Ask anyone in my family and they’ll tell you—probably with a wry smile—how much I love traditions. I want things to be done like they always have been. Especially at Christmas.
Even as my family circumstances have changed over the years I’ve tried to keep our traditions going as best as I can—as both my sisters married, one moved interstate, and my parents travelled over the holidays.
Cherishing traditions can be a good thing. They keep us spending time together, and remind us of the great times we’ve had as a family in the past. They’re a tool to love each other better. Throughout our childhood my sisters and I would read two special books together on Christmas Eve, alternating pages as we all read aloud. Then we’d lock ourselves in one room for the night, waiting for the thrilling morning.
Now, even though we can’t all be in the same room, we keep up the tradition of reading those books together over a video call. It helps us to connect when the busyness of life has made that difficult. To make it even more special, my nieces get to be part of the tradition as well.
But we can put too much hope and joy in good things. This is certainly true of my love for Christmas traditions. When my traditions are disrupted, as they have been over the years, my heart is revealed as I respond with irritation or fear.
I resent it when my traditions are changed, when others’ circumstances or preferences mean that I can’t have things the way they always were. I get irritated when people won’t just fall into line with my plans. I place myself at the centre of the traditions—at the centre of Christmas—and think that what I want is clearly the best thing. And so I react sinfully against others, when traditions are meant to be about kindling and preserving love.
I also feel anxious when I just consider a future where my traditions will be vastly different. What if I never get married, and so I can’t pass my traditions onto my own children? What if my friend doesn’t have time for our annual gingerbread house decorating day? What if I move away, or my family does, so I’m left alone to trim the tree or watch festive films? What happens when my grandparents pass away, and all my traditions with them are lost forever?
A longing for constancy is hardwired into me as a human being (Ecclesiastes 3:11). But the problem with my Christmas traditions is that I’m looking for constancy in the wrong place. I’m feeding the lie that I can control what happens in my life, and everything will be okay if things stay the same.
I look back for security, trying to cling on to my memories from an easy and wonderful childhood. But you can’t cling to the past like that. Things are going to keep changing, and I’m asking for misery if I rely on traditions to make me happy.
Instead, I should be looking forward. The promises God makes about my future in the Bible are the only true source of constancy. Consider this promise:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3–4)
While I preserve the traditions which still effectively bring me together with my family and friends, this year I want to practice holding the others a little looser for the sake of love. Knowing the perfect, imperishable life which lies ahead frees me to do this.
You might call it a Christmas resolution. If I need to be flexible, I want to do it with joy. Instead of insisting on my preferences, I’m free to yield in love because of the perfect eternity which lies ahead of me. When this is hard, I can “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Even though this vision of eternity is a wonderful hope, we actually have something more. We don’t have to wait till after death to find constancy. We have a relationship with God right now, and his character is unchanging:
“Forever, O Lord, your word
is firmly fixed in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89)
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
He is my foundation through all the changes in my life.
When my parents are away for the decorating, the meals, and the present exchange, I can rejoice in constant presence of God in me by his Spirit.
When my sisters have plans separate from me with their husbands and in-laws, I can find fellowship and certainty in communing with Jesus.
When work and other responsibilities keep me from watching all my usual Christmas movies, I can rejoice in the certainty of the best story: the redemption God is bringing to the world through his Son.