One Day in the Courts of the Lord
Christmas 2005 will present an opportunity for Christian families to give a positive stand for the Lord’s Day and to defend the truth of God against traditions of men. Because Christmas falls on Sunday, in the minds of many it will be the holiest day since their last correspondence. One can almost feel the magic. An early morning church service. Gifs and brunch. A yuletide extravaganza worthy of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. There is one problem. December 25, 2005 will be the Lord’s Day, not Christmas Day.
It is not the desire of Reformed preachers to create family strife by insisting that we not confuse the two. It is rather our zeal to preserve the distinctive glory and purity of the Lord’s Day. Worship, preaching, and sacraments are too important, too concrete, too gracious to be confused with the sentimentality and nostalgia of Christmas. Christ’s resurrection is of vastly more significance than modern attempts to celebrate Christ’s birth through living nativities, cantatas, and emotion-laden, pluralistic announcements of peace to everyone. Hence, though it is certain that many Reformed believers will be criticized as anti-family, cultish, and arrogant, it is worth the sacrifice.
In making this stand, it is important that we present a cogent defense. Castigation of Santa Claus and ridicule of other churches will not suffice and will create bitter resentment. Instead, begin with the creation Sabbath in which God rested from all his works, thereby setting an example for man to enter into the contemplation of God’s works, heartily worship him, and cease from regular work and anything that intrudes into the privileges of fellowship with him. Turn to the fourth commandment in which "remember" hearkens back to God’s original institution. It is not a ceremonial command that passed with the end of the Mosaic economy. It is duty and privilege for every generation of believers.
Moving to the apostolic age, we see that the day has clearly changed on which the apostles and believers met from Saturday to Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). It is now called the Lord’s Day or Christian Sabbath. Our day of rest and worship is now Sunday, the first day of the week instead of the last, because we no longer look forward to Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection but rejoice in its accomplishment and realization. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the culminating and central event of his atoning work. The importance of the cross can never be exaggerated, but the cross without the empty tomb reduces Jesus to a martyr.
The finished work of Jesus Christ provides the context in which the believer now rests and worships. He has entered into rest because Christ has entered into his. He may rest from sin in fellowship with God. He may rest from his earthly employments and efforts at dominion in faith that Jesus reigns at the right hand of God. He worships with the confidence of a son, knowing that he is no longer under condemnation, is righteous before God, and is filled with God’s Spirit so that he may offer the sacrifice of intense praise and devotion in sincere thankfulness for the power of God displayed and the righteousness of God given through Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Day is too important to share with Santa Claus. I know that various arguments will be given to defend the mix. We give gifts to each other because God has given us a gift. People will flock to churches in mass so we had better give them what they want. Making the most of Christmas on Sunday will give extra impetus to worship and a heightened emotional state. These and other defenses of mingling the two are efforts at self-justification that lack any Scriptural warrant. The only "holy" day in the Christian era is the Lord’s Day. It is holy, moreover, not because it marks a day on the calendar but because of the purpose it serves in the Christian economy. Regardless of what other days may fall on it, birthdays, Christmas, family reunions, Easter, these are humanly conceived observances that must not be allowed to conflict with the Creation Sabbath, the Fourth Commandment, and the Apostolic Lord’s Day. This is the day that God meets with his people in his saving glory and power, and the resurrected Savior blesses his people. One day in his courts is better than a thousand Christmas gifts.
My advice is to plan now to hold family gatherings on an alternate day: Saturday or Monday. Families are free to enter into cultural festivities such as Christmas, July 4th, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. As long as they do not conflict with the duties of the Lord’s Day, they are fun, build family unity, and should be used for spiritual purposes. One may detest the idolization of Santa Claus and still be thankful for the birth of the Savior. One may be patriotic and recognize the Christian influence in the founding of the United States without loving imperial America. But our observance of these must not conflict with stated duties of Scripture.
It is my belief that December 25, 2005 will be more special than a normal Sunday to most people because they have allowed the significance of the Lord’s Day to be obscured through poor observance and lack of appreciation. They do not make full use of the day’s privileges. The afternoon football game makes the Sunday sermon seem distant and unreal. It is soon forgotten. The trip to the local restaurant makes the day seem like any other. Fighting with the lawnmower renders the day frustrating. Is it any wonder that Christians would flock so readily to the promise of a magical day of celebration? They do so because of spiritual immaturity, poor teaching, disobedience, or refusal to celebrate fully the rest and victory of Jesus Christ.
~This "From the Pastor’s Desk" was the bulletin insert December 24, 2004. I republish it today as a reminder to take proactive steps now to guard the sanctity and blessedness of the Lord’s Day. Real revival in the church and a return to biblical views of the Lord’s Day go hand in hand.