This past Christmas season didn’t feel much like Christmas to me. I kept waiting to feel that upwelling of good will when I heard a Christmas carol being played on the radio, or to recognize that quiet zing of childlike joy when I saw the decorations going up in the stores, or to wipe a stray tear on my cheek as I thought once again of the many precious memories I have of the holidays I’ve spent in the past with those I love most in the world. Nothing like that happened. Christmas this season came in a flurry of chores and items on a list that had to be accomplished by almost suffocating deadlines. I ordered most of my gifts online, ignored the Christmas card list I’d carefully penned because there simply wasn’t enough time to address one envelope, dealt with each item on the list as expeditiously and simply as possibly, never turned on the radio to listen to one carol, and completely missed Christmas. I was miserable. Christmas wasn’t Christmas at all.
I don’t say this to have anyone feel sorry for me. Illness took beloved family members out of our traditional celebrations this year, I was visited by my old friend, the sinus infection fairy, and so was sick throughout most of the holidays, and I was occupied by necessity with school related deadlines until we were finally dismissed on December 20th. (Just a note to future school calendar makers – December 20th is too late to get out for the holidays. There has to be some other remedy!) Still, I’m determined to make sure I squeeze every drop of holiday joy out of Christmas next year or know the reason why! In thinking about this past Christmas that never was, I realized something far more important. People who try to maintain their Christian faith outside of the walls of regular church attendance struggle with really experiencing a meaningful realtionship with God. Belevers need church. We need to hear the minister preach from the Word and be challenged with the truth he shares. We need to have our toes stepped on because there’s something in our lives we’ve been avoiding or ignoring that suddenly we can’t avoid when he mentions it from the pulpit. We have unconfessed sin burdening our hearts, relationships that need to be nurtured, or healed, or renewed, within the congregation. We need to be involved in discussions in Bible Study and Sunday School, to have our ideas tested for their veracity against the canon of Scripture. We need to hear the hymns and be reminded of the times we sang them in days past, with parents and grandparents who have long been gone from our lives but whose Godly foundations still uphold us. We need to grow in our faith, and we simply cannot do that sitting at home on Sunday mornings listening to tv pastors or Gospel music on the radio.
Please don’t misunderstand me; if you are physically unable to attend church, or if your job keeps you busy on a Sunday morning, I’m not trying to suggest that your faith isn’t what it needs to be or that you are committing some kind of horrible crime by not going to church. Many individuals, including my own mother, are physically impaired and cannot be in church on a regular basis. These precious children of God worship at home the best they can, and my mom was faithful in her Bible reading and study because she wanted to grow in her relationship with God in spite of her disability. Unfortunately many of us able to attend services don’t simply because we don’t see the need, or we would rather be doing something recreational on a Sunday morning, or we think that church is too old and irrelevant to teach us anything of value any longer, or we’re simply too lazy or self-serving to give God the honor He is due by making ourselves a regular part of church worship.
No one wants to miss out on the joy of Christmas, but the temporary, transitory joy that comes from celebrating Christmas can’t begin to compare to the deep joy that can be yours by putting yourself at the foot of God’s throne every Sunday morning to worship Him and learn from Him. Don’t miss out on spending time with God. Nothing should take precedence over going to church, ever.