For many years, I lived and worked in northwest North Dakota. The weather and road conditions were frequently less than ideal between Christmas Eve and the Day of Epiphany, making travel to visit family dangerous or even downright impossible.
Because of this, some friends of mine would celebrate “Christmas in July” by having their family Christmas gathering and gift-exchange when the weather is almost always warm and beautiful during the day and pleasantly cool at night. These friends told me that when they were once criticized for having Christmas during Pentecost, they responded by saying, “Well, we do our best to follow Jesus, and sometimes Jesus himself did not always exactly follow the rules.”
As recorded in Matthew 12:1-8,
Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath, his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’”
This story about David and his companions is found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, where David asks the priest Ahimelech for some bread, but the only bread available was holy bread. Ahimelech gave David this bread only after David assured him that the young men with him had been keeping the law of God.
Both of these stories make the point, according to the footnotes in my Harper Study Bible, that “ritual observances must give way to moral duties and that, in emergencies, what normally was forbidden could be done,” that “human need comes before ceremonial regulations,” and that it was okay for Jesus to “breach the sabbath law in the larger interests of the kingdom of God.”
David’s encounter with Ahimelech was not a normal situation, as he had just learned that Saul was out to do him in. Jesus and his disciples were hungry and, unlike usual, there was no other food available. We are in a most unusual season of Advent, leading up to what will most likely be a most unusual season of Christmas, which is coming at the end of a most unusual year. Normally Advent would be a separate season of the church year to prepare for the arrival of the birth of the baby Jesus. But given how this year has gone, forget normal protocol! There are so many great Christmas anthems, carols, and songs out there! Why not use every opportunity, during this time of continuing pandemic precautions and protocols, and the restrictions and frustrations and problems resulting therefrom, to make a joyful noise to God for the renewed promise of a Savior born in Bethlehem who is Christ the Lord whose birth will free us from our sins and whose coming promises us eternal life?
In my humble opinion as a simple lifelong Lutheran layperson, I say, go for it! Sing as many Christmas (and Advent) songs as you want between now and Epiphany! Make that joyful noise, as if you are with “the multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors (Luke 2:13-14)!’
And if anyone should happen to question you about this, just tell them what Jesus told the Pharisees: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40).
Wishing you all an unreservedly Merry Christmas and the best New Year possible in 2021. Amen.
David Iversen is a Community Support Professional for Region V Behavioral Health Services within the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. He provides residential and community support for people with physical and developmental disabilities in Beatrice, Nebraska. In his spare time, he supports his wife, Pastor Heather Brown, in her ministry at Christ Lutheran Church in rural Pickrell, Nebraska by assisting with worship, writing a weekly devotion blog, directing the choir, participating in the Lutheran Men in Mission group, and teaching Sunday school.
Church Anew is dedicated to igniting faithful imagination and sustaining inspired innovation by offering transformative learning opportunities for church leaders and faithful people.
As an ecumenical and inclusive ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church, the content of each Church Anew blog represents the voice of the individual writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of Church Anew, St. Andrew Lutheran Church, or Day1 on any specific topic.