Holidays and Traditions

As we consider how to live before God by faith in Jesus Christ, we must maintain a long-term, multi-generational vision. How do we want our grandchildren to serve the Lord? In a First Things magazine article, “Christianity Face to Face with Islam,” Robert Louis Wilken considers the rise and staying power of Islam since 700. How to fight it? “Energy and enthusiasm are no substitute for deep roots, vital and durable institutions, and a thick and vibrant culture.”

This is what we are after. We have come through a period of history watching Christian institutions (denominations, schools, churches, etc.) slide into liberalism, and we have lost much faith in institutions and traditions. We think the Reformation removed churchly authority, when it really put it in its proper place. This mindset includes our holidays. When we reject the holidays which the world commercializes, we are kicking out from under us the very stabilizing elements we need to build a Christian culture that can promote multi-generational faithfulness.

Family provides the primary, but not the sole means of cultural stability. Very few parents have all the resources they need themselves to raise their children to maturity. We buy curriculum, we go to church. We also celebrate holidays that we didn’t originate. We can strengthen the family by using “durable institutions, deep roots, thick culture.” Our annual feasts are one of those strands. There was wisdom in the annual feasts God gave Israel, but they are no longer binding on God’s people (Col 2:16), and the sacrifices embedded in them are now set aside (Heb 7-10). As the law has died and risen with Christ, so have these feasts. The principles of the law abide, and the church for 2000 years has cultivated this in tangible ways, one being Christmas.

The direct impact of a nuclear family upon a generation lasts about 20 years. If the children are faithful they carry it on for another 20 years with their own children. These “little platoons” are the foundation of society. Churches, schools, Boy Scouts, companies large and small, governments local and federal, and our holidays all are built upon, yet transcend, families. The direct impact of a faithful Christian institution like Harvard, the Presbyterian church or a government lasts an average of 80 or 100 years before going corrupt. They are a strata of society built upon the family that gets the whole building built. It needs constant remodeling, as family integrity is currently crumbling.

We can no longer look to the mainstream media for reliable and objective news. They have become too corrupt. As has Harvard. But we still need to find good news and good education. We just don’t have national examples that everyone can look to reliably. We need to look closer to home for good examples, and we aren’t used to doing that. So we think we have to do it all ourselves. But there are examples, in our church or neighborhood, or school, or homeschool co-op. We can no longer look to our culture for good direction on how to celebrate Christmas. There was a time the culture looked to the Church for that direction, but I wouldn’t recommend that today, honestly. And just at the time when we need a "thick culture" the most, we are rejecting traditions that can help us so much.

So let us treasure and uphold edifying human traditions like Christmas. This is why we have “Heritage” in our church name – it refers to our historical heritage passed on to us by our Church fathers. Such traditions are not binding upon us, but often useful in expressing our faith corporately, even if they aren’t commanded in Scripture. I believe Jesus Himself participated in such traditions (John 10:22-23). Does “Christmas” mean Christ mass, as in the Roman Catholic mass? Yes. This does not mean the holiday is hopelessly entwined with erroneous Roman doctrine – it is not. In fact the central fact of Christmas, the Son taking on human flesh, helps us fight the error that physical things work against the spiritual.

Let us give thanks for holidays that prompt us to remember the work of Christ on our behalf. Let us foster in our families an annual celebration of the gift God gave the world.

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