We can all agree Christmas has been commercialized and marketed successfully as simply a “holiday”! As Christians we strive to keep “Christ” in “Christmas” by proclaiming “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and greeting one another with “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”. Sadly, because we as a society have effectively devalued Jesus Christ at Christmas it is more about “giving” and “sharing” than a time of “remembering” and “celebrating” our faith in God who sent His one and only Son into the world to save us.
Much of this shift is because of the “doing away” of traditions to bring in the new. Traditions are long-established actions or patterns of behavior in a group of people handed down from generation to generation which set the precedent for future generations. If we stop handing down traditions there is no precedent, no sense of where we have come from or are going to. When traditions are kept in proper perspective they serve the beautiful purpose of enriching our lives and relationships, and bringing enjoyment, adventure, and anticipation into life experience! Of course, our opinions about traditions run the gamut from complaining about them to not getting enough of them. Some people get angry if tradition is “messed” with while others want to go “non-traditional” all the way! But usually, as with many things in life, it is not until we “have not” that we miss what we “had”.
I am writing this during the “Christmas” season! I have every reason to be jubilant with a husband, children, grandchildren, family, friends, and church family who all love the Lord and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Yet, I have not been experiencing the zeal one would expect with such blessedness especially when I rehash my unending “to do” list! When there is more “relief” at the close of Christmas season than “joy” before and during, there is obviously a problem with my attitude.
As I pondered this dilemma one afternoon the Lord spoke to me about tradition. By no longer celebrating a significant tradition in my life, Advent, I was missing the joy of preparing for Christmas. I am intrigued and relieved by this revelation because I am spurred on to recapture the joy of Christmas! Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “to come”! It is a time to celebrate the coming of Jesus, past, present, and future. The past focuses on Old Testament prophecies when He came as the baby in Bethlehem, the present focus is on His ministry through the Word and Spirit, and the future focus is on His “second coming” at the end of time.
Interestingly, when I shared this “revelation” about Advent with several friends who share similar backgrounds, I discovered they did not have the same vivid memories of “Advent” even though our churches shared the same tradition. This only serves to show the uniqueness of how traditions are handed down to people and the personal impact they can make in ones’ life.
Because I married a man who was also a pastor, our life willingly revolved around Church family, worship services before and during Christmas, and “holidays” spent at Church! During the special moments of Advent I connected with God in special and intimate ways. December was a flurry of Advent activity making Christmas preparation both fun and enjoyable. We had special daily devotions, Advent meals, and mid-week worship services which focused our attention on the coming of Jesus. The result was that no matter what I was doing be it baking, making or buying gifts, decorating, or writing our annual Christmas letter, my mind and heart were joyful as I fixed my gaze on Jesus!
But our journey in ministry has taken us into a church body where Advent is not a tradition. Without being aware of its meaning in my life, I did not know how Advent had shaped me to enjoy all the extra things in preparation for Christmas. My zeal is missing because my effort is exerted trying to get “things” done for Christmas; baking, shopping, cookie exchanges, decorating, parties, Christmas letters and gift giving. When I celebrated Advent these activities came with ease because they were the overflow of “remembering” not things to get done so I could “remember” on Christmas Day. In other words, the traditional Advent activities drew me close to God making the other preparations an overflow of my gratitude to Him. In my world, Advent and Christmas were not meant to be separate events – they were “THE” celebration of the coming of Christ. When I stopped celebrating Advent, I stopped enjoying Christmas.
For the most part the Bible does not address traditions in a positive light because they tend to enslave us to man-made requirements not draw us closer to God. If traditions do nothing more than bring pleasure and meet our perceived needs they need to be done away with because we then worship the tradition and not the Giver of them. In reality, traditions give meaning to life by emphasizing and magnifying our relationship with Jesus and the body of Christ, drawing us closer to God and His people, loving and desiring Him more than life itself! 2 Thessalonians 3:6 reads “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” By not honoring God-given tradition, which are simply instructions handed down by word of mouth or in writing, we will walk disorderly. For me, Advent is a tradition which leads me to walk orderly, keeping the worldly activities in proper perspective. By recapturing some Advent tradition I will joyfully prepare and celebrate Christmas with family and friends.
Jesus is not just the reason for the season. He is “The Reason” for all of life! Whether you celebrate “Advent” as a tradition or not let these words from 1 Peter 1:17-21 remind you of the reason we celebrate the coming of Jesus past, present, and future. “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” Jesus Past! He was foreordained before the foundation of the world! Jesus Present! He was manifested for believers so we will conduct ourselves in fear (today) knowing He redeemed us by His precious blood! Jesus Future! Our faith and hope are in God because He raised Jesus from the dead, receives glory, and we too shall be raised!
I’m eager to recapture some tradition this Christmas! I pray you are inspired to ponder your own traditions and celebrate them – But above all – May you celebrate Jesus in all His excellence this Christmas season – the whole way through! I pray you do not get too busy or sidetracked to ponder and celebrate His coming – Past – Present – Future! Celebrate the Only reason to live – JESUS!