It has become increasingly clear to me that in 2019 in America worshipping on Christmas Eve has become counter-cultural. The proliferation of opportunities, needs for travel, and increasing trends of churches offering Christmas Eve style worship earlier in the season has changed our worship lives. While in NT-NL Synod, ELCA most of our congregations, from my observation, have Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day worship there is a trend among the largest churches in our area away from Christmas as a day of communal worship.
Does this matter? Well in some ways no. You don’t get extra points with God for being in worship tonight or tomorrow. It doesn’t make you more righteous. Some are physically unable to join the community for worship. For this I give thanks for online options and devotionals.
But for those who can in other ways it deeply matters. As I posted earlier this week worship with children at Christmas is important. It forces us to take a moment and step away from Christmas as experience to be consumed and instead on Christ as gift to send us forth for our neighbor. To be in community. To hear this story with the people who come to worship. Not only with our family and friends.
Bonhoeffer lived in a time when the forces of darkness were strong. Pulling people from care of neighbor into racial hatred, white supremacy and nationalism. His words here are a good reminder of what Christmas should mean for us. Recognizing that Christ comes as a “dissolute human child” we are forced to consider those children in our midst. To see Christ in the refugee, the unaccompanied minor, the homeless veteran, the addicted and broken. To see Christ in those we are told, in the vitriol of our political time, are the source of all our problems.
So whenever you worship, and I pray you take time for communal worship, think hard on this story you hear. Step away from romantic images of a quiet stable and sterile birth into the reality of the blood, tears, and strength of a teenage mother Mary, the fear and faith of her betrothed Joseph, and the cruel world of sin that had no room for any of them. To remember Bethlehem is still a city and not forget the suffering of our Palestinian Christian siblings.
The same world that rejected Jesus is our world today. It is the same sin that hoards and excludes and separates. That values some based on their gender, race, wealth, sexuality, privilege…more than others. That promotes empires of power and not Jesus’ reign of love.
On this Christmas may your heart and mine, as we traverse this weary world, be turned again toward our neighbor. And in so may we then welcome the Christ child as he promises to welcome us when our weary trek is over (John 14).
In giving thanks for neighbors I give thanks for our brother Bishop Momoh of the ELCSL on his birthday. We rejoice in his return to health and look forward to welcome young adults from the ELCSL next summer for a visit to Texas. Crossing over borders and barriers as Christ does for us. #MerryChristmas #NTNL #ELCSL #InMissionTogether