This Sunday is one of the most ironic moments of worship in the church calendar.
How it Might Be
Officially this weekend brings us to the Second Sunday of Christmas and Day Seven of the Twelve Days of the Christmas Celebration. In two weeks we should reach the climax of the Christmas Season with Epiphany, the celebration of the Magi and the official beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the flesh. What a great way to usher in the New Year!
You would think that devout disciples of Jesus would be filling the sanctuaries with devotion and celebration at the incarnation on this second opportunity to gather in corporate worship. We should be having “The Twelve Days of Christmas Parties” in our homes throughout the week and exchanging little gifts each day. God has come in the flesh to bring light to the world. Come on, that’s the best, right?
How It Is
The reality for most churches and disciples of Jesus is that we have been working and striving since Thanksgiving to make December “the most wonderful time of the year.” We’ve drained our bank accounts and our volunteer reserves to serve an ideal goal.
We’ve been running hard and fast to the big finish line of Christmas Eve.
Now, we’re exhausted.
Everyone is in the duldrums of the weird week between Christmas and the New Year Celebration. And, to add to the weirdness, this year both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are on a Sunday.
How can a worship service compete with those two cultural forces?!?
So, instead of a huge continuation of the actual season on this Second Sunday of Christmas, the churches I have served usually opted to skip whatever was in the lectionary, skip the sermon, and do a really unplugged hymn sing with a minimal musical team and a skeleton pastoral and volunteer worship staff. And, if you did want a sermon, it was usually preached by the “B” or “C” squad of preachers on the team because the lead pastor had just preached multiple services and was spent (and yes, it is sad that we tend to rank our preachers in this way, but I’m being blunt in this post, since I have been one of those “B” or “C” preachers throughout my career).
It’s the Christmas hangover Sunday. At least that is how it always felt to me.
The Christmas hangover Sunday phenomenon is fascinating to me, because it is evidence of our late modern Western Christianity and what it has become. The ideal of striving toward a Christmas Eve Service is something that was actually constructed during the Victorian era of England. It was given a secular spirituality through the brilliance of Charles Dickens and the global influence of his beloved story A Christmas Carol. And, it has found its religiosity through the advertising brilliance of the Coca-Cola company’s creation of the patron saint of commercialism, Santa Claus (who bears no resemblance to the actual Saint Nicholas of Myra). I invite you to read and listen to a really important piece on this topic by Dr. David Taylor HERE.
Living in Reality
One of the most challenging things about being a Christian Public Leader is navigating the tension between the radical call of Jesus to live the self-sacrificing path of the Kin-dom of God on the one hand, and the reality of where the people we serve and love live their daily lives on the other.
When we are tired, like during this week, it is tempting to shame people into feeling horrible about how much they have missed the mark. Which, by the way, is the actual definition of the Greek work hamartia, usually translated with the English word “sin.” Therefore, shaming people is saying, “You horrible sinners! You have forgotten what the incarnation is all about and have turned to worship the god of money and pleasure instead of Immanuel!”
You might think that is what this post is doing. Maybe I’m tired.
When we are quiet. When we take time to breathe deeply and get centered into the vibrancy of God’s Spirit animating the world. When we reconnect to our mission to help people grow deeper in the love of God, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the world. When we remember that God met us where we are, in the midst of our brokenness and sin…
When we are there, we can release the shame and meet people where they are. We can ask the big questions of individuals and of collective society:
- Why do we feel the need to make it the most wonderful time of the year?
- Why do we feel the need to fulfill Christmas wish lists?
- Why do we forsake corporate worship to be with our immediate family on the holy day?
- What are the longings and losses that lie at the heart of the striving for a romanticized notion of love and peace?
Reflection and Following the Cloud
I would love to hear how you process this time of year. How does a cloud-follower–a disciple of Jesus living in this moment–discern how to be a loving presence of God in your context?
My prayer for you is that you will experience Immanuel this week and feel the light of the world shining brightly into the New Year, no matter how exhausted (physically and/or existentially) you may feel this year.
Breathe deeply, God is with us.