture in your home.

First off, let’s get the silly “legalism” argument out of the way. Unless the elders stated, “Righteousness will be made available by attending church on Christmas day,” it is not legalism that we stick to our church calendar. In fact, it’s not legalistic for us to also say we really hope you will consider coming, even making sacrifices to family tradition and comfort to do so. I’m not asking you to reconsider your holiday plans out of legalism or guilt, I want you to consider “culture.”

Establishing Culture in your home

Parents, one of your biggest jobs is to establish the culture of your home. This is difficult to describe but critical to the home. In fact, it’s unavoidable. You are creating a culture in your home. The question becomes, “What kind of culture are you establishing?” With this in mind, my challenge goes beyond, “Will you come to church on Christmas Sunday?” but, “What will your attitude be about coming to church on Christmas Sunday?” Here’s some ways I’d encourage you to think:

  • We can view Christmas Sunday as just one out of fifty-two. What’s the big deal to skip? Or, we can view the gathering of saints as an all-to-rare privilege. We could see each of those gatherings as special and rejoice that on Christmas Day we get to celebrate the gift of being the Body of Christ with one another.
  • We can view Christmas Sunday as an interruption to our to our family traditions or we can see it as an invitation to create new traditions. Looking ahead, the next three Christmas Sundays are 2022, 2033 and 2039. For most of us parents, that means your kids will be in your home for two or three Christmas Sundays. What if we embraced the uniqueness of that tradition, and passed it on to our children (Though it feels rare, it alternates between every six or eleven years.)
  • We can view Christmas as a season, more than just a day on the calendar. One reason I love our more intentional discussion of the Advent Calendar is that it has drawn us into anticipation for weeks. The Incarnation of Christ deserves more pause and reflection than just a day or even week. Will a church service disrupt some Christmas plans and traditions? Probably. But what if you embraced those changes as an opportunity to extend out the celebration!
  • We can view Christmas season as culture shaping rather than tradition interrupting. If your home is like ours, we typically start Christmas morning with a special breakfast. We head into the living room where the gifts are under the tree and I read the Christmas story in Bible. As I read, I feel like the gate at the Kentucky Derby, just barely holding the thoroughbreds back. We say the day is to be about Jesus, pray and then “BANG, they’re off!” and the day just doesn’t feel as much about Christ as I wished. This year, the sacrifice of shifting around all our typical plans may be a way for us to insert a slightly more Christ-centered perspective to our holiday.

These are just a few of my own thoughts. In our home, the question has been asked, “Do we have to go to church on Sunday?” Charity and I both grab ahold of that question and respond, “No, we get to go to church on Sunday.” Sure, it brings an eye roll immediately (and we know it’s a slightly exasperating response, so we don’t even condemn it!), but then we seek to bring our kids along to see the beauty of gathering with the body of Christ to celebrate the fact that Christ took on a physical body for our sake.

I understand that for many, you may not even have a say about what happens on Christmas morning, as grandparents and extended family may be making the decisions for the calendar, where you are on Sunday morning may truly be out of your control. If so, go and rejoice with family. Seek to celebrate Christ in whatever environment you find yourself.

But if you can control your calendar, I’d encourage you to seek to gather with the saints on the Lord’s Day–not because you are legalist and think you’ll be more righteous because you did—but because you are a culture setter, and you want your family to truly rejoice in the gift that God’s grace to us is!

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