the Sunday after Christmas

I really like the Sunday after Christmas.  It’s not the most popular Sunday of the year, and certainly not the most grand.  It’s lightly attended, to put it mildly.  My congregation probably welcomed a tenth as many this morning as we did two nights ago on Christmas Eve.  It’s a tough Sunday for preaching.  How do you come down gracefully from the glorious high we all shared on Christmas Eve?  I’ve heard the suggestion, more than once, that we should just cancel that week and resume in the new year.

But I love it.  It’s a Sunday where the only people who show up are those who have nowhere else to go.  That sounds bleak, but I don’t think it is.  It reminds me of Peter speaking on behalf of the disciples in John 6:68.  Jesus has just offered a hard teaching and many have turned away from him.  He turns to his core followers and asks if they too want to leave.  “Lord,” Peter says, “to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  That’s how it is the Sunday after Christmas.

A few will come because they were so moved during Advent and Christmas.  God is doing something new in their lives, and in that flush of new life, they are attending as much church as they can.  Most of us, though, come out of habit.  Which is another way of saying, we come because we have nowhere else to go.  Yes, of course, we could go get brunch.  Or pad around in our slippers sipping coffee and reading the paper.  Or grocery shop.  Or take the kids to a game.  Or do twenty million other things.  But out of habit (or a sense of obligation, or some other not sexy reason) we come to church.  Where else would we go?  This is the place with the words of eternal life.

Most of us who have come out of habit wouldn’t necessarily put it in those words.  We’d say we go because we’re supposed to.  Or because we want our kids to grow up in the church.  Or because it starts the week off right.  Or because it’s the one hour where we can find some peace.  Or because its a good chance to catch up with friends and get out of the house.  We certainly wouldn’t say we go because we expect a profound, soul-shaking spiritual experience.  We know that most Sundays, like most other days, are simply routine.  We stand up, we sit down, we sing, we bow our heads, we listen, we leave.  We smile at the babies, wave hello to Mrs. Smith, and traipse out to our cars, our minds already on the tasks that Monday will bring.  It’s just what we do on a Sunday.

But at bottom, I have this sneaking suspicion that we have nurtured this habit, we have let it grow up and take root in our lives, let it inconvenience us week after week, because deep down we feel like Peter did.  Where else would we go?  Here are the words of eternal life.  This is where we find salvation.  In between the coffee hour and the rinky-dink name tags, we find community.  As we read words someone else wrote and pray the same prayers week after week, we find our souls slowly changed, as bits of forgiveness or sanctification slip in.  Most weeks its simply the same routine.  We are comforted a bit.  We’re challenged a bit.  We’re maybe bored a bit.  But we never know when, or how, God will reach into our habitual prayer, and we will find our hearts aflame with love.  We never can guess which Sunday it will be that we’ll find ourselves brought to tears, or holding back great gasps of laughter.  We have no idea which week will bring us finally out of the darkness we’re living in and into a brighter day.  But we trust.  We trust that half the battle, more maybe, is showing up.  We trust that God will meet us there, week after week.  We have been visited by the one who has the words of eternal life, and we return, trusting that we will be visited again.   In the meantime, even on the Sunday after Christmas, where else would we go?

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