If Your Church Doesn’t Have a Christmas Day Service…

The Feast of the Nativity is upon us!

That’s right! That night and day celebrated across the globe by the Church universal as the event of all events, second only to the Triduum—the Holy “Three Days” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

As you know, Christmas Day is this Sunday, and with that we’ll keep to our regular worship schedule of 9:30 AM. I mentioned in the last email newsletter that I was wondering what attendance might be like this Sunday. I say that only because while Christmas Eve services are sure to be well attended, the actual festival day is often a bit thin. I pray you’ll make time to be in worship. In contrast to my words, I just saw a note from a fairly popular Christian author saying that he was thankful to all the Christian churches that were cancelling their Christmas Day services this Sunday. Being a pastor’s kid, he was saying that he was glad the pastors would be able to skip worship for once and find time to celebrate Christmas like everyone else.

Um. Uh… What?

Okay, I get what he thinks he’s trying to say, but he seems to have completely missed the purpose for worship by saying it. In fact, his words make it sound like time with Jesus in worship can sometimes be an inconvenience, that it has the potential for getting in the way of more important things—like time with family. As nice as that sounds, it is completely wrong and misses the mark of concern by a mile.

How about this instead? A friend of mine from back in my seminary days, Reverend Hans Fiene, he wrote a note just as recently saying that if your church doesn’t have a service on Christmas Day, transfer to one that does. Period.

I whole heartedly agree. So, if you have any friends looking for a Christ-centered celebration of the Nativity on the actual day, tell them about that church on the north side of M-59 just a little east of Fenton Road. Yeah, the one at 13667 W. Highland Road in Hartland. Not only have I heard that it’s a very friendly place, but I’ve heard that they’ve never closed their doors on a scheduled worship opportunity in 62 years. They’re pretty serious about what they do in that place—very mindful of their time with Christ.

But God Won’t

Can you believe that the Fourth Sunday in Advent is already upon us? I sure can’t. The days seem to have flown by, and before you know it, the New Year will arrive. I wonder what the Lord has in store for us in 2017. I know one thing He’s planning: Word and Sacrament. That never changes. And that’s good, because we need Him to be consistent, predictable, steady and sure. Why? Because we aren’t. And neither is the world in which we live.

Sure, the sun keeps rising and shining, the seasons keep changing so predictably, and the whole world seems to be about its regular business. But remember, the Lord is the One maintaining these things. The fabric of the world—all that comprises its nature—has been corrupted by sin. With this, it is both unsteady and untrustworthy. The world and its mammonous things will fail us.

But God won’t.

The next time you have doubts about this, take a quick look at a crucifix. You might not feel anything in particular, but you’ll see something. You’ll see in the image a hint as to God’s current and future plans for you because of the giving of His Son for your salvation. You may even be reminded that while everything else was and is even now sometimes very unsure—even our own selves—God acted on our behalf. Jesus, Bethlehem’s infant champion, set His face like flint to the edge and then into an utter darkness from which no one could ever emerge. His death beamed brightly in that blackness. It shattered the unsteady swirls and the unreliable messes that we not only make for ourselves, but those that we endure at the hands of the unholy trinity: the Devil, the World, and the Sinful Flesh.

My prayer for you is that you will behold the light of Christ each and every day, that you will be reinvigorated by the Christmas celebration soon to be upon us, and that you will be made keen to behold and expect the simple and mundane, but saving and most powerful gifts God gives with such regularity day in and day out throughout the year. Word and Sacrament is where it’s at, my friends—Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Baptism—all God’s Word given in wonderfully tangible ways.

2017 is sure to be a medley of completely different challenges, but thanks be to God that our Lord will never let up with all that’s required for navigating into the safe harbors of His wonderful grace.

You Belong Here

I pray all is well and that the Lord is blessing your Adventide devotion with the peace of Christ.

Admittedly and obviously, as the pastor here at Our Savior, I have a very different perspective than most when it comes to the Lord’s house. Now, I don’t mean that it’s better. I mean it’s different. For example, the view from the altar, pulpit, and lectern is very different than the view from the pews or the choir loft. Another example, and this one is bit stranger…

Maybe you knew and maybe you didn’t, but the last few years, with the ferocious weather we’ve endured, there were four or five nights when I found it necessary to spend the night here at the church in order to assure that the lights would be on and the doors would be open for Sunday worship the very next day. Pastor Pies, Sr. and Pastor Pies, Jr. made it a point that if a Divine Service was scheduled, it was going to happen, and the only thing that would be cause for canceling would be the Lord’s return in glory. I’m of the same mind, and so I don’t intend to let a cancellation ever happen on my watch. The problem is that I live considerably further away than the Pies family, and so with that, a sleepover is necessary.

Nevertheless, the point of this little narrative is to say that at 2 AM, when the lights are out and the snow is crackling against the windows, when the howling winds are creeping in and echoing in the empty halls, the church building becomes a very different place—almost alien. When it’s empty and dark and the voices of the day have all gone, this place is only half itself. Its guts are gone and you can feel it.

But when it’s bright and full—when the children are giggling in the school classrooms and corridors, when the worshippers are gathering together to sing their full-throated praises, when the sermon is booming and the organ is rattling the seams of the stained glass, when the study-goers are calling out in discussion and the whole group is learning and laughing together—this place becomes otherworldly in a different sense, almost heavenly. It becomes the fullness of its identity when its innards—you, the body of believers—return. And in this return, the Lord proves Himself to be at work by His Holy Spirit gathering His people to a place where He can be with them, where eternal life will beam because the gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament is being doled out with such plenty that you’d never think these hallways could ever be dark or that there could ever be silence in the rafters.

In the end, this place is what it is because of Christ and not us. And yet, Christ gathers people. And it is into people that Christ places His mercy—the light and life of His love—so that when the building’s rooms are dark and the noise is much less, we know that the true light hasn’t been extinguished. It’s simply gone out with those to whom God has given it (Matthew 5:14).

With that, know that you belong here. When you’re gone, you’re missed. Your light is a big deal to me and to the rest of your Christian family. I certainly ponder this while lying on the cot in my office in the middle of a blustery winter’s night.