Sunday, December 11, 2005

Time/Event and Christmas

The discussion on whether U.S. churches should have services on Christmas Day is interesting. I am torn between those who are unyielding to the world (secular, non-Christian) and maintain that they will have services; versus those who say they will yield to the reality of the day we live in and find Christmas alternatives. My Christian worldview tells me one thing, my missiology tells me something else. When you spend everyday trying to make the Gospel relevant in the context in which you live, I am uneasy about saying, “Forget about culture reality, the message is more important than the context,” because without context the message is irrelevant. However, I am equally uncomfortable with saying, “Ignore the ritualism of one day, as the message of Christ is more than once a year and must be lived daily,” because ritualism is a message that can transcend context. Both are right, both are wrong.

The reality is that both sides have a good argument. You can make a strong Christian witness statement by holding church services on Christmas Day. A faithful few will show up, partly because of their desire to be in the Lord’s house on that special day; partly so they can self-righteously feel superior to those who don’t show up. Those who will not have Christmas services will do so because they feel it is only an issue if we make it so, will have celebrated Christmas with the church members before the 25th in many other forms, and partly because they, too, don’t want to be inconvenienced by splitting up their day between family and a religious gathering.

Of course, in many parts of the world, the matter on whether to meet is simply not up for debate. For most Christians in developing countries, or where followers of Jesus are in the minority, there is only one place a Christian will be on Christmas day, whether it falls on a Sunday or a Thursday, and that’s in church.

One reason Christmas is viewed differently is cultural perception of time and event. In the West, Christmas is time activity. To take out time to get the kids dressed, drive to church, have a one-hour service, breaks up the time day. When will we open presents? Will we make it over to Grandma’s house for dinner? Christmas is a time dilemma; it’s an inconvenient time for a church service.

For event-oriented cultures, Christmas is not confined to a segment of the day but is an all day happening. When you are a minority group it’s an event to be noticed, even if that means further persecution. It would be unthinkable NOT to go to church on the special event celebrating Christ’s birth.

So what’s the answer, to have church services or not to have church services this December 25th? There is no universal answer. It’s a matter of personal preference, conviction and culture. I know what I will be doing on that day, but I wouldn’t assume to dictate my preference onto others. It’s negotiable…not an issue I will die for, nor break fellowship with others who hold a different view.