Does Jesus Like My Christmas’ Traditions?

christmas-traditionsTis 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.

 

Three Principles:

Do Not Sin

charlie-brown-christmasI 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?

frostysnowman-231x300Regardless 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.

 

Glorify God

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?

Don’t Murder The Elf

don't kills the elfYesterday’s blog on the manipulative power of the Elf struck a nerve with many of you. Some of you of were supportive; others were dismissive, and many were somewhere between the two polls.

Traditions: The Good and The Bad 

Before we go any farther, let me remind everyone that I am only calling for the shelving of the elf. I am not advocating for its execution. Holiday traditions are just that, traditions. And I like them. I grew up observing a whole host of fun things in December. Ultimately, what makes or breaks a tradition is the hearts and motives of those who employ it. 

The Elf’s Motive

The Elf on the Shelf can easily be used to manipulate kids at Christmas. The founders of the Scout Elf brand wrote: “All it took was a gentle reminder that the “”scout elf is watching”” for errant behavior to be modified.” You don’t have to use the elf this way. But, it can be. 

The elf can be used to coerce your kid’s behavior. It’s creators even encourage us to do so. If we (Christians) do buy into the elf’s methodology, we miss the beauty of Jesus. We miss the biblical view of parenting. That alone was my point. We need to shelve the ideas behind the elf because we have something better! I have nothing against red fabric and plastic faces. 

The End

So in case your wondering, I will not be conducting the “Eastman Elf Trials” sheparding a childs heartanytime soon. Nor will I be hunting reindeer or attempting to bag Santa. 

I apologize if I caused you any unnecessary confusion. I hope everyone can still enjoy their hot coco this December. 

If you want to explore gospel focused parenting in more depth, I encourage  you to checkout Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. 

Merry Christmas!

Peter  

Shelve The Elf

self the elf 2For many, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.” You got the kids jingle-belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer, and the parents manipulating, and everyone telling you Santa is near! “Wait…that’s not the way the song goes,” you say. And you’re right. It’s not the way the song goes.  But it is often the way our American culture goes.

While Christmas can be the most sentimental time of the year, is not always the most wonderful. After a few days (or maybe just a few hours), our kids start to go crazy. And, Mom and Dad? Well they, “can hardly wait for school to start again!” But until that day arrives, they have to cope with their kids as best they can. So, us parents start appealing to the Big man up North. As the song says, “You better watch out…Santa Clause is coming to town!” “Junior, you do that one more time, and I’ll tell Santa not to bring you any presents.” Oh, the holiday manipulation! But wait…it gets better!

In an effort to make those threats all the more real, Santa was incarnated. Ok not quite. But his magical little, scout elf started appearing all over America back in 2005. Thanks to The Elf on the Shelf series, Santa is no longer just something our kids sing about. All December long, Little Susie and Sally now have a direct line to the Santa. They get to interact with Santa’s tiny mediator. And the elf promises, “A push or a shove I’ll report to ‘” The Boss,”’ but a small acts of kindness will not be a loss.” Finally, our kids can understand how Santa “knows if you have been bad or good.”

Not too surprisingly, this wonderful, new, little tradition prompts, “children to better control themselves.” (Admittedly, the authors of The Elf on the Shelf reportedly didn’t see that one coming; but hey, it works so why fix it!). Remember kids, “the scout Elf is watching!”

So what’s the big deal? Don’t we want our kids to exercise self-control? The answer is most decidedly yes! We want our kids to behave well. And no, The Elf on the Shelf is not the worst Christmas tradition ever. (Watch “Fred Clause” sometime. Any hoo…moving on…) 

But, Christmas is about the free gift of eternal life. Jesus didn’t arrive so that good little boys and girls could work their way to heaven. He didn’t come to save the self-righteous. He came to save the lost, the down trodden, and the sinners. When we make Christmas about works and manipulation, we distort Christ; we distort the whole point of Christmas. We should give our kids gifts because we love them. They don’t deserve them. At least, I never did as a kid.

“Really?” you say; “C’mon Peter, one little Christmas tradition is not going to hurt our kids.” And if you mean that decorating with a elf and reading a new story is harmless, I essentially agree with you. But if we go a step further and use the elf to control our kids’  heart at home, we are walking on thine ice.

Let’s take look.

Instead of Junior obeying us to honor God, he obeys out of selfishness. I.e. he acts on the thought, “If I do what my parents say, I get more gifts.” His heart hasn’t changed. The selfish spirit that caused him to colorself the elf your living room wall with a permanent marker has just been rechanneled. He obeys you this time not because he’s sorry. He fears the elf.  He realizes that he gets more presents when he doesn’t color the wall than when he does. In short, he has simply found a more convenient way to express his selfish impulses. Instead of getting closer to Jesus at Christmas, instead of realizing his need for the free gift of salvation that he could never earn, he drifts off into the world of self-righteous confidence. According to his adopted elf friend, he’s good enough for Santa. Junior might be tempted to rest in that praise.

And at the end of the day, the best news for us parents is this: God is own our side. The God of the universe who created Saint Nicholas commands children to, “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Friends, Santa’s not watching our kids but God is! (He also will be judging them. – I Peter 4:5) Our authority and our power comes from Him. And, we discipline not to keep our kids from embarrassing us, from stressing us out, or from ruining Christmas. We discipline to show our kids the despair of their sin and the hope of Christ. True obedience can only be achieved through Christ. Why should we exchange the beautiful charge of God for an imaginary guy who lives with little people and drinks hot chocolate all year long?

This Christmas let’s keep our focus on the message of the nativity, the good news that salvation has come. God is with us. I think it’s time to shelve the elf!

Are you ready?