By David Hegg
I almost didn’t put Christmas lights on the house this year. It wasn’t that I came across some cogent intellectual reason to end the tradition. I was just feeling lazy and didn’t especially relish the idea of getting all the strings out, replacing the broken bulbs or entire strings, and scaling the roof on my increasingly wobbly knees.
And besides, I didn’t put them up last year since none of our kids planned to come home for Christmas, and we didn’t really miss the lights. Or did we?
Honestly, we did miss them. I missed them. More than that, I missed being the kind of man and husband and father that gets the strings out and climbs up on the roof and lights the house so his family and friends are reminded every night that Christmas is a very special time of the year.
So, the day after Thanksgiving, there I was … standing in my driveway surrounded by piles of white-wired, clear icicle lights trying to unwind what appeared to be a tightly wound bramble bush of Christmas tradition.
And as I worked at it – in between runs to Home Depot for all new strings – I was reminded once again why traditions are important. I couldn’t help thinking how my kids and their spouses would smile and tell me how great the lights were when they arrived on Christmas Eve. More than that, with each string I put up, I envisioned my little granddaughters’ eyes as they turned the corner and Papa’s house came into view, all shimmering with golden white lights and wreaths beribboned with Christmas plaid.
Traditions must never be jettisoned as old, if they are worthy traditions in the first place, even though our appreciation of them wanes as we allow their power to be muted by our familiarity with them. The problem is us, not the traditions. The solution is to lift the veil of familiarity, and once again marvel at the deep meaning and sheer delight all significant traditions carry along from one generation to the next.
Christmas is full of these traditions, meant to remind us that events that night outside Bethlehem forever changed human history. Our traditions reach out in the midst of our otherwise mundane lives, and grab our attention, insisting we not treat it like any other season. The lights remind us of the angelic choir that split the night with their announcement of the Savior’s birth. The traditional carols give our hearts a voice to sing and celebrate the miracle of “God with us.” The special cookies, breads, and candy tell the children good times have come, and when they wonder why, we have great teaching moments in which to explain to them the wonderful story of God’s great gift to mankind.
And, of course, the gifts almost certainly take center stage among the traditions. Yet, in this case we must be careful not to let the manipulative consumerism of our day run roughshod over the deeper meaning of Christmas, or over our checkbooks. Our gifts for one another must remind us that Christmas commemorates the day God fulfilled his age-old promise to send the Savior whose mission it would be to win a great victory over death and sin, and provide a means of rescue for all of us mired in them.
So, I challenge you to take a fresh look at the Christmas traditions. Take a walk and look at the lights. Attend a Christmas concert or play. And pull your Bible from the shelf and read the story in Luke 2 of the first Christmas Eve.
This year I’m committed to singing the carols as though for the first time, and actually reading the many Christmas cards we’ll receive from friends and family around the world. I’m also going to brave the mall on some of the busiest days just to join in the hustle and bustle of the season.
And most of all, one still dark night, I’m going to bundle up my granddaughters and walk outside to let them squeal and smile at the sights of Papa’s lights. After all, traditions are best enjoyed when viewed afresh through the eyes of the young. And maybe that’s where traditions matter most.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a local resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.