Putting Christmas on the Bench

By Bob Hiller

Last week, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Memphis Grizzlies played back-to-back games. On Tuesday, Cleveland lit Memphis up 103-86 in Cleveland. The next night, in Memphis, the Grizzlies got back at the Cavs winning 93-85. Now, one might think that a simple change of venue wouldn’t matter that much. If the same teams play back-to-back nights, you might expect the same results. Well, herein lies the rub. The exact same teams didn’t play back-to-back nights. In fact, Cleveland’s three best players, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, didn’t travel with the team. They stayed home. For whatever reason, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue wanted to rest his best for the trip.

Memphis fans were pretty upset. After all, they spent good money on the game, probably more than they would usually spend, all in order to see the big three, especially LeBron. I’m sure they love their Grizzlies in Memphis, but I guarantee that sales and attendance were up that night because LeBron and Co. were headlining the bill. The next day, I heard one fan on a nationally aired sports talk show say she was incensed because this was her eleven-year-old son’s Christmas present. After taking him out of school, they drove a few hours just for this chance to see LeBron, only to be stuck with JR Smith. “Merry Christmas, Timmy! We’re going to go see Iman Shumpert!”

The NBA is a star-driven league. Perhaps more than any other sport, its revenue and popularity depend on the stars rather than the product on the floor. When the stars don’t play, the fans lose interest. Sure, you may need to sit your players on certain nights, but Lue undermined what is great about the NBA by removing the players fans come to see. This was not a night to just go watch another basketball game. The night was supposed to be about seeing LeBron, Kyrie, and Love. But coach Lue made an executive decision to sit his players, thus diminishing what makes the NBA worthwhile.

I wonder if there isn’t a correlation here to what many churches are doing this Sunday by cancelling church on Christmas Day. Every time Christmas falls on a Sunday, you hear stories of churches making the executive decision to cancel Sunday services. The reasoning usually goes that Christmas Day services are notorious for low attendance given that the majority of people were in church the night before. It takes a lot of work for the pastor and others who serve to pull off back-to-back services, and the rest would be appreciated. And, of course, the “strongest” argument made says Christmas morning should be family time, since Christmas is about family.

Many churches are pulling Sunday morning and benching the service (to force a metaphor). If I may be so bold, church is the very place we should all be Christmas morning. Christmas morning is not about family, and neither is Christmas Eve. Christmas is about God invading His creation and being born to Mary. When a church decides to cancel Sunday worship services for any reason, it is inadvertently removing Jesus from the center of attention. I know the following comment is becoming somewhat cliché, but so many Christians get upset with how the culture is trying to take Christ out of Christmas. Yet, so many are willing to remove Him from the center of their celebrations.

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I know how my metaphor breaks down here. People paid to see LeBron and just got basketball. People don’t necessarily come to church on Christmas to get Jesus. They may come for all the wrong reasons. They may come to keep family happy or to sustain an old tradition, or maybe they really like the carols. But regardless of why they come, they ought to encounter Jesus! God, regardless of their intentions, is going to confront them. Sins will be attacked. Forgiveness will be delivered. Body and blood will be served. Benching the service on a Sunday morning prevents people from having the chance to encounter that God, to receive those gifts, to celebrate the Christ child.

I know this blog may be going up too late to do any good, but I do hope you find open church doors on Christmas morning. That day is not about family or toys or relaxation (especially for those who are without such blessings). It is about Jesus invading our world with a message of repentance and forgiveness. It is about a God who puts himself in a manger, on a cross, in bread and in wine. This weekend, like every weekend, the church’s job remains the same: deliver Jesus to sinners.

 I really do pray you all have a wonderful Christmas, full of Jesus’ love and mercy being poured into your ears! The Son of God put on flesh to become your brother and Savior! The baby in the manger has come to be your King, your God, and your sacrifice! Let’s all go to church and hear of this thing which has happened for us! Merry Christmas!

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