Christmas is full of tradition. Just think for a moment, we have turkey, presents and a whole heap of over indulgence. As soon as summer is waning the tradition is for shelves to fill with all the things tradition assumes we should have and want for Christmas. As we all know, we’re lucky if Jesus gets a mention. But my issue is what happens when he does get a mention. Is the church as guilty as the high street when it comes to Christmas and tradition?
A few months back I finally got around to reading Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Cultural Studies in the Gospels, by Kenneth Bailey. The opening section of that book takes a good look at the Christmas story and what the Bible text says. I won’t spoil it, because you should read it yourself, but it does throw a lot of light on what the Church says and puts on over the Christmas period. It would seem that most nativity plays are as Bible-based as late-night opening in December.
The thing is, when it comes to tradition, that is to be expected. That is the whole point of tradition, it is something that is always done. Life is full of traditions, and not just at Christmas. There are New Year resolutions, the annual holiday, and even, considering the Jubilee celebrations this year, the Monarchy.
As I thought about the Christmas tradition it made me think of broader Christian traditions. How much of what you and I do is tradition? How much of what we accept as Christian is just tradition?* Throughout church history people have challenged tradition. The reformation, counter-reformation, the non-conformist and dissent movements of the 17th century onwards, and the house church movement have all questioned what was being handed to them.
- So what are we challenging today?
- What is God wanting to say to this generation?
- More importantly, are we listening or are we just accepting what is being handed down to us through tradition?
- How do we know what God is saying?
My spiritual tradition suggests that I should always start with the Bible and that’s what I do, but perhaps the way I approach the Bible is bound up with tradition that needs challenging too.
Christmas goes hand in hand with tradition, christianity likewise. But perhaps, at this time of tradition, it is the moment to let go and reach for something new and listen to God.