If you’ve been looking ahead at the calendar for Advent and Christmas this year, you already know that Christmas Eve is on Saturday and Christmas Day is on Sunday. If you’re a preacher, this means you may have entertained, even briefly, the thought of simply crashing overnight in your office after that midnight service in order to already be in place for Sunday morning’s liturgical holiday hangover.
I’m not sure which is more taxing on the preacher’s body and soul — having Christmas Eve on a Sunday, where you are preaching multiple services over the course of a full day, or getting up after a late slate of Saturday night services and coming back to church after a stiff pot of coffee and assembling/wrapping/opening presents on Christmas morning. As one of my less sanguine colleagues once put it, it’s like the choice between being poisoned or shot. One way or another you’re going to end up horizontal afterward.
The Christmas weekend double down hard on pastoral families, too, which is why many churches have chosen to not hold services on Christmas morning when it falls on a Sunday. The idea is that it would be good to skip church in order to have more “family time.” They believe that most families will skip church anyway since they went the night before. The carols have been sung, Mary and Joseph have already made it to Bethlehem, the angels have already sung to the shepherds, the gifts have been distributed, and, really, why rehash it all again in less than 12 hours?
I can see why preachers might buy into this. It’s a taxing weekend like no other on the church calendar (I mean, there’s at least a whole day between Good Friday and Easter, right?). It’s tempting to simply want the day off and spend the morning in your bathrobe rather than your clergy robe. Christmas, after all, is about family, which is really more important than another worship service, right?
The thing is, Sunday is about reminding us that we are part of a larger family called the church. Whether it’s the middle of July or Christmas Day, we come to worship together because it’s Sunday — the Lord’s Day — the day when we celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Christ together each week. Regardless of what happened the night before or whatever other familial obligations or temptations we might consider, Sunday stands as a day set apart for giving our full attention to the Lord. If Christmas Eve is all about pageantry, welcoming guests and seekers, and pulling out all the stops, Sunday morning is about the faithful gathering for the regular rhythm of worship. Yes, the crowd will be smaller on Christmas Sunday, maybe even depressingly so, but it’s not about the crowd; it’s about Christ.
Now, granted, you may relax your worship schedule when Christmas falls on Sunday. We normally have three services and we’ll go to one on Christmas Sunday and make it as late as possible. I encourage kids to bring a toy they got for Christmas with them to worship and tell me about it. I make sure there is extra coffee on and make sure that I don’t launch into a 45-minute sermon that will tax bleary-eyed parents. But I make no excuses for myself, my congregation, or for my family that we’re gathering in church on Christmas morning. It’s time for worship, and in worship we will be! In fact, the more enthusiastic you are as a preacher on that day, the more likely it is that your people will be glad they came to hear the rest of the story of Christmas and be with their larger family, the church.
So, go home and grab a few Z’s after Christmas Eve. Get up with the kids and open those presents. But then, go and give your people your best from the pulpit. It will be the greatest gift you can offer!
Note: This article originally appeared in the November-December 2016 issue of Homiletics, Bob Kaylor is the Senior Writer for that publication.