|Jeff and Julie had only been married for a few years, but already the holiday routine was beginning to tire. Jeff came from a family split by divorce, so each holiday was spent rushing from one house to another to participate in different family gatherings.
Christmas was the worst. Starting early on Christmas day, they would begin driving from one celebration to the other - opening presents, hurriedly eating some food, making small talk, and then off to the next house - being careful to spend about the same amount of time at each location so no one felt slighted.
They would return home late in the evening, exhausted, drained and feeling anything but joyful. This year, however, Christmas was on a Sunday.
Jeff was filled with trepidation as he dialed the phone to explain to a relative that they would be late to their Christmas breakfast because they would be attending church.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” said the voice on the phone, “I would hate to have my Christmas spoiled by spending it in church.”
As Jeff hung up the phone, the phrase echoed through his mind.
The above story is true and shows just how far today’s world has moved away from the traditions of the church. A decade ago going to church on Christmas was still seen as an acceptable thing to do, even by those who were not regular church attendees or who really did not consider themselves believers.
Today, however, for a growing number of people in our world, Jesus is not a part of Christmas. The Name that is above all names has been taken out of our public schools, our public discourse, our public prayers, and out of most aspects of public American life. The day set aside to honor His birth has become an event devoid of any sacred meaning for a large segment of the world’s population.
The phrase “Merry Christmas” has been replaced by “Happy Holidays” in the vocabulary of the politically correct. The image of the Madonna and Child has been replaced by Santa Claus. Advent is no longer seen as a time to prepare for the birth of God’s Son, but rather an economic dynamo that makes the difference between profit and loss in the world’s retail sector.
The country church, which has been romanticized in song and story and idealized in movies, is fading from the landscape of many rural communities as our rural areas are losing what once made them unique. Suburbanization of the homes, consolidation of the schools, and Wal-Martization of the economy are eroding the character of our small towns.
The church was one of the founding forces behind most of our rural towns. Farm families congregated at certain intersections of roads for commerce, community, and worship. As recently as a generation ago, the church and agriculture were the driving forces of social, political, and economic activity in rural communities. This is no longer the case in some small towns that are now as homogeneous and characterless as any suburb. The small country church has been replaced by the large mega church with congregations that number in the thousands.
In a way Jeff’s relative was right, spending Christmas in church would spoil it. Spending Christmas in church would remind us that we are not the center of Christmas. It would demonstrate to us that giving a gift is more important than receiving one. Spending Christmas in church would show us how unworthy we are and how much we are in need of Christ’s forgiveness and salvation.
This year December 25 is on a Sunday. I encourage you to spoil your Christmas and start the day in church, if you can find a small country church, so much the better. From the Truitt household to yours: Merry Christmas.
Published in the December 21, 2005 issue of Farm World.