A New Christmas Tradition?
Many of us benefit from Christmas traditions that we did not create. We likely received meaningful customs along the way from parents, friends, or extended family. In my little family, placing a freshly cut fir tree is a near-sacred first step at the beginning of the Advent season.
We watch the “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” sometime prior to the 25th, dine on customary pig-in-blankets, attend worship on Christmas Eve - preferably with a rousing rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus - and open gifts ONLY on Christmas morning, stockings included, at the very end. As cat owners, we also include some traditional gifts for our animal friends (catnip!), which usually results in a feline flurry of energy followed by a long winter’s catnap while the humans can treasure their gifts in peace. Some of these behaviors are banal, and some are profound, but taken together, they add up to meaningful traditions for my family.
I mention all this because I’m a firm believer that we humans are designed to receive truth and meaning through the vehicle of repetition. Every parent with young kids knows that this is how human nature works.
You may be thinking, “Pastor Gregg, I didn’t realize that you were such a traditionalist!” Well, yes – and, no. I’m advocating for leaning into the practices and behaviors that deepen our sense of God’s nearness, Jesus’ love, and our shared bonds. And I’m firmly against continuing practices out of obligation once the original meaning or inspiration has begun to slip away.
For example, I love the tradition of Lessons and Carols. It has been around for 100 years – really not very long in the 2,000-year sweep of church history! We’ll see if it lasts. An equally precious, and even newer, part of Advent is the experience of Behold the Lamb of God (BTLOG) by Andrew Peterson. BTLOG is now more than 20 years old, and we’ve been sharing it around the western suburbs for 11 years already!
I once heard folk singer James Taylor say that he didn’t feel like he knew his own songs until he had performed them live at least 100 times! That’s a lot of repetitions. While we’ve not quite reached that number with BTLOG, we’ve played it on Sunday mornings at church, Sunday evenings around town, Friday evenings in local bars, and even in maximum security prisons across Louisiana and Mississippi. It’s still growing on me, and BTLOG is helping the reality of Jesus’ presence seep a little deeper into my spirit.
Behold the Lamb of God is a new lens on the old, old story of the Gospel: Jesus, born in Bethlehem, Emmanuel, God with us. This Sunday, we’ll do it again. Consider yourself invited.
I wish you both the wealth of tried, true, and meaningful traditions – along with the wonder of some new things breaking through.
– Pastor Gregg