Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wishing You a Silent Night

It is Christmas Eve and I have spent the day with family in front of a roaring fire working on a Christmas puzzle.  My perfect day of holiday celebration but it does not complete my yearly, holiday desire.

Every year I hope the Christmas season will be more meaningful . . . to me. I look forward to each December, Sunday worship service to enjoy a special closeness with God as we sing carols and revisit the familiar Bible scriptures. I want to look into the clear, cold night sky and have God reveal himself to me in a mighty way. I want to be filled and moved and immersed in the incredible gift we are celebrating . . . but I’m not. Why?

Amy Grant sings the song “I Need a Silent Night” which is an excellent description of what I feel. Even as I mature and grow spiritually the holidays more often seem rushed and tension filled. Reading through holiday cards, articles, blogs, etc. there is no lack of council on the “true meaning of Christmas” and how we should feel, should respond, should behave. I completely agree but never fully achieve these dictates. Why?

Pondering this for yet another year God revealed to me my disobedience. In the midst of making holiday cheer my personal quiet time is lost, my prayers are stunted and brisk and I do less to seek His face during the celebration of His birth. At a time when I want to feel His closeness the most I have turned away seeking holiday fun, cheer, memories in a manner that does not include Him.

The Christmas season should see an increase in my time with Jesus. Quiet time should be an extended priority with more time allotted to read, pray and sit in the presence. This should be a present I give to myself which in the end is a present I give to everyone else. By meeting my own expectations of the season I will prepare myself to meet the expectations that come with the season. It is my own disobedience that robs me of the joy of Christmas.

Others clearly share my dilemma so I will pray for you and for me that we will start each season in continued obedience to Christ with our Bibles in hand, in extended quiet time, sitting in the presence of our Lord while celebrating His birth, perhaps on a silent night after a crazy day.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is it a Tradition or a Rut?

Here we are in the middle of the holiday season; after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. This is a fun time to be out among the masses. People seem quicker with a greeting or kind word. Conversations with strangers are begun with a smile and before I know it we are sharing our holiday plans and traditions. It is fascinating how different the same holiday is celebrated.

Tradition is a common word used when sharing holiday experiences. Young families are encouraged to begin holiday traditions and older adults are steeped in traditions and rituals. As times change and industries evolve rituals also change and evolve. Where once the fireplace, a crackling fire tradition, was in the majority of homes it is replaced by a video, evolved to a DVD, of a roaring fire that will play on your television or computer screen.

While visiting with a friend she shared that she liked to try new things for the holiday meal but had met with opposition from some members of the family. “We don’t usually have that,” was the response. There are those who have gone to great lengths to reproduce specific items. I, myself, have gone the extra mile to keep traditions in place and/or argued when one was missed, replaced or unavailable but when does a tradition become a rut?

A rut is a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising. A tradition that becomes troublesome or uncompromising to the detriment of others can have crossed over to a rut. Are there times when our efforts to continue a tradition have caused others distress or brought conflict to the holiday? Have we, perhaps unknowingly, diminished the celebration of another by our insistence in keeping with tradition?

Traditions are a large part of our celebrations and also a large part of our Christian worship
experiences. Traditions are useful in remembrance and teaching and can provide a strong framework for spiritual growth but these religious traditions, too, can become a rut. Historically denominations have been split and formed over a disagreement in traditions. See the Old-New Side debate as one example.

Justo L. Gonzalez in his The Story of Christianity provides insight on how to escape turning religious tradition into a rut. “One way in which we can avoid this danger is to know the past that colors our vision. A person wearing tinted glasses can avoid the conclusion that the entire world is tinted only by being conscious of the glasses themselves. Likewise, if we are to break free from an undue weight of tradition, we must begin by understanding what that tradition is, how we came to be where we are, and how particular elements in our past color our view of the present. It is then we are free to choose which elements in the past, and in the present, we wish to reject, and which we will affirm.”

At this wonderful time of year when traditions play an important role in our family celebrations and worship be deliberate in the fruits of the spirit and be mindful of Romans 14:20; Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. (NIV)