Tis the season of Christmas trees, little snow men, and lots of controversy. As with many holidays, Christmas brings with it a sleigh full of traditions. And every December, we Christians must spend some time unpacking them all. We must all decide whether or not an elf can sit on our shelf, whether or not a fat man can slide down our chimney, and whether or not we will stick a tree in our living room. We determine for our family which traditions bring Christ glory and which ones are really nothing more than spiritual coal. So how do we do this? How do we figure whether or not Jesus likes our traditions?
If you noticed there is actually no list of approved Christmas traditions in the Scriptures. That section just does not exist.
In fact, the best way to evaluate Christmas traditions is to skip pass the traditional Christmas passages and to land on I Corinthians 8-10. From this passage, we can shed a good deal of clarity on our Christmas traditions and determine which ones are worth repacking for 2016.
Do Not Sin
I know this may sound simple, but it is worth repeating. As much as Christmas is designed to be a season of light, it can include many dark and disturbing traditions. Once while working at a large bookstore, I observed a woman buying a playboy calendar for her husband. As she shopped, I heard her tell her friends that she and the other ladies in her family frequently bought playboy merchandise for their significant others each Christmas. Sadly traditions like this are far too common during the holidays. As believers, we must forsake all sinful things. Paul explicitly tells us that in I Corinthians 10:14 that we are to “flee from idolatry.” We are to flee from things that will keep us from Christ. We are to flee from sexually immorality, drunkenness, and greed. Any tradition that promotes idolatry, the worship or celebration of anything other than God, must be avoided. We cannot participate in them. If a tradition leads to or promotes sin, unplug you and your family from it.
But what if a tradition does not directly contradict a Scriptural command?
Think About Your Neighbor
When you hang lights, celebrate Santa Clause, or preach street sermons against the evils of Rudolph, what is your heart? Are you driven by a love for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you celebrating Santa to get under your self-righteous neighbors’ skin? Or are you condemning, you neighbors’ reindeer display in order to show everyone your spirituality?
Regardless of where we fall on traditions, our heart should always be to seek the good of our neighbors. We should always seek peace and unity when tackling the grey issues of Santa Clause, the Grinch, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special. We can both embrace and reject these traditions without sinning. But if our placement of a little red elf or the use of a tree is going to cause division in our churches, we can give them up. And if our neighbor sees nothing wrong with a tradition and is not sinning by singing Frosty the Snow Man, we can stuff our criticism back in the bag. We can simply sing along. But if someone says they teach their kids about Santa Clause to manipulate the behavior, we can address it in love. But at the end of the day, we do should not use traditions to divide ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ. They should bring us together. If they do not, we very well may have knowledge and no love. We may very well criticize others and tell them how right we are and all the while miss the very crux of the gospel as seen in the Christmas story. As Paul says in Romans 8:2, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” If we think we have a monopoly on how to best celebrate Christmas, we have missed the fact Christ came to save and redeem us from our sin. Jesus did not come to celebrate our self-righteousness. Embrace your traditions with humility.
Most importantly, we must ask ourselves, “Does this tradition glorify God?” For example, one family may give gifts to highlight that Jesus is the greatest gift of all, using Christmas gifts as a spring board for making much of Jesus. Another family, my give gifts because it is the only way they know of to keep their kids from fighting during Christmas break. Both families are doing the exact same thing. And they could be exchanging the exact same gifts. But the first family honors God and the second does not. In short what may be a bad tradition for one family may be a great tradition for another family. The way to tell is to see what the tradition brings out. Does it bring out praise to God? Or does it bring out praise for ourselves, our kids, or our worldliness?
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God – 1 Corinthians 10:31
What Matters Most?
At the end of the day, heart attitudes and actions are what matters. What is permissible for one family maybe wrong for another. Instead of seeking to judge and condemn others, we should seek to promote unity and the glorify God with our traditions. If singing Jingle Bells does this, we can keep singing. But if those ol’ bells result in grandma getting run over by a reindeer, it is time to let them go!
What traditions does your family like to celebrate?