I think most people would agree Christmas is no longer primarily a religious and spiritual observance, but a major cultural event. And this isn’t all bad. Christmas often becomes an open door into the church for many people who don’t know anything about Jesus or his teachings. But the sheer volume of Christmas in our culture does make it harder, even for those in the church, to remember what our celebration is really all about.
A while back I read a story that illustrates how this can happen – despite our best intentions. The story is about a young couple that was separated by the Korean War. The young man was drafted into the army and sent overseas. Soon after he left, his wife discovered she was pregnant and it wasn’t long until a son was born.
During the three years the father was gone, the mother established a bedtime ritual in which the boy gave a goodnight kiss to a framed picture of his daddy. They did this every night – so the boy would always remember his father who loved him, but who was so far from home. On the day the father finally returned, there was a great celebration.
That night, after everything had quieted down, the young couple got their son ready for bed. First, the boy ran and gave his mother a ig goodnight kiss. Then, the boy ran across the room, right past his father who was standing there with open arms, and kissed the old picture goodnight, before running happily off to bed.
Every family and every church have Christmas traditions that are often deeply meaningful. We use these traditions and rituals to honor God and celebrate God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ. But it is important for us to remember our traditions, no matter how old or beautiful, are symbols that point beyond themselves to Something and Someone else.
The Living Christ is a reality among us. The Spirit of God guides our lives and draws us together in love. Any tradition or symbol that helps us to remember that is a good one – no matter how simple or childlike it might be. However, in this season of ritual and tradition, let us be careful not to run past the reality of God’s presence only to embrace a symbol. God’s light is coming into our world’s darkness. May we, then, be people of light.