This past week, LGBT citizens got a good preview of the choice they have between the major political parties next year. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stood up before the U.N. to defend the equal rights of gays and lesbians around the globe; and Texas Governor Rick Perry posted a TV ad in which he bemoaned as a Christian that gays can serve openly in the military, but schoolkids can't celebrate Christmas.
Q Syndicate Dec 14, 2011
And by "celebrate Christmas," he means of course that Christians are not allowed to use the public schools to proselytize other people's children.
Think about it. It's amazing how free we are in America to celebrate Christmas. We can display larger than life glow in the dark nativity scenes on our front lawns. We can send Christ Is the Reason For the Season cards to all our Jewish friends. We can spend our property taxes to put religious messages on City Hall (and if you doubt that, just witness the furor when anybody tries to say No to it). We can wear hideous sweaters in public.
In my other career as a church employee, however, I can tell you that what churches are worried about most this year is that Christmas falls on a Sunday -- meaning that the church will be obliged to hold a worship service that will be attended by the pastor, the altar guild, organist, and an usher doing double duty as the acolyte. If we're lucky, some son or daughter of the congregation who arrived back in town too late on Saturday to make it to the Christmas Eve service will bring Mom and/or Dad to the Christmas morning service.
I was taken a bit aback the other day when I asked one of the talented musicians of one of my congregations whether he would be available to play a song at the Christmas Eve service, and he gave his regrets with the reason that Christmas Eve is "family time." Somewhere along the line, without my noticing exactly when, there has evolved a separation of church and family time.
This phenomenon isn't universal; one of my churches includes a congregation predominantly made up of Mexican immigrants and first generation Americans. I suspect that their attendance numbers on Christmas morning will put the Anglo congregations to shame, even though their Christmas Eve worship service is bound to run well into the night.
I don't mean by any of this to scold. I guess where I'm coming from is that I recently read the church history published in 1956 by a Lutheran congregation somewhere on the border of North Dakota and Montana to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its founding. The book included stories told by those of its founding members who were still alive, and the tales of winter hardship are truly impressive. (One old-timer speaks of how their winters came as such a rude shock to newcomers who were used to the "mild winters" of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota!)
The congregation hadn't quite finished building their church when a three-day late October blizzard hit; after everyone finally dug themselves out of their homes, they had to shovel feet of snow out from the inside of the church. The first time Christmas fell on a Sunday after their founding was 1910; it would be interesting to know what their worship service was like that day. I wonder if they even had Christmas Eve services. When you recall that back in 1906, these rural settlers didn't have snowplows or lighted highways, their stories of getting lost in the snow at night, unable to get home until dawn broke, are absolutely harrowing.
So anyway, I hope everyone reading this has as much family time as they can possibly stand this Christmas. And if there are any of you who are anxious to Keep Christ In Christmas, rest assured that it's very likely that there is a church just minutes from your house where someone would be more than happy to see you.