Friday, December 09, 2005

Cancelling Christmas

The New York Times reports that some megachurches, like Willow Creek in exurban Chicago, are not having church services on Christmas since it falls on a Sunday.

Their reason? It's keeping in line with their "family friendly" policies. The
Times reports Willow Creek will hand out DVDs to families with a "heatwarming" Christmas tale.

There is something wrong with this.

For one thing, these churches seem to have forgotten what Christmas is about. They have placed the family as the center of everything. It's become an idol. Instead of celebrating the coming of the Christ-child, the Immanuel or God-with-us, these churches are telling people that what's important is the family. God is a side issue.

A friend of mine talked about how this "Norman Rockwell" view of family counts out those who don't have families to spend the holidays with. If they go to these megachurches, where do they go on this holy day?

Jesus didn't place that much emphasis on family. Luke 8:19-21 sums this up:

19Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you."
21He replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

Jesus wasn't saying families don't matter, but he was stressing that we must see beyond our familes and see our connections to the wider community. Churches aren't supposed to be "family friendly." Instead, they are communities where the idea of family is expanded.

As many of you know, I recently lost my secular job. What has been wonderful is finding people in the congregations I'm a part of sending me cards and letting me know they are praying for me. I also remember the time my father had a heart attack and subsequent open heart surgery and how my parent's church rallied around us during that trying time. Jesus taught again and again that we are to care for the stranger, to love the outsider, and to go beyond the safe boundaries of family. That is what a church should be doing.

What Willow Creek and others are doing is catering to a mindset that says, families first. It caters to the belief that Christmas is a "family holiday" instead of a religious holiday about the birth of our Savior.

This Christmas, I will be visiting my parents in Michigan. I love spending time with my parents, especially as they get on in years. But on Sunday morning I will visit an Episcopal Church in town and celebrate Christmas. And I will celebrate with those who have families and those who are alone. I will remember the One who came and freed us from the bondage of sin, and taught us to look beyond family and care for all.

Christmas isn't cancelled in my book