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HONORING THE SABBATH ON CHRISTMAS DAY

This was one of those rare years when Christmas Day (and New Year’s Day) fell on a Sunday.  In Methodist tradition our high celebration of the birth of Christ is on Christmas Eve.  At least originally the notion of Christmas Eve worship was to greet the Christ-child at the start of Christmas Day in worship (that is at midnight).  It “fits” with the angelic greeting of the shepherds in their fields at night.  Symbolically at least, we are joining the shepherds in adoration.  (Ancient Orthodox tradition has it that the animals are the first to greet the newborn Savior by speaking at midnight!  You might check out the hymn “The Friendly Beasts” (UM Hymnal, No. 227). What draws my reflection is the morning after – Christmas Day, a Sabbath Day for Christians – the Son’s Day or Resurrection Day.  After multiple Christmas Eve services (including one at 11:00 p.m.), Arborlawn (my wife’s church) held one worship at 10 a.m. on Christmas Day (instead of the usual 3).  We went (and yes, I was late).  They ran out of bulletins!  Far more people showed up than were expected. Christmas Day afternoon we drove to Oklahoma to have Christmas dinner with my mother-in-law.  Her United Methodist Church held a Christmas Eve service but no service on Sunday - the Christian Sabbath day! - Christmas Day.  My mother-in-law and her friends were disappointed (if not disgusted) by the lack of a Christmas Day (Sunday) service.  Politely but pointedly she noted that worshipping God on Sunday, especially a Christmas Day Sunday, was a part of keeping the commandment to honor the Sabbath.  The lack of worship on Christmas Day seemed unfaithful. I can’t help but wonder in all this if the lay people are telling us (the clergy) something critical to faithfulness.  These laity appear to take the commandment to “honor the Sabbath and keep it holy” as more important than the clergy.  In the case of Arborlawn (where the clergy leadership was clearly faithful and provided excellent worship leadership), the laity were telling us (the clergy) about the importance of such worship.  The commandment to honor the Sabbath still applies; even … no make that especially, on Christmas Day.