A few days ago I placed an order on a well-known website for something my kids will be really happy to get this Christmas. Unfortunately, the next day I realized I’d selected the wrong form of payment, and a whopping dollar amount had been withdrawn right out of my checking account. Concerned, I attempted to find contact information for the seller through various links to no avail. Finally, I found a link which allowed me to request customer service call me within minutes to sort out my issue. I’ve had this trouble before with this seller which has left me feeling like maybe they don’t want to talk to me or any of their customers very much, not really, if at all. When it comes down to it, though, they are just plain hard to reach when I need them.
Working at a church as I do, Christmas is like the Superbowl of the year. In the weeks leading up to the candlelight service, I’m ordering bobeches (my new favorite word) and making sure we have an Advent wreath and candles. There is no question, as we enter this season of expectation of whether God will show up. For he is already here, with us. These traditions all remind me of this.
At this time of year when emotions and expectations are heightened, I find myself longing for the predictability of past traditions but realizing that I need to make new ones. Since the end of my marriage to someone with whom I spent nearly 20 Christmases, I sometimes find myself caught off guard when that longing for the familiarity of old rituals bubbles up. I lost not just that relationship but, also, the ease of counting on the ones that came with it through my former extended family to be a part of the festivities as well. Then suddenly Christmas is here, and I’m wondering what I can count on anymore, what’s worth holding on to? What is still mine?
Somehow, I think traditions are a way we all inadvertently cope during a season that is often overtaken by busy schedules and the pressure to buy, buy, buy. We may struggle to know how to be with the ones we love for strained relationships or bad family memories compromise our ability to experience joy. We may ache with longing for the ones who are no longer with us. Traditions offer a no-brainer option to steal away to something we know, something we choose, something that is accessible to us without having to think too much. Traditions provide a way for us to be together. We may not know how to talk to our families about the heavier stuff, but hanging that favorite ornament from Aunt Hilda on the tree takes us to a happier, less-complicated place. We may miss our loved ones who cannot be with us for death or distance impede them, but we can remember them when we bake their favorite cookies. The aromas, the rituals, the sounds of our traditions all serve to blanket our longings.
The words of a favorite Christmas song by Amy Grant have been ringing in my ears this morning, “Emmanuel, God with us.” Not unreachable, not inaccessible but, rather, knowable, touchable. God has come. In the softness of a newborn babe, God came to earth and left us with a holy moment that has been preserved in the tradition of Christmas. May we each steal away to the comfort of Christmas and remember that into a time of instability and questionable politics, God broke through. Emmanuel, God with us.
**Originally posted December 23, 2015**