There might be some data somewhere to scientifically verify this but I am not aware of it. but talking with pastors I know I think there is circumstantial evidence enough to say worship services the Sunday after Christmas is consistently poorly attended. I struggle with this, how is it possible that people can spend a month anticipating an event and forget it before it is even over? We talk up Jesus’ birthday for four weeks and then at first chance to celebrate together people skip out! Well at least it isn’t a year where Christmas is on a Sunday and I have to hear people ask, “Are we cancelling church on Christmas?”
Over and over again I hear, “Jesus is the reason for the season” at least until the fourth Sunday of Advent then I hear, “Christmas is about family”. Now perhaps not everyone is as clear as that but as I listen to people these are the types of comments I pick up on; people are concerned with Jesus early but as the anticipation of Christmas mounts their focus shifts to family. Focusing on family is not a bad thing, I am right now trying to navigate four family celebrations over the 12 days of Christmas. But if that is my only focus then I have forgotten something.
Have you ever noticed, in Luke 2, after Jesus is born the focus of the chapter is public worship. The angels announce Jesus’ birth and break into public worship, the same is true of the shepherds. And the rest of the chapter minus three verses which provide framing for the story, takes place in the Temple in corporate worship. Simeon meets Jesus because he is led by the Holy Spirit to the place of worship Anna meets Jesus because her habit is never to leave the worship space. The teachers meet Jesus because they insist on gathering together to discuss God and God’s message. And when Mary Questions Jesus about his presence in the Temple after the festival his response is, “where else would you expect me?” There is nothing private about Jesus in the chapter; there is nothing about family drawing inward to grow closer. The entire chapter is about a family (Joseph & Mary) adding Jesus and becoming more inconvenienced by others and less private. Read against the backdrop of Luke 2 Christmas is less about families isolating themselves to show love than about families reaching outside themselves to incorporate everyone. Christmas is less about sharing quality time than it is about coming together to worship God for the work of the restoration of humanity. As I look at Simeon’s song I see this made plain.
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant[h] in peace,Luke 2:29-32
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon’s song is all about everyone, from all walks of life coming together in the light of Jesus. We are tempted to think of Gentiles and Israel as religious terms, but they are just as much political and social terms. Israel represents the nation (political structure) Jews hoped for and Gentiles is simply a word which means all other nations. These words also represent cultural distinctions. What Simeon is getting at is this, every area where we are divided as people, politics, culture, religion now finds unity in the glory of Jesus. If we are united as one people in Jesus doesn’t it seem counterproductive to isolate ourselves with small pockets of family as we celebrate this king. I would love to see the reaction in England at the next coronation to someone saying, “Oh, no I will not be attending the party I am simply having an intimate celebration with my family.” Of course this wouldn’t happen it is the monarch which unites the country national celebrations are important.
How can we say our Christmas celebrations are complete if we have not encountered our home for worship. Simeon’s song reminds us that as Christians we come from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, & traditions but we come together in Jesus. That Sunday after Christmas we can walk up to people in church and say Christ is born so I can love you. And so take December 29 to remind yourself how big your family has grown thanks to Jesus.