The Church isn’t closed this Christmas!

23 12 2020

For more than nine months now countless businesses, offices, restaurants, and schools have been forced to close their doors. Adults have been working from make-shift home-offices set up on dining rooms tables, and children have been going to school in their bedrooms, at newly-made study cubicles quickly thrown together by desperate parents. For a variety of reasons, most of which are appropriate and acceptable, life as we know it has been dramatically altered: all in an attempt to accommodate measures sought to ensure the health and safety of the American people. The Coronavirus pandemic has literally shut down communities, and its impact on our society will be felt for years to come

But let’s be clear, the Church is not closed this Christmas. In fact it’s never been closed. Most of our congregations have been asked not to gather together for worship in large numbers; but we’ve not been ‘shut-down’ as some would have us believe. The Church, and worship for that matter, are so much more than what happens in our buildings on Sunday mornings and Christmas Eve. Which is why throughout 2020, the ministries of so many churches have not just continued uninterrupted, but in many cases have grown and developed to become more than they were pre-COVID-19. And while most of the Presbyterian pastors and Presbyterian Churches that I know understand this, many Christian congregations do not! So it’s important for us to be clear about a few things.

First, congregations that have not worshipped in-person for the past nine months are not being denied their constitutional rights, nor are they being in any way oppressed by the government. Most Churches have chosen not to engage in any activities that might put their people at risk. We know that worship is how we live our lives Monday thru Saturday, and not just from 11:00 – 12:00 on Sunday mornings or at midnight on Christmas Eve. So while gathering together for praise and prayer is part of worship, it is indeed just that – part of worship. And although that part of worship can be extremely meaningful, we have made the conscious and intentional choice to put that part of worship on hold until it is safe.

Second, because the Sunday morning experience is just part of a congregation’s worship life, we have chosen to focus on other ways of worshipping God, ways that are actually more faithful to the mandates of Scripture and more reflective of the teachings of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah makes it clear that the fast God desires is “to loose the bonds of injustice, to share our bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into our homes, and to clothe the naked.” THIS is our worship; and these are the activities in which countless congregations have been engaged throughout 2020. When it comes to all of our religious and denominational rites and rituals that come with most Sunday morning gatherings, God could not be less impressed! For faith that does not amount to more than spending an hour in our buildings for what we call worship, is not the faith we desire. Do we really dare believe that coming together, so that we can sing to Jesus, and tell him over and over again how much we love him, is in any way reflective of Micah’s call “to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly?” Have we forgotten what God asks of us?

Finally, NOT gathering in large groups, even for things as important as Bible Study and Christian Formation, reveals a Church that is not only “not closed,” but one that is actively aware of and engaged with the world around us. It reveals a faith community that is open, and mindful of the context in which it is seeking to model the way of Jesus: caring for others and putting the needs of the most vulnerable before anyone and anything else. It reveals a faith community that is eager to minister in ways that reflect our desire to serve, and not just be served; and that is seeking to care for the least among us. Further, we do all of this with masks and in small groups, not because the government tells us to, but because we know this is what Jesus would do! We make sacrifices for the common good because we know that this is how our faith calls us to live; and we do not resist communal attempts to prevent others from getting sick because we think that those attempts are somehow a violation of our crazy political ideologies or worldviews.

No, the Church is NOT closed. It remains open! Wide open! And this Christmas, we invite you to join us for worship: not by getting all decked out in your holiday best to show up in a worship service on Christmas Eve; but rather, like Mary, by becoming a “Christ-bearer” to the people in your life. It’s not too late to become a Secret Santa to one of your “senior” neighbors. Or perhaps you might team up with a friend and prepare a meal for your local shelter; or take a plate of homemade Christmas cookies to that friend who is all alone. This year, worship may mean something as simple as putting on a mask when you go to the grocery store, or rejecting the selfish lies and agendas of those who would have us believe that this pandemic is nothing more than some kind of grand, world-wide, conspiracy to hurt or control people! This is how the Light that is Christ shines in the midst of a pandemic, and it’s how we share that Light with others.

As I walk the campus of the church I currently serve, I can’t help but notice how empty it looks. But we are far from closed. In fact, our congregation is as active as it has ever been! This holiday season, our people have fed more than 50 adults in our community dealing with mental illness. We have prepared Christmas Dinner bags for more than two dozen needy families; and each Friday night in December we are providing dinner for up to 50 people in our local shelter. We are collecting hats, gloves, and scarves for a local non-profit; and we proclaiming the reality of Emmanuel, God with us, online, in word and song, week after week after week. Our light is indeed shining in the darkness, and darkness shall never overcome it.

No way! The Church is definitely NOT closed this Christmas. We’ve never been closed. So enjoy the holidays. Keep the light that is you, shining brightly for all to see. And until we’re all able to once again meet safely for in-person worship, may the hope, peace, joy, and love that are Jesus, fill each and every corner of this pandemic-ridden world!

Merry Christmas Church!