“Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish. And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.’”—–Isaiah 29:13-14
“And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,’ he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”—–Matthew 15:3-6
Traditions. We all have them in some way. Some traditions have been around for a long time, others may be relatively new. Nonetheless, traditions can either be helpful or hurtful depending on what and why they are done.
The reason why I think it is important to write about traditions is that since we are in the midst of the busy holiday months, many traditions begin to make their appearance. Traditions bring back fond memories for many and bring people together around a certain purpose. Traditions happen both inside and outside the Church.
For those that believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, this time of year is a time to reflect on Jesus coming to earth in the flesh to teach us the Truth and as a sacrifice for our sins. For those outside the Church, people celebrate Christmas in many other ways. But what separates true Christians from the rest is the celebration of Christ coming to earth.
Churches this time of year are in full swing preparing for the usual uptick of people going to Christmas Services. Just like Easter, many people pour great time and resources into these events. The hope is to celebrate with fellow believers and for the opportunity to share about Jesus with those that happen to come to churches only a few times a year.
Pastors are tirelessly preparing sermons. People are making church sanctuaries to have the look and feel of Christmas with lights, wreaths, and nativity scenes. For some, Advent traditions have begun. Drama teams are working on their plays depicting Christ’s birth. Others may also be preparing for their live nativities with farm animals and the like.
These traditions may just be the tip of the iceberg for many. People are also running around with Christmas parties for work, school, and other groups. The lights on the house are being put on and Christmas trees are being put up and decorated. All the decorations one could possibly want are being drug out from the basement and storage areas are being unpacked and placed around the house. Malls and stores are packed with people hurrying to finish buying gifts; and spending a lot of money they may or may not have to do so.
Christmas cookies, Christmas music, Christmas cards and letters, turkey and ham dinners, and much much more always make it feel like a “special” time of year. But sadly for most, Christmas and all these traditions are simply a fleeting dream of memories and a warm “feeling” that happen each year. Christ ends up being lost and then all the sudden it’s the new year.
So what are we to make of all these traditions??
It may be said that some traditions can be of great value. In the Church, however, many things have been lost because traditions have often overshadowed the Truth. People end up doing things because we have been told, “that’s just the way things are done”. Instead of the careful examination of why we do what we do, it has become commonplace for these traditions to become the focus itself rather than the means to really help us focus on faith and obedience to Christ throughout the entire year.
I would greatly contend that many traditions have and will continue to be a great stumbling block in the Church. People may have had good intentions for their traditions to begin with, but much of what we see today is nothing deeper than what we see on the surface. Like the passages above from Isaiah and Matthew, they talk about having the appearance of faithfulness, but are devoid of true obedience to God. While people can talk the talk or even look like of followers of the Lord, people lose sight that God cares far more about how people are living their faith the rest of year than these seemingly important traditions we put on for holidays like Christmas.
It would be beneficial for each of us to take a look at the traditions we each have and evaluate if they are really necessary. I think what we may find is that we could do without many of the things we commit to each year and better use our time to focus on living out our faith and obedience to the Lord; not just picturing Jesus in a manger. We don’t have to ditch traditions just because we have traditions, but we must be careful that we don’t end up consumed by them. Just as we made them or continued them, we can also push them aside for the greater purpose of keeping our focus on the real reason Jesus came to earth; to save sinners just like each of us.
My hope is that in challenging our traditions, we will leave every hindrance behind to focus on Christ and our faith and obedience to Him. We may focus on Jesus’ birth at Christmas and Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter, but as for true believers, we must strive live out this reality each day as we also seek to share our faith with others. May the Lord be glorified through each of us as we celebrate Him this Christmas and each day after.