Worship and Christmas Traditions

In these few short weeks we enjoy one of Christianity’s most significant celebrations – the season of Christmas.  The celebration of the Incarnation of the Word.  Christ’s birth.  No doubt your church is filled with Christmas Carols, decorated walls and trees, and probably little children running around dressed as angels, shepherds, wise men, and maybe even farm animals.

I have no statistics (though I’m sure they are available), but it seems that the season of Christmas has produced the greatest number of traditions compared to any other season of the year.  Musical traditions, decorating traditions, family traditions, church traditions, shopping traditions, and even mythical traditions abound.  I’m sure you have your own list of traditions for the holidays.  Miss one of them, and something just doesn’t seem right.  Like the whole holiday is out of sync.

Well, traditions really are a wonderful thing – if we are careful to think through the implications of what they mean.  Our family started a tradition a number of years ago of staying at home.  No trips to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s.  No rush to see these friends or that family member.  In the hustle and bustle of our regular schedule, this tradition of just staying at home has made Christmas day a wonderful, close family time.  We eat breakfast together (one of the only days of the year we do this), reflect upon the Christmas story from Luke 2 (a tradition my wife brought to our family from hers), open the gifts, play, read, watch movies, take naps, or whatever comes up.  No pressure, no deadlines, just time together.  This tradition is positive in many respects, and the implications of our time together are numerous as we build memories with one another.

One of my favorite traditions is shopping the day after Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve.  For over 10 years I worked in retail sales.  Of course, Christmas was the busiest season for us.  The day after Thanksgiving was often the biggest sales day of the year.  I worked from 7 AM to 11 PM, often with few breaks.  Christmas Eve was another busy day early on, then customer traffic slowed later in the day as folks headed home to prepare for their festivities.  Where was I late in the afternoon?  Usually closing up one store or another, relieving other worn-out employees so they could be with their families after a long month of long days.  Thankfully, the owners were often very gracious and allowed me to leave early as well.  Today, I enjoy visiting the malls on these days, not to shop, but to just be there and know I don’t have to work.  Those years of experience gave me a real appreciation for the sacrifices that many workers make around the holidays.  My mall visits on those days remind me of that, and keep me thankful.

On the other hand, some traditions we keep only because they are traditions.  And they are hard to break.  These are the kind that often cause us to stumble in our faith, because we place more trust in the tradition than in God’s word.  We believe a fable rather than the truth.

One very obvious example of this from Christmas is our constant return, year after year, to the three kings that visited Jesus in the manger.  There they are in the church yard and the life-size nativity scene.  Here they are in the mall gift shop that sells a beautiful porcelain set featuring these three guys (as well as a very well-groomed Mary – Did she really just have a baby?).  I find these “Kings” in children’s pictorial bibles.  We hear about them every year as the congregation sings “We Three Kings of Orient Are…”

Well, I hope to not burst anybody’s bubble, but read the biblical account carefully and you’ll find that our tradition is far from the truth.  The “Magi” may have been kings, but are more accurately described as wise men.  There may have been three, but there is no indication of this in Scripture.  They did visit Jesus, but not at the manger, and possibly up to two years after His birth (that would make Him a toddler at the time!!).  (Oh, by the way, the shepherds never saw the star, according to the Bible – only in another traditional Christmas carol.)

Can I suggest a new tradition?  Set up your nativity scene on the West end of your house.  This works well for my family, since that puts it right next to the fireplace and in the same room as most of our decorations.  Then, grab the Wise Men, their camels, gifts, and whatever else seems to go with them specifically, and head to the East end of your house – even if that’s in a different room.  Now, put them there on a shelf, or dresser.  That way the wise men are in the right context according to the truth of the story – out in the East following the star.

When it comes to traditions, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our kids is not reject or accept them just because they are traditions, but think through them together.  Why were they established?  What did they mean originally?  Do they still mean the same thing today?  Can we recover the original intent if it has been altered?  Why should we hold to this tradition?  Is this tradition becoming more important than the truth?  These questions, and others, can help us discover our own motives for holding on to traditions.  Hold those motives up in the light of God’s word, and don’t be afraid to change if necessary.  This analysis and reanalysis is healthy in our personal life, our family life and our church life.

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Posted on December 8, 2014, in Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, Leadership, theology, Worship Leader and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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