This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
So there’s ten days until Christmas.
Somehow a day so awaited by many seems to come faster than expected and disappear at the same rapid pace.
So we try to stretch it. Spread the Christmas season to a month, and make the expectation of that month to feel special and bursting with holiday spirit. Top the Christmas presents with several bows, put more sprinkles on the cookies, and sing the carols extra loud.
But somehow all the Christmas traditions in the world won’t make Christmas feel joyful. And there’s a void somewhere in your heart, aching for that idealistic Christmas that maybe you experienced as a child. The cookies have to be made in a certain way. The right music has to be played. The tree must be a fresh one from the neighborhood lot – heaven forbid an artificial tree brought into the home. Traditions must be kept perfectly to make my Christmas perfect, and if they aren’t – the Christmassy mood is ruined. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas.
Far too often I’ve let my joy be robbed by expectations. But by building a list of how things should be, and basing my hopes and future pleasure on the fulfillment of that list, there is no room to rejoice in what I already have. I have stolen opportunities for contentment by standing unmoved in my expectation for things to happen my way. And I hide this selfish absorption with getting what I want under the guise of tradition.
I grew up in a tradition following family, especially when it came to Christmas. There were things that had to be done, or it wouldn’t be Christmas.
As if we could stop Christmas from coming by putting up an artificial tree, or making a different kind cookie than usual, or neglecting to go from youngest to oldest to collect our stockings in the morning.
I love these traditions. They create a constancy that we crave in a the midst of change and transition. But as valuable as they are, they can become a hinderance to joy when valued too much. We can begin to cling to them too tightly, and in our effort to maintain a grip on making things how they used to be, we miss out on celebrating how things are now. By closing our fist around the old ways, we are closing our eyes to the newness God has in store.
So when I got married and spent Christmas away from my childhood home for the first time I had a choice. I could willfully hang on to the traditions and let Christmas be stollen from me if they weren’t carried out correctly, or I could let go of traditions and celebrate Christmas in new ways. To release it from its box and rejoice in the season regardless of the fake Christmas tree that stood barely four feet tall.
Because Christmas will come whether we mark it with tinsel or not. Just like it did in Whoville, coming without ribbons, tags, packages, boxes or bags.
Because Christmas isn’t about how we celebrate. It is about what we celebrate. The birth of our savior, coming to rescue us from the bondage of sin, coming redeem us from the corruption we wallow in.
So I’m throwing out tradition this year. I’m throwing out expectations. I’m releasing my desire for things to go my way. And I’m throwing back my head and shouting with joy. Because no matter what we do, Christ is coming.