“The things that we do regularly, that cause us in our deepest being to know and love and want God—to have our lives infiltrated by God—those things are traditions.”
- Noel Piper
They sit together on the creaky tan recliner and my Mama lights a candle . . . lights a candle for the fourth, the fifth, the sixth time. And little Debbie all aglow, perched on her lap, listens to my Mama sing to her, again and again and again-- “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright . . .” And my daughter holds the ornament that my Mom bought in a consignment shop, the globe of thick glass enveloping Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus inside, looped with a thin gold string for hanging on the Christmas tree.
Every night, my Mama sings with Debbie, and they light candle after candle after candle . . . and Debbie holds her treasured ornament. My Mama wanted Debbie to recognize the song when we sang it at the Christmas Eve service on December 24th . . . to recognize the candle and to one day realize that the light we hold symbolizes Jesus, the Light of the world, who came to bring the light of the glory of God into this dark world of sin.
So they sing together, Debbie listening intently, her eyes transfixed on the candle, her soft little child-hands holding the representation of the holy family. And even though she doesn’t understand it all now, the repetition seeps into her tiny heart and one day it will all mean something to her—
Repetition . . . Elisabeth Elliot once wisely pointed out in one of her books that repetition is never forbidden in the Word of God, only vain repetition. Because we remember by doing . . . over and over and over. We remember by repeating the same truth, the same act, the same memory verse. We remember. When we light the Advent wreath year after year after year, it helps us to remember, to recall, to cherish the ancient truths that each candle symbolizes. When we hang a Christmas wreath on our front door, we think of the beautiful new life that God has given to us through His precious Son, the verdant green reminding us of hope in the midst of winter. When we sing the wonderful old carols, the Christmas hymns, the ones that we grew up on and learned by heart, something fresh springs forth in our souls—the seed of remembrance shoots forth and the repetition of those truths year after year ministers to our redeemed beings.
Maybe this is why we are instructed to remember “the Lord’s death until He comes” by taking Communion, whether it be month by month or less or more frequently. We shouldn’t “need” to physically eat and drink a representation of the Lord’s body and blood, and yet, our God commands it. Why? Because we remember through repetition, through the act of doing—not legalistically, but joyfully, in contemplative love. We remember the great depths of His love and the sacrifice of His only Son. Through repetition, we remember.
And we have our own traditions that we keep in our homes and with our families. Some read the Christmas story together on Christmas day or on Christmas Eve. Some eat certain special foods—maybe a recipe that has been in the family for years, that has been passed on through generations. Some decorate their Christmas tree on a certain day. Some share memories of Christmases past or watch A Christmas Carol.
It’s important for a family to establish their own traditions, whether borrowed from someone else, whether concocted or hatched on their own. And they should be fun and meaningful, but ultimately Christ-centered—not just “family-centered,” but Christ centered. Because if Christ is our life, then His presence, His influence should pervade all that we do and say. Let our traditions be festive and full of laughter and brimming over with the grace and hope of our Savior.
It’s also important for a family to establish traditions that are rooted in Christ because this bonds a Christian family together, brings a warmth that finds it’s center in Jesus, and brings glory to Him. It is a way for a family to magnify the Lord together, through meaningful traditions that bring joy to our souls and impart grace to our hearts.
As Noel Piper says in her book Treasuring God in our Traditions, there are “especially times,” times when we pause and stop and reflect and remember an event in a special, out of the ordinary way—like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving. When we fail to make these events special and meaningful and Christ-centered, in whatever way that the Holy Spirit leads us, we lose something of their significance and importance in our lives. We remember Christ’s birth in a special way, because it holds such significance for us as believers. Christmas is not an ordinary day.
So let what Dickens says of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, be true of us--“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!” May we keep Christmas well, also, in the thoughts and contemplations of our hearts and through the traditions that help us to turn those hearts towards Him. At Christmas and at every “especially time,” for the glory of Jesus and the joy of our hearts.
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