Why Tradition Matters
My wife loves Christmas traditions. When we were first married, she was insistent on bringing every conceivable tradition from her childhood into our home. Our house could have doubled as a department store window display. It was specific and detailed. Truth be told, some of it I liked, most of it, I tolerated. I am not much of a tradition person. I like change. After all, variety is the spice of life, right? However, over the years, I have grown to have a greater appreciation for tradition. Now that the once silly traditions of my wife and I as a young married couple just getting started has turned into full-blown family craziness, I not only look forward to this time of year and all of our traditions, but I cherish them.
But, I don’t love traditions for tradition's sake. I don't love traditions because they offer consistency, predictability, and security. I don't love traditions because of a particular activity or kind of food (although our food is nothing short of amazing). I don't love traditions because it brings my kids a sense of joy or family bonding. Those are all great pieces of traditions that I can deeply appreciate—but none serve as the singular reason for them.
So why have traditions?
As my family grew, my wife expressed to me how important it was that we create our traditions that had meaning and purpose—not just tradition for the sake of tradition.
We found ourselves going back to the Old Testament and God’s adoption of the nation of Israel. If you spend any amount of time reading the Torah, you will soon discover that God was obsessed with Israel remembering and the traditions that took them into that space.
Remember, what I did for you.
Remember how to be holy.
Remember why you should be holy.
Remember who you are and the mission I gave you.
Many of these remembrances were commemorated into celebrations, meals, and festivals. Contained with them were specific instructions on what and how to celebrate so that Israel would remember. Even the construction of the Tabernacle was done to serve as a constant reminder of who God is, what he has done, and the continued promises of the future of Israel. God often communicated with Israel with the attached reminder that he brought them out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:6; Ps. 81:10). The Day of Atonement was built as a reminder of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of Israel, and only God would wipe clean the stain of sin. The Year of Jubilee served as the great reset and redemption of the land—a festival to remind Israel that even the very land they owned and lived off of belonged to God. As Israel crossed the Jordan river into the promised land, they were instructed to gather stones and build an altar so that anyone who passed by would know for generations to come that it was God who delivered his people into the promised land.
Even the early church adopted the power of tradition. The earliest gatherings of Christians began observing the Eucharist and performing baptisms as a tradition foundational to proper worship. Early church instruction called for these to be performed on a regular basis, not simply because Jesus said so, or did so, but because of the deep theological significance and meaning behind them. The Eucharist and Baptism were a clear reminder of the resurrected Christ, the new life he offers, and the resurrection life to come.
Traditions are powerful because they can serve as a reminder of who God is and what he has done. And this is precisely why traditions at Christmas are important. The things we cherish as a family, the food we gather around to eat, the silly games we like to play, and the beauty of decorating our homes should somehow serve as a signpost to who God is and what he has done through Christ. What we do as a family should always point us back to the unlikely creation of a new family with Jesus at the center—because traditions are about family. No matter how silly or how meaningful, traditions create a sense of belonging and some of the strongest family bonds. Traditions ought to take us back to our roots—where and who we come from; and who we belong to. Think about how hard traditions are to break. The harder it is to break a tradition, the harder it is to break that family. I think it is safe to say that God may have had that same idea with Israel. The more traditions mattered to Israel, the harder they would be to divide.
So as Christmas quickly approaches, think about your traditions—the traditions in your family, your church, and even your friends. Enjoy them all. What are those traditions that point you back to Christ? Remember what traditions you cherish and what they mean to you and your family. As you celebrate, celebrate and embrace your traditions and the power of Christ in them.
Executive Director of AwanaYMSteve currently serves as the Executive Director of AwanaYM. Previously, Steve spent over a decade teaching high school theology and apologetics from Detroit to LA. Steve holds a Masters degree in Theology from Moody Theological Seminary and a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Steve is also an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He speaks and writes on youth ministry, youth culture and apologetics. He resides in Chicago, IL with his wife and four children.
Follow Steve Kozak on Twitter: stevenmkozak
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