Have you noticed? Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year. This puts many congregations in a quandary. In North America many do not normally hold a worship service on Christmas day. Most hold their Christmas services on Christmas Eve. This convenient arrangement allows Christmas day to stand as a time for the family to gather without the complication added by the observance of Christian worship to mark the birth of the Messiah. However, when Christmas day falls on a Sunday there is the small matter of the fourth commandment to consider. Unfortunately, the commandment does not read: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy ... unless it falls on Christmas day”.
Of all of the seasons in the Christian Year I find navigating Christmas to be the most difficult as a pastor. Christmas is so full of festivity, food and family that there often seems little room for a celebration of the incarnation of the God of the universe in a humble human being. It is as if Luke’s gospel is prescient. Mary and Joseph seek lodging but there is no room for them. As it was then, so it is now. The baby is born out back in the barn, unnoticed by all the revelers at the inn. The party is named for him but few seem to mind if he is crowded out.
I still don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t like being a grumpy minister at Christmas. So I have decided to seek some subtle strategies for the slow, steady cultivation of a different kind of Christmas. I dream of what it might look like in our congregation in a generation if we begin fostering some new ways of celebrating the season of Christmas now. It begins with rediscovering the old tradition of the twelve days of Christmas. According to the cultural calendar Christmas ends at midnight on December 25. The next day brings Boxing Day sales followed by bowl games and then New Year’s Eve. Yet the church knows that it is just getting started on December 25. Now that everyone else has stopped celebrating Christmas we can get busy with our celebrations of the birth of the One long promised and long awaited.
I am not sure what the twelve days of Christmas might look like in the future. But I am pretty sure that, if challenged, our congregations will come up with some wonderful innovations to help us mark this great season. Perhaps we’ll create our version of a menorah with twelve candles to mark the twelve special days. Imagine the children singing a chorus at dinner each night as the new candle is lit, all leading to the wonderful party on the twelfth and final night of Christmas. Or maybe a congregation will notice that there was no room for Mary and Joseph and decide to make hospitality the focus for its celebration of the season of Christmas. During the twelve days everyone in the congregation – whether at home or on vacation – will commit to hosting neighbours or strangers who would otherwise eat alone.
At University Hill Congregation we have been busy rediscovering and delighting in the Christian Year over the past decade. Publishing the Christian Seasons Calendar has become a part of our identity. Yet, to be honest, we are still only beginning to grapple with how to celebrate Christmas in a way that feels faithful to the One who entered our crowded world in a cattle stall. But, since he managed to enter our world when there was no room before, we trust that Jesus will still get in no matter how crowded our lives are now.
(from "Telling Time" by Edwin Searcy)