By Bob Hiller –
Sports have become a major part of our holiday traditions. Football seems to have monopolized the holiday sports market. It has become so much a part of our Thanksgiving celebrations that you might think the Detroit Lions came over on the Mayflower. College football is the only reason to get out of bed on New Year’s Day. They even play football on Super Bowl Sunday! The NBA has tried to sneak its way into becoming a holiday tradition by showcasing their best teams on Christmas Day. For better or worse, sports have subtly become as much of a holiday tradition as eating too much turkey and arguing with the in-laws.
The church always seems to have a love/hate relationship with traditions. Some traditions are wonderful because they point us to Christ. For example, many of you attended Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services because it is a tradition in your family to keep focused on Christ. As a tradition, my family reads the account of Christ’s birth from Luke every year before we open presents because in that account God is at work giving us His Son. But, some traditions are just strange and foolish because they turn our focus away from Christ, like burying St. Joseph in your yard to sell your house or praying the rosary. That stuff only serves to take your attention off of Jesus.
Traditions that take our eyes off of Jesus need to be kicked to the curb. There is one tradition that has begun to trouble me as a pastor: the tradition of skipping church on the first Sunday after Christmas. Traditionally, the first Sunday after Christmas has very low attendance, presumably because after having attended Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, folks decide they’ve had enough church for one week. Despite brother Graham’s intriguing proposal for daily mass (which I think is simply marvelous), sleeping in on the first Sunday after Christmas when Christ is handing out His gifts is as much a tradition as not watching my Colorado Buffaloes on New Year’s Day. It’s time to break that tradition!
I know, you wouldn’t call skipping church a tradition, per se. After all, you don’t do it intentionally. It’s not something you necessarily mark on your calendar every year. But many of you do it every year. For all intents and purposes, it is a tradition for you and your family. By taking a break from church, you actually think you are doing yourself and your family a favor!
Granted, if the last week has been filled with a whole lot of terrible preaching, I can understand why you would sleep in. However, I think the reality is that many of us skip church simply because we are lazy. We prefer sleep to worship. The pillow is more comfortable than the pew. And, since you’ve warmed that pew once already this week, you figure, now it’s your pillows turn.
Let me be frank: this tradition sucks. This tradition, as so many traditions tend to do, only serves to separate you and your family from the gifts of our Lord. It is a tradition that rises out of this pathetically false notion that worship is some kind of good work we proffer to God which keeps Him off of our backs for one more week. God gets a whole hour of quality time just before I get home for my real Sunday focus: the game.
But worship is not about us keeping some kind of heavenly community service hours. It’s not like since you went to Christmas Eve service Jesus punched your time card so now you can sleep in on Sunday with a clear conscience. No, gathering with the saints for worship is about the Lord coming to give you His gifts. You, who would take up the tradition of skipping the first Sunday after Christmas, must have forgotten that the Lord Jesus will not be resting on Sunday. His Father, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is working that day and so He will be working as well.
Jesus never tires of breaking stupid traditions which prevent people from receiving His blessings. The Gospels are full of stories where Jesus does this. I love the story in Mark 2:23-28 when, on a certain Sabbath Day, Jesus took His disciples on a stroll through some grain fields. They began to pluck grain, presumably to eat. This little move infuriated the religious folks who tried to maintain God’s Sabbath by setting up all kinds of petty restrictions, such as no grain plucking, lest they be found working. Thus, the people were prevented from receiving the Lord’s gifts. Jesus claimed to be in charge of the Sabbath, gave His disciples the approval to pluck away, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
The Sabbath was made for man: for you! That Sabbath rest is given to you when you stop working and receive God’s gifts preached into your ears. That rest is given when Christ plucks away your sins and feeds you with His body and blood. Any tradition that gets in the way of you receiving these gifts or would lead you to believe that it is okay to despise preaching and God’s Word, is foolish and dangerous. It is a tradition that needs to be broken!
So, this Sunday, break the tradition! Pluck your lazy head of grain out of bed, put on your Sunday best, and gather with your brothers and sisters around the pulpit and altar. Christ is going to greet you there just like He did on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. You might say it is His tradition, one that He has promised to keep, to show up for His saints in His Word and sacraments. As is His custom, He will be there in His Word relentlessly attacking your lazy sinfulness so that it dies and mercifully, miraculously raising you to a new, forgiven life. Just as He came to us in the womb of the Virgin, so He will come for us in the bread and wine to grant forgiveness, life, and salvation. He’ll be there for you. Nothing can stop Him! He’s promised! Any tradition that keeps you from this Jesus sucks! Break the tradition this Sunday. Go to church!