Keep the Watch, Keep the Feast

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
– Matthew 26:4041

Regrettably, every year there are Christians who neglect worshipping on Christmas and this year is no different. If anything, it is further compounded by entire churches forsaking gathering on Christmas Day since it is on Sunday. What should be a glorious opportunity to celebrate the advent of Christ on the Lord’s Day – the eighth day, the day of resurrection – is instead canceled altogether by some Christians individually and some churches corporately. Instead of killing two birds with one stone – worshipping on Christmas and on Sunday – many have decided to simply cancel both. Keeping the watch for just one hour on the one day set aside for the Lord – Sunday – has proven too much to ask for some Christians and churches. The Spirit remains willing, but the spirit of the zeitgeist tempts the weak flesh of many to trade the Lord’s Day for mammon. The fact that Christians and congregations are considering such a trade because it is “easier” should tell us something about American church culture.

“It is winter in Narnia,” said Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long…. always winter, but never Christmas.”
– The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

Indeed, it will be always winter and never Christmas for many Christians this year. The neglecting to honor the Lord on His day is a symptom of the problems of many churches – the failure to take seriously the call for us to “come out” of Babylon. This may strike some as being strange but Christmas at your home is not in fact Christmas. It is “Christ’s Mass” – Christmas. If you are not receiving Him in the manger of your mouth through the consecrated bread and wine, then are you really celebrating Christmas? After all, “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast” in the words of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 5:7‒8). Ironically, I suspect many Christians who lament culture taking Christ out of Christmas are also taking mass out of Christmas. There is no better way to keep Christ in Christmas than actually worshipping the One you profess with your lips as Lord upon His day. What strange times we live in when it is countercultural within some Christian circles to attend services on the Sunday coinciding with Christmas Day!

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,
“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.”
– Revelation 18:45.

But many self-professed Christians can’t be bothered with the inconvenience of Christmas on Sunday. It’s much easier cooperating with Babylon and embracing Babylon’s secularized “Christmas.” It’s too much to ask that we work around our schedule and render to God what is His. Instead, we render to Caesar what is his, and then we double-down and render to Caesar what is God’s. This criticism is not limited to those so-called shepherds who are canceling services, but also the laity avoiding Sunday services in lieu of other plans. Christians, are we really so blind to miss the opportunity to incorporate our dearest loved ones, our blood family, into joining with our faith family in worshipping Christ the newborn King?

Keep the watch dear Christian. We have been keeping the watch all Advent for the return of the King, and now are we going to disperse into the night of His arrival? Should the bride of Christ be absent at the bridegroom’s arrival? Never! Hebrews calls out to us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24‒25, emphases added). Indeed, the Day of the Lord’s Advent does draw near, yet many risk being found anywhere except keeping the watch together as the Body of Christ upon His Day. Ponder the shame you would have if Christ returned upon His holy night or advent upon Christmas morn to find Christmas canceled and the flock enjoying itself at home instead of worshipping our Savior, our Redeemer, our King for one hour?

Churches gathered in catacombs during Roman persecution, churches in China and the Middle East gather in secret in house churches at great risk of imprisonment or death, yet there are American Christians who cannot sacrifice an hour to praise God for taking on flesh, becoming Immanuel, and suffering so we sinners may be redeemed. “There’s simply too much to do,” “It’s inconvenient,” “We’re short-staffed,” “I’m out of town,” “I must cook for my guests,” and the whole time I hear our Lord’s reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41‒42).

Perhaps if you are not inclined to attend services on Christmas Sunday, you will reconsider since Christmas is one of two holy days when inquirers, nonbelievers, and negligent church members typically attend? Imagine the irony of a curious atheist, a struggling inquirer, or an absent churchgoer showing up to the locked doors of the church? Have some churches become so assured in their blessed assurance they forgot the Lord’s parable that when the Great Banquet is ready the invited guests make excuses as to why they will not attend? “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21). Are we not the body of Christ called to proclaim the Gospel in Word and Sacrament and to make disciples of all nations? Can we really not remain open to give thanks to the Lord and receive the benefits of His grace in the Lord’s Supper on one of the very few days in which the curious come to us? If a single stranger visiting on Christmas Day and hearing the Word proclaimed and Sacrament received is more than worth it. Is it not worth gathering as the Body of Christ should one soul hear the Gospel?

Pastor, even if one stranger does not harken your doors but your parishioners join you to worship the Living God, then it is worthwhile. Further, it is our duty as Christian parents – ordained and laity alike – to raise the children in the faith. What greater example can we show our children than prioritizing the Savior and coming King whom we teach our children to love and worship above all else?! Remember clergy, we shall be judged more harshly as teachers in the Church of our Lord (James 3:1) – do you really desire to give an account on the Last Day before Jesus as to why you canceled services and prevented the flock from being able to worship Him? Likewise parents, I shudder to think of our Lord’s chastisement at the Judgment for us hindering one of His little ones from Him. The collect for the Third Sunday in Advent is quite relevant:

O LORD Jesu Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare the way before thee: Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.
– Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent, Book of Common Prayer (1662), emphasis added.

There are several excuses presented by pastors who are canceling services. None of them are satisfactory. We gather to worship the Eternal God who made us and clothed us when we were naked and dead in our trespasses. How dare we avoid worshipping Him, forgetting the Sabbath, and profaning the Sabbath on “O Holy Night” and in addition a Holy day? Apparently many Christians forget that Christmas is a “holiday” precisely because it is a holy day. Furthermore, the weekly worship of the Lord is as old and continual as the Mosaic covenant and was not neglected from the earliest centuries of the Church when Sunday was simply another day of the week and worship was at dawn before the workday began:

But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.
Didache, Chapter 14.

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
– First Apology, Chapter 67, Justin Martyr.

Therefore, keep the feast on our Lord’s Day, the Day of Resurrection, the Day of Salvation.

We worship the One who descended so that we may ascend, the One who was pierced for us upon the cross and beckons us to unite with Him and carry our own cross. Is it inconvenient for you to attend service? Convenience is not a virtue of following Christ. It is a dying to ourselves and a union with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – not your way, your truth, and your life. Pastor, perhaps you are a fellow church planter and all your volunteers will be absent. Be faithful and lead the service. Be an example. Have faith that others will step-up and step-in to serve, even if a remnant attends worship.

Laity, perhaps your family will scoff that you choose to leave the morning festivities early in order to attend worship? Let them scoff and remember the words of our Lord, “And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:49‒50). Perhaps you think I am too harsh. What then do you think of the Lord’s words? “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26‒27).

Our allegiance is to the King and His Kingdom after all. Do we love our Lord enough to be in His presence and receive the blessed sacrament of His Body and Blood on Christmas Sunday or do we love Christmas in our own image more?

“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.“ Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.
– Luke 14:2224, emphasis added.

Finally, to my fellow Anglicans. I know there are many of you who are considering skipping out on Christmas. Beyond the Scriptural duty to remember, honor, and keep the Sabbath holy, I remind you that Christmas Eve is a vigil fast, Christmas Day a feast, and all Sundays are feast days to be kept in the reformed catholic prayer book tradition. Further, the Anglican Church in North America has codified this duty we owe in Canon I.10.2.1 “To worship God, the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, every Lord’s Day in a Church unless reasonably prevented;” and Canon I.10.2.9 “To observe the feasts and fasts of the Church set forth in the Anglican formularies.” Before you ask, being looked at strangely by family members or being inconvenienced by family tradition is not being “reasonably prevented.”

If you find yourself traveling and away from home, seek out a church and attend. Yes, even if that means excusing yourself from family and friends to be in the presence of the Lord. Anyone visiting the Birmingham area is more than welcome to visit us at Church of the Good Shepherd.

Keep the watch and keep the feast this Christmas.


Rev. Andrew Brashier

Rev. Andrew Brashier serves as the Rector of Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Pelham, Alabama. and is an Archdeacon overseeing the Parish and Missions Deanery in the Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy. He writes regularly about ministry, family worship, daily prayer, book reviews, family oratories and the impact they can have in reigniting Anglicanism, and the occasional poem at www.thruamirrordarkly.wordpress.com. He recently republished Bishop John Jewel's Treatises on the Holy Scriptures and Sacraments (https://a.co/d/ikWCXG4). The second edition of his first book, A Faith for Generations, is now available at Amazon (https://a.co/d/3iVgwdJ) and focuses on family devotions and private prayer in the Anglican tradition.


'Keep the Watch, Keep the Feast' have 3 comments

  1. December 20, 2022 @ 12:57 pm Michael Novotny

    Thank you Fr. Andrew for this article. So much truth. Let us “keep the watch” and keep the feast” this week.

    Reply

  2. December 20, 2022 @ 2:49 pm PWH

    Revd. Brashier, I am appalled at what you report! I had not heard anything of services being cancelled; admittedly, I live in a small town/rural area, heavily (culturally) Christian, at least. I think most of our local churches would be horrified at the idea.

    Thank you for faithfully calling clergy and laity to account.

    Reply

  3. December 21, 2022 @ 7:46 am Cynthia Erlandson

    Beautifully said.

    Reply


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