Dr. Steve Clements – Advent Week 2 - “Seasonal Traditions Old and New”

December 09, 2013

“For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.  The government will rest on His shoulders.  And He will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of His ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” – Isaiah 9: 6-7 (NLT).

I have been reflecting of late on the traditions in my life and family associated with the Christmas holiday season—or perhaps I should say the inconstancy of our traditions over the years.  Of course, we have the requisite tree and gifts in our home, along with some meals shared with family and close friends.  We travel for a few days to see relatives in other states.  We have some favorite movies we watch together during that time.  We rest and enjoy the break, however long or short it might be.  We try to keep the stress level low.  These are regular features of Christmas time for us.

But our corporate religious traditions of the season as a family have been scattered and various, depending on our stage in life, our geographic location, and on the shifting approaches our churches have taken to celebrating Christ’s incarnation.  Some years we have experienced choir musicals or dramatic productions, other years Christmas Eve services, and still others a special dinner or memorable Advent sermon series.  Some of these we attend, and others we miss due to travel schedules or other conflicts.  As a result, our church celebration of the season tends to look quite different from year to year, and so I am hard pressed to say we have a firm church “tradition” at Christmas.  I would guess a great many American families have had versions of this experience, given our great mobility, our shifting culture, and our constant national search for the next best thing—these all tend to militate against well established traditions.

What has become a tradition for me personally is to spend time each Advent season with Handel’s Messiah, which I first encountered in my college years but fully absorbed around 1990, when I purchased a CD set of the oratorio performance and began playing it over and over.  As the glorious 250-year-old music and scriptural message of Messiah fills the office, the car, and the kitchen during the holidays, I am reminded anew of the disruption of history that the birth of the messiah represents, and the larger gospel message of Christ’s atonement for our sin and brokenness. 

This is presumably the purpose of a legitimate Christmas tradition.  I appreciate having this one, even if the ethos of the modern era makes establishing enduring seasonal traditions difficult.  And I expect to be asking friends this season about what they consider to be their own traditions at this time of year.

- Dr. Steve Clements, Associate Professor of Political Science

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