“I am, at this point in my life, a twice-a-year church-goer.”
So began the Facebook post by a man in Chicago, brought to my attention by one of his friends, my daughter.
There was a point in my life when I would have taken this as a challenge: for a rebuke, a rebuttal, or a list of reasons why that attitude is just so not okay.
In fact, in my early days as a pastor and preacher, it was not uncommon for one of my guild to insert into their Christmas Eve homily a greeting to those who wouldn’t be seen until Easter. Maybe young or cynical ministers still do that.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to go to church; and this Christmas Eve I sat on the front row of the crowded balcony to watch, listen, pray, and sing. It is hard to beat the candles and “Silent Night”.
But I don’t joke any more about people who come to church twice a year. In fact, I celebrate it; I think churches should plan these Christmas and Easter services with just these folks in mind.
There are lots of folk out there who make some version of the good confession “Jesus is Lord” but have long since decided that church is not where Jesus is and not where they want to live out their faith, sketchy as it may seem to others.
To be honest, I feel this way much of the time.
I do not equate Jesus or God or Spirit with church. We all know there is much that goes on in church—power, politics, money, meanness, materialism, expectations, exclusion—that runs counter to everything Jesus said and taught. Sometimes it is hard to find Jesus or hear God or feel the Spirit in a church, even on Christmas Eve.
My friend Tom Krattenmacker writes about this often. He is the regular religion columnist for the newspaper USA Today. This week, he asked a question used by every preacher who has stood before the faithful on any Sunday of Advent: “Is there any room in the inn for Jesus?”
He took it in a direction most preachers don’t: “Will there be room at the inn for Jesus in our setting as we become more of a post-Christian society in the years and decades ahead?”
He asks a good question. If organized religion continues its decline and American society becomes increasingly post-Christian, will Jesus remain the moral and spiritual hero he is to many people, including many unchurched people or people who attend worship only twice a year or not at all?
Tom is one of them and he wrote a book about it: Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower. I read the book and recommend it. It is full of things wise and true, things even devout church-goers like me need to read and understand.
His Christmas column is in the same vein. Jesus is bigger than the church and better than religion. The future of Jesus does not depend on the church or worship or even candlelight services on Christmas Eve. Jesus will be compelling to millions of people even if all of us join the Chicago confessor quoted above and give up church except for Christmas and Easter.
I believe in this post-Christian, non-religious Jesus. I call him Lord. I seek to follow him in every area of my life. I apply to Jesus the command that he applied toward God: to love him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.
In fact, the Jesus I adore on Christmas Eve is much bigger than the one even Tom admires and imitates. Jesus will survive as Christendom shrivels. He will do so precisely because of Christmas and Easter.
When Jesus was born in a manger, the fullness of God filled his heart and soul and mind and body—THAT is Christmas. And when Jesus was raised from the dead, the intentions of God for the entire human race were put on display—THAT is Easter.
So, if any person feels the pull of Jesus, especially on Christmas Eve and Easter Morn or even only on Christmas Eve and Eastern Morn, I say AMEN! That pull is nothing less that the Spirit of the Living God, fulfilling her mission in the world: to draw to God through Jesus all the people of the world, red and yellow, black and white.
On this Christmas Eve, I say with all the twice-a-year church-goers, thanks be to God and give me a candle.