Advent Traditions

Christmas is dead. Long live Christmas

This is the second Christmas I’ve been married for. We’ve poked our fingers into the clay of tradition, but haven’t formed anything permanent. I love this phase. Building traditions for a new family is like building a world. It’s like building a way to see the world.

Our Christmas traditions are not finished yet. We’re still working through the idea phase. Where did we start? We looked at how Christmas had been used in our lives before.

As important as trees and Santa may have been to us as kids (that’s just a cliche, the only thing that perplexes me more than an interest in Santa is the nonsense of believing he exists; even as a kid I found my classmates’ credulity disturbing), these types of items meant very little to us as adults. We weren’t about to just continue (odd) practices for the sake of tradition.

So we looked at them. Why put a tree in your house? Well, I won’t bore you with the long version. Many hours were spent reading and discussing our findings for all things Christmas. Let’s tell the short version like this: One of us wanted to reject the whole pagan event. The other wasn’t too sure about the theology of that position, but didn’t mind not having to deal with the hassle of bringing a pine tree into the house for the next forty or so years.

That’s a bit jokey, I admit. Okay. It only dances around the truth of it. It might be closer to say that a Christian has three options regarding cultural practices/events. You can reject, receive, or redeem. (I get this from Mars Hill). One member of my new family was leaning hard towards reject. The other, as usual, leaned toward redeem.

We met in the middle. Sort of.

A New Christmas

We decided to continue celebrating Christmas. At the very least, it’s a great time for evangelism as the name of the Savior is on the lips of many, even the unbelieving many. Taking a page from Church tradition, and heavily inspired by our mentor family (!), we started building our family’s version of Christmas from the ground up. Santa makes you mad? Dump him. Eggnog is yucky? Dump it in the sink!

From the ground up. So what’s Christmas all about? Tough question. When you ask that, you get into why we do anything special right around the Winter Solstice. And then you start getting into some murky historical and theological waters.

So let’s not start from the ground up. Let’s make just one assumption: we’ll celebrate/acknowledge/proclaim/reflect on the concept of the Incarnation in December.

With this one piece to build on, we started to ask ourselves questions about how best to celebrate it. The life of Christ is called the Fullness of Time (by Paul, in Galatians 4:4,5). So events that happened before it must have been building up to it, the way a story builds action and suspense towards the climax. If Christmas day marks the birth of Jesus, then we can spend December reviewing the story of why He even needed to be born!

Reviewing the Old Testament became part of our Christmas last year. We chose to include the Jesse Tree, a tracking of Jesus’ lineage so named because Christ is called the Root of Jesse in Isaiah 11 and quoted in Romans 15:12. We played with the traditional list of names. We picked twenty-four of Christ’s ancestors who have a story in the Bible or a strong image associated with their name.

Last year, we painted a Jesse Tree onto a large canvas. I read as my wife illustrated the symbol for the character. Each day’s reading could last up to two hours. We stayed up past 2 am talking about Jacob one night.

The painting she produced sits in our house all year. In front of it stands the statue of Moses that used to sit in my parents’ house. Next to that, a bust of David that came from my wife’s childhood home. We hope to procure a statue of Zechariah or some other priest to complete the theme of Prophet, King, and Priest.

What we’re adding this yeartree

This year, the painting sits behind a real tree that was used earlier this year as a wedding decoration by our dear friends. On this real tree, a new ornament is placed daily. Each day sees us reading about the life of another of Christ’s ancestors and making a new ornament to represent this person.

The list is a bit different this year, but the spirit of the event is the same.

Given our concentration of the story of Christ’s necessity and His coming, we have included other stories in our Advent ceremonies. First of all, we’ve given up TV during the week during December. It’s too easy to get caught up in a marathon and miss out on the non-TV things we want to do.

In addition to the Bible, I’ve been reading pertinent portions of G. Campbell Morgan’s excellent The Unfolding Message of the Bible to supplement the stories. Further supplementation comes from the 1966 movie The Bible. I don’t think we’ll ever watch that movie again. The Adam and Eve stuff is a little … unashamed. It’s also s-u-p-e-r slow-moving.

All stories find their source in the narrative of redemption. A hero must come to the rescue. An unlikely peasant rises to become the greatest hero of them all. Joy is brought to a sad world through a substitutionary death. We tell this story in comics, movies, sports games, opera, wherever. Because this story of Christ coming to save His world is the source for all stories, we’re reading a few other stories to punctuate our Christmas season.

A chapter of the first of The Lord of the Rings books is read nightly. The need for a King is sighed throughout the whole of the story and the hateful presence of the evil Ring must be dealt with.

We’re also reading Calvin Miller’s beautiful (and theologically dubious, at least so far) trilogy The Singer, The Song, and The Finale. It’s a gorgeous read, but it strongly suggests (even though it’s not an explicit retelling of the Gospel, but a mythic retelling) that Jesus Christ wasn’t aware of His divinity or purpose until His baptism. It’s a neat idea, but the Scripture doesn’t allow for that.


Anyway, what else…

No TV during the week, but we do have a select list of movies/TV shows that we’ll watch on the weekends. These are meant to be meaningful to the rest of December’s Advent activities. I’ll list them as we watch them.

So there’s a little glimpse into my life. A lot of Bible and a lot of talking. Go figure.

What are some of your traditions? I’d love to hear what other brothers and sisters do to mark Advent, as we’re still building our tradition base. Maybe we’ll end up borrowing one of your ideas!

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