Traditions with purpose

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14

Joel C. Seifert

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we light the candles on our Advent wreath as part of our evening devotions. Every year my wife warms ham, cheese, and mustard sandwiches in the oven for us to eat as we open Christmas presents after our Christmas Eve service. On Christmas morning, we put on church clothes one more time as we go to celebrate the birth of our King.

Our tradition for Dec. 26 is a little simpler: We recover. We hunt down the last scraps of wrapping paper and throw them in the recycling bin. We graze on leftovers. We call the loved ones we didn’t connect with on Christmas Day. We nap.

God’s love entered a world of pain

It’s so different from what Christ’s life was like after Christmas. I marvel whenever I read the Spirit’s words through St. John, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” I marvel at God’s love in making his home among his people.

But “among us” doesn’t just mean being adored by his loving mother and stepfather and some wondering shepherds. From the moment of his first breath, Jesus was living in a sinful, pain-filled world. Even as a baby, Christ lived the perfect life that we haven’t lived. As a toddler, he found himself on the run when Herod ordered the murder of the infants of Bethlehem.

We minister in the same world

It’s good for us to remember that, because God calls us to serve in the same world. Christmas doesn’t mean that everything is perfect and happy. It means that God’s love is living and active in a world filled with sin and sorrow. He lived among us. We still live here.

Maybe some old Christmas traditions can help us remember that. Three traditional “minor festivals” fall on the first three days after Christmas. On Dec. 26, the church remembers Stephen, the first martyr of the New Testament church, stoned for his faithful witness to Christ. On Dec. 27, we remember the apostle John. After decades of preaching God’s love in Christ, he lived in exile on a prison island. Dec. 28 marks the commemoration of the “Holy Innocents,” the children of Bethlehem who were killed in Herod’s mad rage.

It seems like such a jarring tradition: Following the joy of Christmas, you see a world’s evil—and God’s people in the middle of it. But it’s good for us to see that.

Celebrate Christmas. Then consider a few “new” post-Christmas traditions. The day after Christmas, set aside some time to pray for those whose ministry puts them in harm’s way. Pray for your brothers and sisters living in nations that lock up faithful Christians. Pray for our world, where madmen still rage and hurt people and where even little children are cut down without cause. Pray that abortion would come to an end, that adoptions would increase, and that we’d truly love children the way God intends.

It may seem jarring in the days after Christmas. After all, aren’t we supposed to be focusing on Jesus? Indeed, we are. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Contributing editor Joel Seifert is pastor at Shining Mountains, Bozeman, Montana.


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Author:Joel C. Seifert
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

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