Thursday, December 15, 2016

Timeless Traditions

Christmas is a challenging season for both ministers and retailers, who face all the same stresses and strains that this season brings to everyone, while having to manage a surge in activity at work. I try not to mention this to my wife, though, who looks after virtually all of the gift shopping, food planning, and scheduling for family events, since she has never shown much sympathy for my mostly self-inflicted holiday stress. In fact, I sometimes think she judges me when I’m still signing Christmas cards as she’s preparing to head out the door to go to our extended family gathering on Christmas Eve.

As a minister, both lay and ordained, I have conducted about three dozen Christmas services over the years and I have participated in a handful more. For about a decade, I was working in retail at the same time, so I was often dashing home from a busy day at work before turning my attention to composing a Christmas sermon or selecting readings and hymns. Some years, I had to come up with two different services, while there have been only a couple of years when I was free from pulpit responsibilities at Christmas. 

Somewhere around my tenth Christmas service, I lost heart. It was around that time that I realized I had nothing new to say, although the religious tradition I served (and still serve) prizes novelty and creativity. I now recognize that few of us are as original as we like to imagine, but, at the time, I was almost paralyzed by the fear that I had already used up my most clever ideas. It never occurred to me that my congregants’ memories were likely no better than my powers of creativity. It was another ten Christmases before I realized that I could have preached the same sermon after three or four years and nobody would have noticed.

That’s when it finally sunk in that the Yuletide isn’t about novelty, it’s about timeless traditions, whatever traditions we hold dear. This season calls us back to the old and familiar, to fond memories of bygone days and an abiding hope for the future, to the universal longing for peace and goodwill to all. Timeless truths don’t lend themselves to novelty, but they do bear repeating.

As I prepare for Christmas this year, I won’t worry about repeating myself – I’ll do so with relish. So let’s settle in and embrace the familiar: the old songs, the warm memories, the familiar foods, the revered scriptures, the heartfelt rituals – all the timeless traditions that give our lives meaning.

This post appears as the editorial in the December 15, 2016, issue of Lögberg-Heimskringla.

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