Traditions are one of the great things about any holiday. For us, the May family, on the Fourth of July it is often tradition to get together with friends, eat some potato salad and score some massive burgers, all in anticipation for the big fireworks show. On Thanksgiving, we are often huddled around the table with family, telling the same old stories and expressing our thankfulness for the blessings of God’s provision, as my dad carves up the turkey. And of course there is Christmas, which has really become less of a “holi-day” and more of a “holi-season.” Its traditions are deeply embedded and vast as they take the form of all sorts of religious ceremony and inherited ritual.
Nonetheless, growing up there was always one Christmas tradition that was a favorite for me and my siblings. It happened every Christmas Eve, just before we opened presents–and that was, our reenactment of the nativity. The Christmas tradition of opening presents at the May house always happened following the Christmas Eve service held at my Dad’s church. This was because my parents wanted to keep the next day special for my brother because his birthday was Christmas day. They also wanted to keep our Christmas celebration special by keeping it in close view of the birth of Jesus. So every year, prior to opening presents, we would gather around in the living room and my dad would read to us the nativity story out of Luke.
As my dad read the story, my sister, brother and I would mimic the story with the figurines in our family’s empty nativity. During the reading, as each character was introduced into the story, we would introduce that character into our family’s nativity. We did this until my dad finished reading the story and each character was posed perfectly into the once empty barn. As wonderful of a holiday tradition as this was, there was only one problem. Every year, as siblings do, we would fight–not over who got to open their presents first or whose turn it was to play with the “new toy”–no, we would fight over who got to be baby Jesus. Looking back on this, as much as I find it funny, I find it ironic. I wish I lived my life every day as passionately for Jesus as I fought to play Jesus in our family nativity story.
At Real Life, it has always been the staff’s intention to keep our community’s hearts and minds in the right place through the Christmas season. We have done this with great effort, both in service and in the kids life building with Advent Conspiracy. It is really easy to get caught up in the hoopla of Christmas these days, but Christmas isn’t as much about the presents . . . and the deals . . . and the shopping . . . as it is about being a gift to others because of THE GIFT that we have all been given–Jesus.
Scripture tells us that Jesus was sent into the world not to condemn the world, but to be a gift of saving love and grace to the world. Amazingly, the bible also says that Jesus was gifted to us, while we were still enemies of God.
Whether you are reading this just before Christmas or shortly after, I think as Christians there is a sense in which we are to daily celebrate the Christmas gift of Jesus. In turn, we are to also offer our lives as a gift for others. This is the sort of life that Jesus’ describes in Scripture when he declares that the whole law of God is summed up in two commandments: love God and love others. Therefore, if we are to be a gift to others like Jesus is a gift to us, we must be willing to be a gift of love and grace even to those we are at odds with. What is unique about the Christian Christmas tradition when compared to other holiday traditions is that its a tradition that is suppose to be celebrated throughout the year.
When Kylie and I made the decision to move out to Portland, our heart was that our lives would ultimately become a gift for others. While we moved to a new place to become a gift for others, you can be a gift to someone right where you are. In light of all of the tradition and ritual that surrounds Christmas, may the tradition of gifting yourself in love and grace to others, especially to those you are at odds with, become the Christmas tradition that for you surpasses all other traditions.