The raising of children and traditions

Christmas is commercialized. There is a bundle of Christmas…uh-hum… holiday movies opining about the bottom dollar of “the season.” Never mind that the term “season” or “holiday” is so vague it is a wonder why pop culture is so sure there is a reason to the season. How do they know? So here is Hollywood lamenting the raping of the soul of Christmas by making movies that gross millions. Consider Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Jim Carey. Its domestic gross sales were $260,031,035 with JC earning $34.5 in the starring role. The ability of Hollywood to be so profitable on this topic shows an understanding that the common American experiences some angst come Christmas. Lucy Van Pelt’s sentiment is stirring, “I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes or something like that.” And then “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

And this is where we, as Christians, are missing the boat…err…sleigh. We gaff at Jesus missing from the season. But are we so different? Consider these two comparisons (names have been changed to protect the innocent).

Jack and Jill, who both work on the hill, spend the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in frenzy. The emotions run high as they try to figure out how they are going to fit everyone in – family, friends, and work in both time and money. Each time depression starts to settle in Jill makes a quick dash to the store and spends some cash to raise her moral. The whole family’s self esteem seems to rise to Mt. Mackenzie proportions along with the holiday presents, which used to fit under the Holiday tree. Now they are on the other side of the couch, competing as the iconic symbol of a truly happy holiday. Of course, Jack wakes up every odd day of the week at one in the morning realizing he may have forgot someone – could it be Jill? This possibility only sends him into panic as he races into the office and with the stroke of two fingers – and the blessing of bookmarks – opens up EBay. He mindlessly charges anything that looks like it was intentionally created to reaffirm that a woman’s place is anywhere but in the house – especially the kitchen. Daily, the FedEx guy stops by to drop off more presents, Jill stacks receipts, Jack freaks as he sees the credit card debt build until he races out to buy a triple espresso. Due to excessive jitters he purchases eggnog and bourbon on the way home. They jam their 1.5 kid(s) – not sure if 1.5 should be plural or singular – in the overly sized MINI van and head off to Grandma’s…no wait this time its at Bob’s….or weren’t we renting a club house this year? Oh well, it’s only the last of seven different holiday present exchanges. Jack and Jill spike the kids’ soda with extra sugar just before entry into the house to make sure they are all smiles as presents are torn to shreds. Hugs and kisses given, small pleasantries pretended and everyone goes home. The one thing –the nice thing – that Jack and Jill do, that helps make sense of all the holiday nonsense is that they have a family tradition. They all sit down and watch Grinch together – oh and Miracle on 34th Street and definitely A Christmas Story. Sigh

Barnabas and Chastity also spend the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in frenzy. Not only do they have family, work and friends to worry about, but they also have church (everyone knows you keep friends and church separate – its in the constitution). They barely can figure out how they are supposed to focus on God as the preacher drags on for an extra fifteen minutes. Barney taps his watch impatiently. He looks over and notices his daughter coloring a dinosaur purple. The family begins to succumb to depression as they realize each person will only be able to have five presents this year – apparently someone was lacking in faith. Still, Chastity’s depression is salved off by sneaking some eggnog shake from Sonic while Barney sneaks out for a midnight puff on a fine Cuban cigar (DO NOT ASK HOW HE GOT IT). The family puts up a Christmas tree, nativity, sends out cards, and then….decides its time to tap into ol’ faithful, their trusty credit card. (Well, you would name him too if you only had one the entire time you’ve been married.) Through December they ram all fifteen kids into a car built for two and make their way, day after day, to a different house. They exchange presents and take pleasantries, no wait….they exchange presantries and take pleasants…oh, I give up! The good news is they have a family tradition. Every year they watch Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown and Rudolph and Frosty. It’s so nice to have the family all together, sharing, in one room.

Realize the importance of family traditions. We all have them. Our lives reveal what we value in Christmas. If our time is overwhelmingly focused on ourselves, with presents and busyness then the message our children receive is that holidays – especially Christmas – are about self gratification or family reunions or overeating or enjoying annual shows or anything but Jesus. Most people use the term “raising kids” in a passive sense, almost as if it is our children who raise us. Passive approaches to traditions results in a passive style of rearing our offspring. Bad idea.

God teaches us the importance of being intentional with the raising of children. And we must be intentional, which means being active. We can be active in our traditions as well. God shows us in His Word that there is value in intentional traditions. In Joshua 4.7 God tells the Israelites to build a memorial out of rocks to remind future generations of the crossing of the Jordan River. In 1 Samuel 7.12 Samuel takes a rock and calls it “Ebenezer” (rock of help) as a reminder of what the Lord had done. In Kings, the Israelites took the worship of God with little seriousness. They knew He was to be worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet, they were slow to build His temple and worshipped Him on high places other than Jerusalem (1 Kings 3.3-4). This passive approach to taking God’s directions seriously led to them worshipping the false gods of the area. It was an easy transition because they worshipped their gods on high places on surrounding hills just as the Israelites had taken to worshipping God. In effect, there was no distinction between the worship of God and the worship of the false gods like Asherah or Baal. This building up of memorials a la altars at the wrong locations to different Ancient Near East gods led to the turning of the heart of God’s people away from Him. So much so that Josiah removed an idol of Asherah from the Temple during one reformation (2 Kings 23.6)

The Bible is saturated with the importance of traditions. We have the Passover which reminds all Jews of their deliverance of 400+ years of slavery in Egypt, as well as looks to the promise of the Messiah (Exodus 12.14). We have the Lord’s Supper, which is the culminate Passover meal, which declares the good news every time it is observed (1 Cor 11.26). Every time you take the taste the flour and feel the texture of the brittle cracker in your mouth you are reminded in a tangible way what Jesus accomplished. Every time the tart sweetness of the wine rolls across your tongue you declare the gospel message. Both the Passover in the Old Testament, and the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, were traditions directly commanded by God to be observed.

There is no doubt that we are instructed to take the raising of our children seriously (Prov 22.6; Eph 6.4; Col 3.21). When we look to the biblical example we see traditions that have imagery designed to provoke remembrance in order to prepare for the future, as well as a way to set apart as a way to distinguish significance. It is because we desire to prepare our children for success that we must take traditions seriously.

Here are a few traditions we have been doing or are in the midst of establishing to protect our children from our lazy ways of celebrating. For Thanksgiving, a holiday which was established to give God thanks, we build a memorial akin to what is mentioned in Joshua. Our rocks are much smaller (whew). We have painted some rocks and written specific things on these rocks. These “markers” are things that have occurred in the Bible, early church history, as well as our own lives. Our “markers” include God’s deliverance of His people for Egypt, the building of Solomon’s temple, Luther’s 95 theses and Hurricane Katrina. Each year we touch up the paint and add new ones if need be. Then we set each in the center of our table talking to our daughters about what that specific marker means. After our memorial is built we place the cross in the center reminding us of the single greatest reason – and person – to give thanksgiving.

For Christmas, we build a nativity scene out of construction paper onto a large wall. The scene is about 8 feet long and four feet high. Each night we build a different thing in the nativity and talk about just that one aspect of what begins the most scandalous story in history. The first night is the manger. As we build it, we talk about what a manger is (a stable or a barn or like Charis likes to say “a farm”). We talk about the Creator of the universe, who spoke it into existence, coming down and being born in the most embarrassing of conditions. To think that near his head there were animals “pooping and peeing.” Of course, the whole scene builds. We do the night sky with the stars and THE star. One night we do animals, another shepherds, another the magi, another the angels, another Mary, another Joseph and finally Jesus.

Throughout history there have been the weak, the defenseless, the orphan and widow and sick and poor and homeless. We are the depressed and heart-heavy of the world who cry out for justice in utter despair when none around us can give it. We see countless atrocities via man and nature that our minds cannot grasp. Evil, and the world, for everyone, at some time, makes no sense. One day everyone of my children will be away from my keep and will experience the utter, shocking, cold reality that she is powerless and helpless. At some point she will no longer be smart enough, cunning enough, beautiful enough, strong enough, and rich enough; at some point her daddy will no longer be strong enough or man enough to help her, to protect her. What will she decide that day? Will she turn to alcohol or drugs or sex or novels or TV or another man or politics or exclusion or mental insanity or apathy or satire or failing philosophy such as pragmatism? I hope and pray not. Rather, I pray that as a parent I evidence to her that God redeems, that God saves, that there is good news and His name is Jesus and that if she cries to Him she will be saved. And it all this starts right now by being intentional with traditions.

If you need a few pointers, these are my suggestions:
1. Be intentional in delivery. It needs be something that your children can begin to delineate from other days.
2. Be creative. If you think you lack creativity then check out the web. All I know is that what matters is you spending your time with your children on the specific value you want to reinforce and to do it in a way that speaks to them on their heart and head levels. Kids, paint, glue, construction paper, glitter and scissors really do mix (parental supervision please).
3. Be bold. Do not teach your kids that celebrating of Jesus is something to trivialize, privatize or be embarrassed over. Teach them also that is okay to try new traditions and if you mess up so be it. Try something else next year. Maybe your tradition will be messing up one good tradition a year! If you have teenagers maybe you can do a rap song to get their attention.
4. Be biblical. We do all things for God’s glory – all things. While it is okay to be creative in relaying the story I would advise against revising the story. Trust me – a child can be trained to sit still AND pay attention if you evidence time after time the importance of it. I read Matthew 1 entirely to my 5, 4 and 2 year old tonight and they were asking me questions about the different people when we were done. I know Christians my age that cringe at the genealogy passages. Because of this we miss a huge point in God’s word (tradition and genealogies go hand in hand). Additionally, we are evidencing to them that some parts of Scripture are not important.
5. Pray. Specifically I have in mind two things, but the Spirit may lead other items to you. First, I pray that God would help me worship Him in unbridled appreciation concerning the events we are celebrating so that I do glorify Him and so that my kids see the authenticity of it all. Second, I pray for a lasting effect on my family and myself that we will have the fortitude to not grow weary in doing good concerning these things.

I pray that you will not grow weary in doing good. I pray that God will help you filter the good so that you can focus on the great. Have a Merry Christmas!

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