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Rooted in Christ

A Christmas Conundrum

Christmas this year falls on a Sunday.

Christmas this year falls on a Sunday. Already the question is circulating as to whether churches should cancel their services so as not to disrupt family celebrations. 

The question asked is the answer implied that we might reasonably consider canceling and take a sabbath from the Sabbath. After all, people will be away visiting families or hosting family members who have traveled for the holiday. Plus, kids and grownups will be distracted with visions of sugar plums dancing through their heads. 

The question is bigger, however, than what to do this year. It’s a question of what to do with the Sabbath itself. Sure, we continue to include the fourth commandment when we recite the ten, although we may do so in hushed tones or with a hint of suspicion. 

But, unlike Pluto, it has not been demoted from its status. It continues as a commandment of God’s moral law, to be obeyed as an expression of love for Him and acknowledgement of His authority in our lives. 

In that sense the Sabbath is a sign. That’s how God describes it: “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you’” (Ex. 31:13, NKJV). 

God is not addressing the nations around them. He is speaking to His people as their covenant Lord. He is saying that keeping the Sabbath is a reminder whose we are and why that is, a sign of sanctification. Our setting apart one day in seven serves as a sign that God has set us apart from the world as His very own. 

While there are aspects of discontinuity with Sabbath observance on this side of the cross, it continues to be part of God’s moral law and remains a sign between our God and us as His people. How does the Sabbath function as a sign? Let me suggest four ways. 

A Sign to God 

God established the Sabbath in creation. He could have created in one fell swoop but He did so in six days, resting from His labors on the seventh and thus establishing for us a rhythm to our days. When we observe the Sabbath we walk in that rhythm, acknowledging God as the One who ordains our days. 

In addition to a creation ordinance, the Sabbath serves as a redemption ordinance given us as the redeemed of the Lord to honor God for delivering us from the bondage of sin. We express our love for Him by keeping His commandments. 

In observing the Sabbath we exercise a fear of the Lord that honors Him, defers to His wisdom and submits to Him. It contributes to a God-defined, God-centered life. 

A Sign to Fellow Believers 

We are a people for God’s own possession. Sabbath observance is a shared value for those who belong to the kingdom of God. In God’s design for the Sabbath we are beckoned to stimulate one another to love and good deeds and are bolstered against becoming hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 

One of the Sabbath expressions of community is assembling for corporate worship. God meets with us as we gather in His name and ministers to us though the gifts and service of one another. We encourage one another by our presence in worship. One of the drawbacks to online participation is that while we may be edified, we lose the ability to encourage others. 

Diligence in weekly worship attendance sends a message to our children that honoring God takes precedence over sports, birthday parties, and sleeping in. We exhibit kingdom priorities, testifying to Jesus Christ as Lord over every aspect of our lives. Obedience of love often means sacrifice of self. 

A Sign to the World 

The world may think it strange when we do not participate in things that rival God. When we take a stand by saying we won’t do something because we already have a prior commitment, we bear witness to our kingdom allegiance and priorities. Perhaps such a stand will provoke others to ask for a reason for the hope we have. 

How often do we lose an opportunity to stand out from the world by neglect of the Sabbath, not to draw attention to ourselves but to draw attention to our Lord? Observance of the Sabbath was one of the ways God’s people of old differentiated themselves from the nations around them. 

Sometimes when we have unbelieving friends visit with us we decide not to go to Sunday service because we don’t want to be rude since they are not churchgoers. Yet how unloving to God and neighbor it is to hide our light under a basket! Even if they do not join us, we can speak later of things we learned at the feet of Christ. 

A Sign to Ourselves 

When we carve out time for attendance in weekly worship as an expression of Sabbath observance, we remind ourselves that God is lord of our life and time. We keep a holy appointment to meet with Him to render to Him the glory due His name and to rehearse His blessings in the gospel. 

Our Lord Jesus informs us that the Sabbath was made for us. We lead busy, distracted, wearisome lives, prone to wander, to neglect, to forget our God amidst the travails of life. But God has given us the Sabbath, not merely to rest from our ordinary labors but to find refreshment and renewal, a redemptive reset of sorts. It was when the psalmist entered the sanctuary of God that his perspective was restored and his faith brought into focus (see Psalm 73). 

Sometimes we hear that we should leave our worries and preoccupations at the door, as though they are to be retrieved after the service like some bulky backpack. Nothing could be further from the truth. We want to lug our burdens in, casting them at the foot of the cross, partaking of the means of grace by which our God satisfies and sustains us. 

 

As a pastor I would love it when Christmas fell on a Sunday. It seemed the perfect confluence of redemption and renewal, focused on God’s work of salvation in the giving of His Son. It was an opportunity amidst the clamor of the season to be still and know that God is God, our God and the God of our children. 

The culmination of the first Advent awaits the consummation of the second Advent, just as the weekly Sabbath rest signifies and anticipates an eternal Sabbath rest, all because Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate is risen, reigning, and returning.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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