People like creating traditions. We have them in our families. We have them in our communities. The military is full of them. The church has theirs too. There is nothing inherently bad about traditions. The real question is: Do they still mean something to us?
That’s the thing about traditions – They can become substitutes for the real thing. For example, Memorial Day outings with family are supposed to be a celebration of family. They are supposed to bring the family together with camping, enjoying nature and sitting around the camp fire. However, if the family trip has turned into a chore, and you look around the camp fire and everyone is either bored or on their phone or tablet; isn’t it time to ask if the tradition is still holding up?
Matthew 1:20-21 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Here’s a thought from this time of year – For Christians, Christmas is about celebrating that Christ has come. Sure, there are other things we do this time of year: enjoy family, make yummy goodies, etc; but they aren’t what we are celebrating. Jesus is what we are celebrating. So the question to consider at the beginning of the season or as we pack up the ornaments and the wrapping paper is: did my traditions this year consistently remind me of Jesus or did they overshadow or replace Him?
Traditions can be great helps in remembering important things. In fact, Jesus gave us two traditions that are supposed to be practiced and appreciated by all Christians. He gave us baptism and the Lord’s Supper for just this purpose. Baptism reminds us of what happens in the heart of every believer when they come to Jesus. The Lord’s Supper, as the apostle Paul says, proclaims the Lord’s death (it’s purpose and power) until He returns. Can you imagine being at a baptismal or Lord’s Supper service and not be pointed to what they mean? When we are intentional our traditions serve to teach and remind us about things that are important to us.
Traditions are never meant to be cut off from the important individual or truth to which they point. Good feelings and fun can’t replace meaning. If we don’t pass on meaning, the next generation gets lost or bored in our traditions. Can you imagine a fourth of July that included fireworks without knowing why? Can you imagine an American flag that didn’t stand for America?
Jesus warned the leaders of His day that they had created traditions to honor God and then forgot the very God they had hoped to honor with those traditions (Matthew 15:1-9). We must do better. If we use traditions as part of how we honor God, we must not forget God in the process. So, how can we do better? Consider these approaches:
- Make the most important traditions the ones that most clearly reflect Jesus. By most important I don’t necessarily mean the things that take the most time, but they are certainly the things for which you stop everything. For example, baking for the family get together may take more time; but if reading the Christmas story out of the book of Luke is something you value, then everything should stop when you read it. It is a matter of priority – the pie can wait, Jesus shouldn’t have to.
- If something overshadows Jesus during Christmas, consider suspending or shrinking it this year. If decking the halls crowds out remembering the Savior, then deck less and remember more. Replacing the garland, outdoor lights, and two-story Christmas tree with a candle in the window and a ceramic light-up tree does not make you a Scrooge. It may give your mind space to celebrate Jesus.
- Don’t be afraid to create new traditions if the old ones don’t point you to Jesus. Your mom’s way of celebrating Jesus at Christmas may not translate to your family. No worries. Creating new traditions doesn’t diminish the old traditions. They are traditions, not Scripture. New traditions have to be explained. Explanations point us to the reason why. That reason is Jesus. That is a good thing. Perhaps you won’t replace an old tradition after all. Maybe in the explaining, you will find that the old tradition just needed a new generation to understand it to bring back the meaning.
- Make the things you do during this season a celebration of Christ and not a job to be done. You can celebrate Christ as you think and pray for all the family you will see. You can celebrate Jesus as you decorate as you think on the joy that He brings you. However, when things that should celebrate Jesus become a chore we have two choices: transform our thinking or trim some things from our celebration. It isn’t a bad thing to admit where you struggle keeping Jesus at the front of this season. Identifying the struggle is where we grow. Doing something about it is the second step of that growth.
- Don’t stress about the perfect Christmas attitude. There is no such thing just like there are no perfect people. I know, we hear that we shouldn’t stress over the perfect gift or the perfect meal; but it is also good not to stress about doing everything perfect in our attitude at Christmas. For some, an unintentional tradition has grown out of their worry about honoring Jesus. The perennial question, “Is this the right way to celebrate Jesus?” makes for some of us a hurdle to celebrating Jesus at all. Celebrate by doing your best to focus on Jesus. If you learn a new way to focus on Him next year, make that a part of your worship next year. Just don’t let what you might do next year keep you from really celebrating Jesus this year. Worry makes it difficult to celebrate!
What’s the point? Let’s continue to make Jesus our focus this Christmas. If you have fun traditions, use them to highlight Jesus. Don’t worry, celebrate! I am writing this on Christmas Eve. One of our traditions is to go to a Christmas Eve service that focuses entirely on the Christmas story and nothing else. It’s not a chore. It’s not something we worry over. We are celebrating! Joy to the world, Christ has come! As the angels told the shepherds – Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
Jesus is something to celebrate about,