Put the “mass” back in “Christmas”

The word “Christmas” refers to the birth of Christ, of course, but more specifically it denotes the worship service–more than that, the Communion service, the “mass”–that marks that event. So as we put Christ back in Christmas, let us also put mass back in Christmas. In other words, let’s go to church!

In the Biblical measure of time, the new day starts on the preceding evening (“the evening and the morning were the second day”), which means that Christmas Eve is really Christmas. (So it’s OK if that’s when your family opens presents!) So going to a Christmas Eve service counts. But there is nothing more meaningful than a communion service on Christmas day.

Sadly, many, and maybe most, Protestant churches have abandoned holding Christmas services. In fact, when Christmas fell on a Sunday a few years ago, many churches cancelled their Sunday services! But, contrary to the excuse given for that travesty, Christmas is not just a time for family; it is a time for worshipping the Incarnate God, and doing so with your family is especially valuable.

If your church does not have a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service, visit one that does.

My pastor said that Lutherans and the Catholics are about the only ones who have Christmas services anymore. I want to emphasize that I do not intend this blog to be for and about Lutheranism, nor am I trying to talk people into joining my church. But if you attend some other church, this would be a chance to visit a Lutheran congregation. You may have never seen an evangelical Protestant liturgy drawn straight from the Bible, and I suspect you would find it at least an interesting and different approach to worship. You can see what the fuss on the blog is often about.

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About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jon

    Vieth, Merry Christmas.
    Some lament that Christmas in English is not rather called the Feast of the Nativity, or just the Nativity, as in some other languages. Nativity might more clearly signify that this day is about the birth of the Savior.
    I’m grateful that my Lutheran church has Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, with the Supper on Christmas Day. As a former evangelical like you, I’m still getting used to having such services. Judging by the announcements in my morning paper today, the Episcopalians still hold such services.

  • Kirk

    I think most of the more liturgical churches hold Christmas services, if for no other reason than the importance of the church calendar, but I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Evenaglical churches canceling services for Christmas is a sad testament to the consumerism of protestantism. Worship is sacrificed for convenience, even though this particular worship is regarding the advent of the very religion that is being put by the wayside. I wonder if the pastors of those congregations have any concept of how foolish it is. We are more than happy to accept Christ’s earthly suffering for ourselves, but when it comes to us suffering for Christ, even in something so simple as being away from our new toys for 2 hours, we are completely unwilling

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Good thoughts, Kirk. I have been particularly struck this year at the shallowness of our cultural holiday celebrations as opposed to what those Christians particularly this year in India (thanks Veith for pointing out the witness of that 10 year old last week) may suffer for their faith in Christ.

    One of my Sudanese brothers was explaining to our Sudanese congregation why their community is trying to focus on African Christmas tradition more this year. He said, in America, Christmas is a celebration of family. In Africa, Christmas is a celebration of Christ. In Africa they march in the streets singing Christmas hymns nearly all day. Here they will be reclaiming Christmas Eve – marching and singing at least into the night in our church. The anglos in the congregation will be stuffing stockings with toys to play with in the morning and most of them will not make it to Christ’s Mass on Christmas Day.

    You’re right, Veith, we too need to reclaim the “mass” in Christmas.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Wow, Bryan, tell me more. You have a Sudanese congregation? And, Kirk, thanks. Another option for those of you whose churches don’t have Christmas services would be to check out one of those churches in the new conservative Anglican province, maybe one of those like Kirk’s that is under an African bishop!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy Ramos

    We’re having services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with Holy Communion on the 25th. I love my church.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I’ll report back tomorrow after Sudanese services tonight and tomorrow afternoon because this is new stuff for me. Blessed Christ’s Mass to everyone.

  • WebMonk

    I’ve heard it said that many/most Protestant churches don’t have Christmas Eve/Christmas services, but I guess I’ve always been lucky. Of the eight churches I’ve attended in my life, seven of them have had Christmas Eve and/or Christmas services. That covers a range of denoms, from independent to Baptist to Presbyterian to Pentecostal to AG.

    Anyone know of the percentages of churches that have services? Or perhaps a better measure would be the percentage of church-goers who attend churches that have those services. Would mega churches be more or less likely to have those services than smaller churches?

    This is on my mind since I just got back from both an AG service and a Presbyterian service (I’m with in-laws and attended two services with different groups of family). I know that at least three other churches in this town have Christmas Eve services (conversations heard). I’ve only noticed that the AG church has a Christmas service too, but I haven’t really been paying attention to any other churches out here.

    Both focused very nicely on Christ and not on side activities. Both had communion. The AG one had fewer responsive readings but had a better sermon. The songs were all standard hymns on piano or organ.

    That’s the report from KS.

    I really hear what Bryan said about family-focused compared to Christ-focused. The services were very Christ-focused, but the general focus of even the most strongly “Christ-centered” people I know (and I’m not one of them) still tends to be pretty family oriented.

    Thanks for the food for thought, Bryan.

  • cattail

    Unfortunately, weather emergencies out here in the Pacific NW–where two flakes of snow send everyone into a panic, and there is no infrastructure (like enough snowplows) to cope with the amount we’ve had–have forced the postponement of our Christmas Eve children’s service. In addition, our pastor had to leave for a family emergency, so we won’t have holy communion tomorrow. The church will be open tomorrow morning, however, for those who can make it, and the elders plan to conduct the service. I hope to be one of those in attendance, Lord willing.

    Despite these disruptions, the Lord is with us. I am about to read through the Christmas Eve service (as a midweek school teacher, I have a copy) and sing the hymns! After that, I will listen to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, a recording made in Bach’s own church, the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, with the Thomanerchor.

  • http://rightwingnation.com rightwingprof

    I am a Roman Catholic. I was somewhat shocked last year when I read several articles on evangelical churches’ not offering Christmas services. Note that in the Church calendar, it is not the Feast of Christmas; it is the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.

    May all have a very blessed Christmas season!

  • Peter Leavitt

    The frustration of being a Congregationalist. I attend a “Trinitarian” Congregational church in a New England town that my paternal family has been a part of since its founding in 1636. Last night I attended a beautiful Candlelight service in which communion was given, carols were sung, and passages from Scripture on the birth of Christ were read. The minister then gave a sermon on the theme that while the Christmas “stories’ are “myths,” the meaning and mystery behind them are real. This from a minister who and talks endlessly about the evils of war and global warming while basically smoking and worshiping the the secular dope.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Well, here’s the report. Our Sudanese congregation invited much of the Sudanese community in Salt Lake City to celebrate Christmas at St. John’s. Our Sudanese Choir sang “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” to the beat of the drum in our 6 pm Candlelight Service. Later that night about 60 Sudanese gathered at about 10 pm from around the community – and began by watching a video of Christmas and New Year celebrations in Akobo, Jonglei State, Southern Sudan. The video shows the community there gathered around lots and lots of hymn singing and marching. After that video we watching the Christmas bit of a Jesus video overdubbed in the Sudanese Nuer Language. At about 11:00 we marched upstairs into our Sanctuary and then sang many more Christmas hymns, kinda marching in place once everybody found their pew. Then we had a Worship Service (without communion) with more hymns, a Choir, Christmas prayers prayed by each family, and a Sermon (preached by a new formerly Lutheran minister who recently moved to Salt Lake City with his family and is now thinking about becoming Lutheran again – which I am obviously praying for) with more singing and marching out of church until about 1 a.m.

    Then on Christmas day at noon the singing resumed and everyone marched into the sanctuary – almost 100 Sudanese. It was almost the same service as the night before only more singing, the sermon was a little shorter that time, and only 3 individuals were invited to offer Christmas prayers. I was also invited to pray in Nuer and bless the Christmas offering gathered that day (We prayed the offertory from the 3rd setting of the Divine Service in Lutheran Service Book – verses from Psalm 51). The Sudanese community gathered downstairs for a large meal (which is always so delicious) while I went to my inlaws for the evening (which was excellent too).

    On an interesting note, in the preaching, I believe they touched our peculiar Communion fellowship views and the particulars of closed communion I have been teaching them. I perceive that my friends are beginning to mention it more often to the community which is a good thing in my view. Also , they are learning that I am very particular about who preaches from our pulpit here at St. John’s – so they preached from somewhere else – argh! But they are learning and they very much respect when I am preaching or teaching from the pulpit. They very much like that I am trying to learn how to read in Nuer. Many Sudanese are not Lutheran but those individuals who are have shown themselves to be very sensitive to the fellowship views of the rest of the Sudanese Community – which is as it should be in my view.

    Anyway, this is just a small window in my struggles to re-introduce and emphasize the “mass” part of Christmas in our corner of the weeds out here in Utah.
    Please keep our Lutheran congregation in your prayers as well as the small group of Lutherans in Akobo. They need a pastor.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    By the way we did celebrate Christ’s Mass on Christmas morning here at St. John’s. It was wonderful!


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